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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

For the Future of Israel
Shimon Peres and Robert Littell

(Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)
206pp. Hb.: £16.00; ISBN 0-8018-5928-X.

For the Future of Israel is a thoughtful introspective made up of a series of five conversations between the journalist and author Robert Littell and one of the living icons of Israeli politics, Shimon Peres. The topics covered range from personal subjects such as Peres's immigration to Israel from a small, predominantly Jewish town in Belorussia in 1934, to his involvement in the early Zionist movement, his long collaboration first with David Ben Gurion and later with Yitzhak Rabin, his political career, the intifada and the Oslo Accord, and Israelís friends and foes, especially the Americans and the Palestinians. Littell's questions are well informed and frequently capture the rich texture of Jewish historical experience and the life of Israel. Peresís responses, however, are often too measured and refined, as if the long-time politician is still worried about the next election. He refuses to criticize anyone, neither Ben Gurion, for whom his reverence is shown early on in the book, nor Rabin, although one gets glimpses of the two's stormy friendship and different perspectives, nor even Yassir Arafat or Hafiz Assad. Among the book's original contributions is the revelation that Yassir Arafat appears to have tried to negotiate with Israel directly as early as the 1970s, using the late Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and Senegal's former president Léopold Senghore as intermediaries (pp. 84-5). Also apparent, especially in the latter chapters, in which Peres comes across as less formal (less of a Politician) and more forthcoming, are repeated indications of his distaste for continued military conflict with Israel's long-time adversaries. 'A war that doesn't take place,' he is quoted as saying, 'may be the best war' (p. 100). Of the reasons behind pursuing the secret negotiations that led to the Oslo Accord, he says: '[Rabin and I] felt that we were at the last stage of our lives and that our task should be to make all the hard decisions in order to save the younger generation from living with the dilemmas' (pp. 139-140). Nevertheless, especially early on in the book, one does get the impression that the former Defense Minister still views many Palestinians as faceless enemies and as nuisances blocking Israel's early attempts at state-building. All in all, this is a book of tremendous value for anyone interested in the serious study of Israel, its conflicts with the Palestinians and with other Arabs, and Shimon Peres's contributions to war and peace.

Mehran Kamrava
California State University, Northridge

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