Wasserstein's pervious book, Divided Jerusalem, received praise for a balanced approach to the controversial history of Jerusalem.[1] In this thematic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Wasserstein strives again for balance. However, he obfuscates the primary cause of continuing conflict, namely Palestinian rejectionism and violence. Thus, despite an interesting presentation and well-researched facts, Israelis and Palestinians does not work.

The author suggests that Israelis and Palestinians are equally determined to terrorize the other. He draws parallels between Shas Party spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef's empty call to "annihilate Arabs" in April 2001 and that of the mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrema Sabri, for "Palestinian children to risk their lives in combat against heavily armed Israeli forces." He also claims, "both parties evince a greater tolerance of violence as a means of achieving political ends." In reality, Shas has never recruited militants for violence against the Palestinians whereas the mufti continues to incite violence every day. Further, Israel has little choice but to evince a greater tolerance of violence as long as the Palestinians continue their campaign of suicide bombings.

To his credit, Wasserstein's knowledge of Israel is strong, backed by a plethora of facts and figures. He even defies conventional wisdom. He points out that right wing icon Zev Jabotinsky endorsed initiatives "that explicitly prohibited Jewish settlement in Transjordan." He also notes that Zionist expansionism before 1948 was greatly exaggerated; the land transferred to Jews between 1881 and 1948 was "not more than 6 percent of the country."

Wasserstein's knowledge of Palestinian culture is clearly less commanding. He does, however, make interesting observations about the Palestinians, including the "small number of ‘mixed' marriages between refugee and non-refugee Palestinians," as well as other sharp divisions amidst the Palestinian population.

Wasserstein's review of demographics helps explain Israel's recent drive to erect a fence separating 1967 Israel from the disputed territories. He notes that in July 2001, Haifa University professor Arnon Soffer told Knesset (parliament) members that Jews would be a minority in the territories west of the Jordan River, comprising 43 percent of the population by 2020. Wasserstein rightly notes that as early as 1985, Palestinian Authority chairman Yasir Arafat began calling for a "demographic bomb" to destroy Israel.

In the end, Wasserstein asserts that there are "underlying forces that, like shifting tectonic plates, are propelling Israeli-Palestinian relations closer and faster toward rapprochement." Wasserstein fails to show why right now is the window of reconciliation, particularly after a century of similar conditions has yielded consistent bloodshed.

[1] Reviewed in the Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2003, p. 88-9.