Jews and Gender: The Challenge to Hierarchy

By Jonathan Frankel | Go to book overview

On the Brink of Peace? More Israeli Memoirs

Eitan Bentsur, Haderekh leshalom 'overet beMadrid (The Road to Peace Crosses Madrid). Tel-Aviv: Yedioth Ahronoth, 1997. 303 pp.

Itamar Rabinovich, The Brink of Peace: The Israeli-Syrian Negotiations. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. xv + 283 pp.

Uri Savir, The Process: 1,100 Days that Changed the Middle East. New York: Random House, 1998. xi + 336 pp.

The Madrid conference, held in October 1991, came at a time of unique optimism in the world, and in the Middle East in particular. The Cold War was over, the Soviet Union was on the edge of disintegration; while a coalition led by the United States and including Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia had just defeated and destroyed much of the Iraqi army. President George Bush's proclivity to exaggeration notwithstanding, it seemed that a “new world order” under the umbrella of a Pax Americana was indeed possible.

For the U. S., the first order of business after the war's abrupt end was to jump-start peace talks among the Arabs and the Israelis. For three years, the Bush administration had tried to find a formula according to which the leaders of all the states involved in the Arab—Israeli conflict, as well as the Palestinian representatives, could gather for negotiations. While declaring that they did not have maps or a specific settlement in mind, the Americans believed that, once the ice had been broken, Arabs and Israelis would find a workable solution.

Before 1991, the U. S. efforts had been unsuccessful, as each of the parties to the dispute did little more than jockey for position. Following the Gulf War, however, the situation changed radically. Having embraced Saddam Hussein, the PLO emerged in a weakened position. In Israel, the government headed by Yitzhak Shamir realized that it would have to compromise in order to avoid incurring the wrath of the Americans. In Damascus, meanwhile, Hafez al-Assad continued to hide his cards, lecturing U. S. officials on his version of Middle East history while considering the costs and benefits of participation in the planned conference.

In retrospect, the Madrid conference was the pivotal event that gave life to a sputtering but persistent Middle East peace process. Like a political big bang, its terms of reference would guide subsequent negotiations. Once precedents were set—as with the compromise that created the joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation, which eventually legitimized the PLO—they would not readily be altered. Events moved relatively slowly at first, but the pace changed after the election of Yitzhak Rabin as Israeli prime minister in 1992. The Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed in 1993, fol-

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