Those who refuse to learn from the past, are destined to commit the same failures in the future.
The timely new and updated edition of this 1994 book of interviews has been published during a tense period of worried uncertainty for lovers of the Land of Israel. Born-again leftist Minister Tzippi Livni (Hatnua party) is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s representative at secret negotiations with the Palestinian Authority which bring back memories of the secrecy that surrounded the ill-fated – or more accurately, tragic – 1993 Oslo Accords, how they were passed in the Knesset and how the dire prophecies of those who opposed them are the only predictions which came to pass.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld remembers only too well. With self-effacing wisdom that is nothing less than prophecy, he published the forecasts of these experts and put them together in a 1994 book shortly after the Oslo Accords were signed, garnering the sober expectations, hopes, worries and predictions of well-known academic, political and professional figures. This was a totally new situation, a period when the country was divided into three, albeit unevenly: there were the true believers who were in total euphoria, the doomsayers who predicted the worst and last of all, those who adopted what they considered a pragmatic, “let’s give it a chance” approach.
Shattered Dreams and Harsh Realities
From Rochel Sylvetsky
It is uncanny to read the dreams about our country’s future expressed by 16 prominent Israelis in 1994, soon after the Oslo Accords – while knowing the harsh reality of how they were shattered one by one.
Gerstenfeld, considered a world expert on anti-Semitism and the author of 21 books and countless articles, was born in Vienna and raised in Holland where he received his Ph.D. He moved to Israel in 1968 where he became the CEO of a leading local business consultancy, while he continued to advise the boards of some of the world’s major corporations. He was an editor of The Jewish Political Studies Review, co-publisher of Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism and Changing Jewish Communities and a member of the council of the Foundation for Research of Dutch Jewry, of which he was formerly the vice-chairman. He is a member of the Board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank and was previously chairman of the Board. He is the 2012 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
Gerstenfeld, whose style is clear and eminently readable, and whose own analysis of the changes since Oslo, as can be seen in the current edition’s new forward which is comprehensive and convincing, did not write his own predictions in the 1994 book. He explained that, “In a complex, highly dynamic situation, the risk of injecting too much of an individual’s own bias into forecasting developments…is unavoidable.”
Accordingly, he left the reader free to pick and choose among the analyses and predictions of some of “Israel’s most knowledgeable people”– people who were decision makers, people from diverse backgrounds, all with expertise on various facets of Israel and the Middle East. Some of the interviewees have since passed away and it is fascinating to have them come to life again via their opinions.
Those interviewed spoke on a variety of subjects in more depth than is usually found in interviews. The author interviewed each with a keen eye for appropriate and meaningful questions. Among them is former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who was buoyed by the succession of events “that cannot be underestimated,” including what he saw as the beginning of the disintegration of the Arab boycott. Former Likud Defense and Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Arens fully expected democracy to be the future of the Middle East; Political Science Professor Yehezkel Dror predicted a Palestinian state in Jordan.
With remarkable foresight, Professor of International Relations Dan Segre raised the prescient question, “Can Israel ever trust Europe?” Middle East Academician Mordechai Abir evinced a keen understanding of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the direction in which Iran is going, while warning of the dangers of a fundamentalist Palestinian Arab state on Israel’s border. Editor David Bar Ilan realistically explained why he does not expect the foreign press to end their discrimination against Israel; Political Scientist Peter Medding saw a bright economic future for Israel, which would strengthen its already strong democracy.