Probably no Zionist leader has been so vilified as Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, founding father of revisionist Zionism, the antecedent of today's Likud Party, who has been denounced as an extremist, a militarist, an Arab-hater, and a "Greater Israel" expansionist dreaming of land to the east of the Jordan River. The truth is quite different, as vividly demonstrated in this fine collection of Jabotinsky's writings. He was a self-acknowledged nineteenth-century liberal who placed the individual at the core of his political outlook and argued for minimum state interference in domestic affairs, though he did advocate provision of "elementary necessities."
Though focused on Jews, he concerned himself with "the good of all peoples"—including Palestinian Arabs. Jabotinsky judged a society by its treatment of minorities, and he was determined that the Jewish state would ensure that "the minority will not be rendered defenceless" but would have a say in matters of state policy. This empathy permeated Jabotinsky's attitude towards Palestinian Arabs. He was among the first Zionist leaders to acknowledge Palestinian nationalism—and did so when it was yet embryonic and before many Palestinians identified themselves as such. Nor did Jabotinsky ignore the justness of the Arab cause. "It is difficult to compromise between two truths and two beliefs," he stated in 1928. "Our belief is profound. So is theirs."
This realization drove Jabotinsky famously to conclude in his 1923 article, "The Iron Wall," that only through the creation of an unassailable Zionist power base—political, diplomatic, and military—could the Arabs be deflected from their effort to obliterate the Jewish national cause and to accept a negotiated settlement based on mutual equality and respect. "So long as the Arabs have a glimmer of hope to rid themselves of our presence, they will not give it up for all the sweet words and far-reaching promises in the world." Only when "there is not a single breach in the iron wall . . . will they start honest negotiations with us" that can lead to the two peoples being "able to peacefully live together like good neighbors."
From today's perspective these words seem prophetic. The "iron wall" of Israeli resilience did convince Arabs that the Jewish state could not be destroyed by force of arms, forcing them to the negotiating table. And now, the meltdown of this wall in recent years may well revive Arab hopes for Israel's demise. The iron wall has not outlived its usefulness.