Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen], Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo.
Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing, 1995. 252 pp.
Yossi Beilin, Laga'at bashalom (Touching Peace). Tel Aviv: Yedioth Ahronoth
Books, 1997. 318 pp.
Ziva Flamhaft, Israel on the Road to Peace: Accepting the Unacceptable. Boulder:
Westview Press, 1996. xvii + 252 pp.
David Makovsky, Making Peace with the PLO: The Rabin Government's Road to the
Oslo Accord. Boulder: Westview Press and The Washington Institute for Near
East Policy, 1996. viii + 239 pp.
The 1993 Declaration of Principles (known as the Oslo agreement) and the accompanying exchange of letters of mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization marked a fundamental and dramatic change in the Middle East. The announced aim of the process was to end generations of conflict in a few short years, but the outcome is still far from clear. Future analysts may conclude that these agreements did in fact contribute to peace and stability, or they may find that the process raised unrealistic expectations and was ultimately counterproductive.
In the short period that has elapsed, it is difficult to place the events in perspective. The research has only begun, and these four books are the first preliminary sources. Two were written by actors who were centrally involved in the process, another by one of Israel's most accomplished and insightful journalists (David Makovsky), and the fourth by an academic (Ziva Flamhaft) familiar with the complexities of the Middle East. All begin with a historical overview, with Yossi Beilin and Mahmoud Abbas (better known as Abu Mazen) adding detailed personal and family histories as prologues to the events prior to and during the Oslo talks. Abu Mazen, Makovsky and Flamhaft include extensive appendices and documents (more than half of Abu Mazen's volume consists of his summaries of the sessions leading to the agreement and of related meetings), although the absence of an index in the Makovsky volume limits its utility for researchers.
All four books also reflect and suffer from a framework that is limited to the Middle East and, in most cases, to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. The authors treat the efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as sui generis, without reference to the broader history of international conflict and to the empirical experience of similar bilateral negotiations. Beilin and Flamhaft, in particular, begin with the assumption that there was “a solution” and that the challenge for decision makers was to identify its elements and then gain enough political support to implement it. They