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Reviewed by:
  • Peacemaking in a Divided Society: Israel After Rabin
  • Bernard Reich
Peacemaking in a Divided Society: Israel After Rabin, edited by Sasson Sofer. London and Portland: Frank Cass, 2001. 260 pp. $24.50.

This edited collection by Sasson Sofer, Chairman of the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is “an interdisciplinary effort to study the domestic sources of Israeli foreign policy, in particular those related to the peace process” (p. 1). As the editor notes, the authors represent a number of perspectives, but “no claim is made for completeness” (p. 1). And it is not, either in the subjects covered or in the points of view presented.

The editor has assembled a generally well-known group of scholars who approach the subject matter from a variety of perspectives, disciplines, and methodologies, although most are political scientists and international relations specialists. The impressive group of authors are among the leading experts on Israel and its domestic and foreign policies. Many of them are well known and well published and their contributions here are predictable both in coverage and conclusions.

The research was conducted over the period from 1995 to 1997 and thus suffers from the delay between the research conducted and the publication of the results. As a consequence some elements seem anachronistic or outdated in 2002.

On the whole the data presented, the analysis conducted, and the conclusions reached seem both interesting and logical for the period under consideration. Some, of course, have been overtaken by events since the research and the writing of the book. And, while one could quibble or quarrel with some of the conclusions and some of the assumptions, especially in retrospect, the material presented here is a well constructed piece of good social science that explains the situation as it was and suggests possible lessons for the future.

This reviewer was particularly struck by two of the conclusions reached and presented herein. One is the notion that foreign and defense policies (that is, matters relating to war and peace, to security matters) are the dominant concerns of, and factors in, Israeli elections and in the minds of Israeli voters. And, at the core remains the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of course, this conclusion is neither new nor novel for Israeli politics, but it is periodically useful to remind ourselves of this especially when in comparison to the usual focus in the United States and much of Europe on economic questions, which play but a minor role in elections in Israel. The second item is equally well known [End Page 188] but again useful to reconfirm with good research, data, and analysis, and that its that Israel remains a critically divided society and that these cleavages seem to be “deepening” (p. 10). We are all familiar with the old saying that if there are two Israelis there are three points of view, but scholarly evidence that supports this is useful to periodically rehearse. Nevertheless, it would have been helpful to have a fuller discussion of the left/right and secular/religious divisions within the system.

Disappointing is the consideration of the effect on Israeli politics of the election changes that began with the 1996 election in which the prime minister and parliament were chosen on separate but simultaneous ballots (except in 2001). While this was clearly hailed as an important reform of the system, the material at hand does not really foreshadow or explain what happened in the 1999 or 2001 elections, nor does it note the reversion to the old system of voting, as will be the case with the next elections. Nor does it foreshadow the failure of the Camp David II summit and the intifada that followed it. We are not treated to sufficient analysis of the “peacemaking” noted in the title that might provide understanding of the situation that currently exists.

This reader found the volume informative, interesting, and useful, if not groundbreaking. It firmly establishes well-known and generally understood conclusions concerning politics in Israel. However, I continue to fault edited works that contain disjointed elements and diverse styles, methodologies, and conceptual approaches. This generic comment is not meant to belie the seriousness of the chapters contained...

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