Modern History and Politics: Heroirc Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace

By Sela, Avraham | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Modern History and Politics: Heroirc Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace


Sela, Avraham, The Middle East Journal


Heroic Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for ArabIsraeli Peace, by Kenneth W. Stein. New York and London: Routledge, 1999. xiv + 268 pages. Append. to p. 274. Notes to p. 311. Bibl to p. 320. Index to p. 324. $24.99 paper.

Reviewed by Avraham Sela

The book's title aptly summarizes Kenneth Stein's thesis on the Arab-Israeli peace process in the crucial years between 1973 and 1979. This is the story of a unique and historic encounter between leaders whose vision, courage, and determination in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war culminated in the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Stein emphasizes the singular role played by those leaders, in particular Henry Kissinger, Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter, and explores their individual strategies as well as their mutual relationships-their "chemistry." The author admits the reader into the inner circles of decisionmaking and negotiation, the most fascinating aspect of which is the limited role of the bureaucrats and the manipulative use of secret channels of communication and sensitive information by the top leaders. Ultimately, though, readers are left with an uncertainty as to the exact role of these relationships in the peace process and their weight relative to other considerations, such as perceptions of national interests, especially in periods of crisis and disagreement. This is particularly evident in the case of Presidents Sadat and Carter, whose relations are described as "affectionate trust" and "rare harmony" (p. 196).

The book draws heavily on interviews conducted for the most part in the early 1990s, together with memoirs and official documents. By combining these rich and diverse sources, Stein has produced a study unusual for its freshness and credibility. Still, the focus on oral histories and autobiographies detracts from a more in-depth investigation of important domestic and regional processes, such as the weaknesses of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's first government and the nature of inter-Arab relations throughout this period.

Among the questions left unanswered, for example, was the relative importance of American mediation. Israel's Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan is quoted as saying that the Egypt-Israel treaty could not have been concluded without Carter. Yet, although the book clearly demonstrates the primacy of regional actors' interests in determining the course of the diplomatic process, it avoids the general question of local-regional versus global power relations in international conflict resolution. Indeed, even though both Begin and Sadat had their own domestic and regional constraints, they were also anxious to maximize their material gains by winning Washington's good will and, more specifically, ensuring recognition by and intimate rapport with President Carter. …

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