For decades, the dream of a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict has formed the basis of a powerful secular religion. As Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, shows, the core of this belief system was the view that Israel was the more powerful actor in the dispute and thus morally responsible for the injustices and suffering of the Palestinians, particularly after 1967. According to this particular worldview, if only Israelis changed their evil ways, peace would break out.
Despite reliance on social science jargon ("political opportunity structures"), Hermann offers a reasonable and readable chronicle of the various strands of Israeli peace movements, going back to the 1920s. Her analysis is solid, bringing to light the narrow social base of the activists—primarily upper-class, secular Ashkenazi—that served to alienate them from most Israelis. Arab aggression and terrorism, particularly post-Oslo, drained further legitimacy from the movement and its leaders.
Hermann chronicles the major ideological and personal disputes that added to the failure. Some of the Israelis promoting peace in the1950s embraced Stalinism while others clung to pacifist or anarchist creeds. The "peace camp" was, and remains, divided between Zionists, for whom Jewish sovereignty is not negotiable, and those who promote a binational state that would erase a sovereign Israel.
Its biggest problem, of course, lies in the absence of a parallel movement on the Arab side that accepts the right of sovereignty for the Jewish nation and supports historic compromise. In contrast, as Hermann documents, this basic asymmetry is irrelevant for Israeli peace fundamentalists who embrace the Palestinian narrative and culture of victimization.
Hermann's main weakness is in neglecting to underscore the massive foreign funding that undergirds the contemporary peace movement; although she mentions this factor, it warrants much greater attention. Groups such as Peace Now and B'tselem, which present themselves as Israeli civil-society organizations, have lost much of their support and ability to influence the Israeli public. Instead, they rely on money from European governments and the Washington-based New Israel Fund to bombard Israeli courts with legal complaints and to gain influence and approbation from foreign journalists and academics.