Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Peace Process or War Process?

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Peace Process or War Process?

Article excerpt

When Barack Obama announced in June 2009 about Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, "I'm confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year," he displayed a touching, if na?ve optimism.

Indeed, his detemiination fits a well-established pattem of detemiination by politicians to "solve" the Arab-Israeli conflict; there were fourteen U.S. government initiafives just during the two George W. Bush administrations. Might this time be different? Will trying harder or being more clever end the conflict?

No, there is no chance whatever of this effort working.

Without looking at the specifics of the Obama approach-which are in themselves problematic-I shall argue three points: that past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed; that theft failure resulted from an Israeli illusion about avoiding war; and that Washington should urge Jenisalem to forego negotiations and return instead to its earlier and more successfiul policy of fighting for victory.


It is embarrassing to recall the elation and expectations that accompanied the signing of the Oslo accords in September 1993 when Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. For some years afterward, "The Handshake" (as it was then capitalized), served as the symbol of brilliant diplomacy, whereby each side achieved what it most wanted: dignity and autonomy for the Palestinians, recognition and security for the Israelis.

President Bill Clinton hosted the ceremony and lauded the deal as a "great occasion of history." Secretary of State Warren Christopher concluded that "the impossible is within our reach." Yasser Arafat called the signing an "historic event, inaugurating a new epoch." Israel's foreign minister Shimon Peres said one could see in it "the outline of peace in the Middle East."

The press displayed similar expectations. Anthony Lewis, a New York Times columnist, deemed the agreement "stunning" and "ingeniously built." Time magazine made Arafat and Rabin two of its "men of the year" for 1993. To cap it off, Arafat, Rabin, and Peres jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1994.

As the accords led to a deterioration of conditions for Palestinians and Israelis, rather than the expected improvement, these heady anticipations quickly dissipated.

When Palestinians still lived under Israeli control, pre-Oslo accords, they had benefited from the rule of law and a growing economy, independent of international welfare. They enjoyed functioning schools and hospitals; they traveled without checkpoints and had free access to Israeli territory. They even founded several universities. Terrorism declined as acceptance of Israel increased. Oslo then brought Palestinians not peace and prosperity, but tyranny, foiled institutions, poverty, corruption, a death cult, suicide factories, and Islamist radicalization. Yasser Arafat had promised to build his new dominion into a Middle Eastern Singapore, but the reality he ruled became a nightmare of dependence, inhumanity, and loathing, more akin to Liberia or the Congo.

As for Israelis, they watched as Palestinian rage spiraled upward, inflicting unprecedented violence on them; the Israeli Ministry of For- eign Affairs reports that more Israelis were killed by Palestin- ian terrorists in lhe five years af- ter the Oslo accords than in the fifteen years preceding it. If the two hands in the Rabin-Arafat handshake symbolized Oslo's early hopes, the two bloody hands of a young Palestinian male following lhe lynching of Israeli reservists in Ramallah in October 2000 represented its dismal end. In addition, Oslo did great damage to Israel's stand- ing internationally, resurrecting questions about the very exist- ence of a sovereign Jewish state, especially on the left, and spawning moral perversions such as the U.N. World Con- ference against Racism in Durban. …

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