WAGING PEACE: Israel and the Arabs, 1948-2003

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WAGING PEACE Israel and the Arabs, 1948-2003 Itamar Rabinovich Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. x, 326pp, US$16.95 paper (ISBN 0-691-11982-1)

Israel's urbane, erudite, and witty former foreign minister, Abba Eban, was reported to have once said that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." This bon mot was matched in its time by one attributed to an anonymous Arab source: "The Israelis want peace-a piece of Egypt, a piece of Jordan, a piece of Syria and a piece of Lebanon." Whatever the merits of these quips, they underline some of the difficulties inherent in any effort to bring solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The full array of these difficulties is the subject of this latest history of Arab-Israeli peacemaking by Itamar Rabinovich. The introductory chapter covers the period from 1948 to 1990, including of course the diplomacy leading up to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979. The remainder of the book deals with the period 1990 to 2003, including the Madrid conference, the Oslo accord, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, the breakdown in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the failed American attempts to rescue the process in 2000, and the ongoing violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

Rabinovich brings to his task a wealth of experience as academic historian and diplomatic practitioner. This is reflected in the breadth and depth of his analysis of the politics, policies, and positions of all of the parties directly involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict. His distillation of the various schools of thought on what happened and what went wrong during President Clinton's final effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians to an agreement in 2000 is a masterpiece of perceptive analysis.

Throughout the text, Rabinovich strives for balance and objectivity, and he is by and large remarkably successful. He is nevertheless clearly reflecting an Israeli perspective when, for example, he writes that one of the central issues in Arab-Israeli peacemaking is that "Israel appears to the Arabs as a powerful, aggressive and threatening entity, but in fact is a country haunted by a sense of vulnerability and persecution" (297). …