ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT: Peace in Tatters: Israel, Palestine and the Middle East

Article excerpt

Peace in Tatters: Israel, Palestine and the Middle East, by Yoram Meital. Boulder, CO and London, UK: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2006.209 pages. Appends. Bibl. to p. 238. Index to p. 251. n.p.

This book challenges the conventional wisdom widely accepted in Israel and the United States that the Palestinians destroyed the Oslo peace process (1993-2000) and forced Israel to abandon negotiations for peace and turn to unilateral action to defend itself. It joins a growing body of books and articles that persuasively revise this narrative and assign at least as much responsibility for the collapse of the peace process and the Palestinian intifada to Israel's leaders and failed American diplomacy. Peace in Tatters did not anticipate the victory of the rejectionist Hamas Party in the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. But it describes Israeli policies that weakened the secular Palestinian leadership and the rejection of negotiations during the last five years that were factors in the anger and protest against the status quo that brought Hamas to power.

In a well-documented analysis, Yoram Meital, a senior lecturer at Ben Gurion University in Israel, makes a compelling case for his thesis that Israel and the United States share the blame for the failure of the Oslo peace process. After a brief history of the conflict and an analysis of the breakdown of the Oslo process, he devotes the bulk of the book to the collapse of the Camp David Summit and events leading up to Israel's disengagement from Gaza in August, 2005. Like other writers who reject the popular Israeli narrative of the conflict, Meital believes that the Oslo Declaration of Principles was deeply flawed and unlikely to succeed. There was no agreement on the definition of a two-state peace, and the two sides had very different expectations. Israel sought an abbreviated Palestinian entity with no presence in Jerusalem and the preservation of settlements, whereas the Palestinians, having accepted the existence of Israel and the principle of a two-state peace in 1988, assumed they would get a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza and a capital in East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Chairman Yasir 'Arafat were undermined by rejectionists on both sides. Rising terrorism, harsh Israeli security measures, and rampant settlement growth ultimately destroyed mutual confidence, which was never deep. There was no third-party monitor to call the parties to account, and public hopes for peace grew even more tenuous after the assassination of Rabin on November 4, 1995 and the election of Binyamin Netanyahu in May 1996, who opposed any compromise.

Meital is deeply critical of Ehud Barak, who succeeded Netanyahu, for his unrealistic vision of what the Palestinians could accept, his erratic and tactless diplomacy with 'Arafat, his "take it or leave it" posturing at the Camp David Summit in July 2000, and his rush to condemn the Palestinians after the summit failed. Meital points out that Barak sought to use the summit to rescue his vanishing leadership, "win or lose," and spoke of "unmasking" the Palestinians, as if to prepare the public for failure. The author is equally critical of US President Bill Clinton for mismanaging the summit. He argues that Clinton and his team underestimated 'Arafat's political constraints, often played the role of "postman" for Barak to the Palestinians, and were ill informed about the issues. He says too little about 'Arafat's passive and inflexible performance at the summit and the lack of unity and preparation in his delegation and, in general, faults Barak and Clinton.

Meital rejects the popular view that Barak's final offer at Camp David was "generous," since it would not have created a sovereign, independent state, but rather a series of segmented cantons interspersed with Israeli settlements and military bases and did not deal adequately with the issues of Jerusalem and refugees' right of return. …