Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

By Lukacs, Yehuda | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict


Lukacs, Yehuda, The Middle East Journal


Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by William B. Quandt. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press and Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001. xii + 396 pages. Notes to p. 462 pages. Bibl to p. 468. Index to p. 488. $45 cloth; $19.95 paper.

Reviewed by Yehuda Lukacs

The revised edition of the Peace Process includes not only an autopsy of the Clinton presidency and its quest for ArabIsraeli peace, but also incorporates newly available material into chapters dealing with presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. As such, this new volume constitutes a highly comprehensive and balanced analysis by one of the most seasoned and nuanced observers of American policy towards the Middle East.

The last section contains two new chapters covering the Clinton presidency and concludes with a penetrating analysis of Clinton's grand failure to broker Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Quandt advances a four-fold framework in his analysis of Clinton's shortcomings: the role of presidential character, the influence of the Congress and domestic politics, underlying assumptions about strategy, and the role of the parties to the conflict.

Bill Clinton assumed office in January 1993 under the most favorable circumstances for advancing peace in the Middle East. Israel and Egypt had signed a peace treaty (in 1979); the Cold War had ended; the Gulf War (1991) had been won and Saddam Husayn had been contained; the Madrid peace conference, convened in 1991, had led to bilateral and multilateral negotiations between Israel and her neighbors; and Yitzhak Rabin had defeated hawkish Yitzhak Shamir in the 1992 Israeli elections. Yet, when Clinton left office eight years later, the Oslo accord, negotiated during his tenure, had been derailed, the Israeli-Palestinian Camp David negotiations had collapsed, a Palestinian uprising was in full motion with hundreds killed, and the few glimmers of optimism and hope shared by many inside and outside the Middle East in the early 1990s had all but vanished.

Quandt makes a persuasive argument that Clinton's tendency to waver was debilitating and prevented him from acting decisively and confronting either Israel or the Palestinians. He had a soft spot for Israel, despite being the first president to legitimize the idea of a Palestinian state.

The second possible explanation in Quandt's search for an answer takes him to Clinton's so-called permanent campaign, which precluded him from "testing the limits of the possible or engaging in an effort to ease the constraints under which any president must operate in dealing with Congress" (p. 375). Moreover, Clinton was unwilling to mobilize Jewish-American public opinion against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's harsh polices toward the Palestinians, especially the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Quandt also probes the impact of the "ripeness" theory advanced by Clinton's advisors. This theory implies that the peace process advanced according to an almost pre-determined pace in which the "United States could do little to accelerate the ripening process." This faulty approach, according to Quandt, prevented President Clinton from fully seizing the moment in 1993 and 1995, that is, pursuing a vigorous approach towards Israel and Syria.

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