The Decline of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Middle East Politics and the Quest for Regional Order, by Avraham Sela

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The Decline of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Middle East Politics and the Quest for Regional Order, by Avraham Sela

The back cover blurb of Avraham Sela's new work is an unusual case of under- rather than over-selling the book it describes. This book is much more than an "extremely complete account of the public record of the diplomatic history of the Arab world," or a treatment of Arab summitry alone. Beyond this, the author offers a comprehensive account of the regional dynamics of inter-Arab politics, the ways these have shifted over time, and the particular position of the Arab-Israeli conflict within this context.

Specifically, Sela argues that the Arab world has demonstrated an increasing ability to "insulate itself from rallying issues of symbolic Arab concerns and conduct its autonomous policies" (p. 341). This has occurred through a shift from transnational political symbolism (notably Arab nationalism) to a regional order based on state sovereignties, solidified by on-going processes of state-building and regime consolidation. This process of "westphalianization" of the regional system was accelerated by the Arab (and especially Egyptian) defeat in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and reinforced by the growing power of the Arab oil monarchies from the 1970s onwards. The growing focus of the Palestinian movement on a territorial solution in the West Bank and Gaza -- and the shift of the movement's political center of gravity there through the 1980s -- further confirmed this transformation. With the Oslo agreement and mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, the Palestinian issue was removed as a tool (and weapon) of domestic and regional mobilization for Arab regimes. The result, Sela suggests, is that "the `classic' Arab-Israeli conflict is over" (p. 350).

This is not a new argument, although Sela's treatment of it is particularly well done. …