I SOMEHOW LOST
BY LATE SUMMER of her first year as secretary of state, Madeleine Albright could no longer put off a direct encounter with the longest-running and most intractable issue on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, the standoff between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Her first trip to the Middle East as secretary that September merits examination at some length because it provided one of the first tests of her ability to function in a situation the United States did not control and the outcome of which was unpredictable. The way the trip was organized and the way her message was delivered offered a prototype of her technique.
In Clinton's first term, it seemed possible that the regional peace agreement Washington had been seeking since the 1973 war might finally be achievable. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, joining Egypt as the only Arab countries to come to terms with the Jewish state. Israel and the Palestinians reached an agreement in principle in secret talks in Oslo, and even Syria said it was willing to make peace, entering negotiations on the basis of the land-for-peace formula that had underlain Middle East policy for three decades.
Israel and the Palestinians had crossed the previously unbreachable psychological border of mutual recognition, but crucial details of their future as neighbors remained to be settled. As projected in the Oslo agreements and envisioned by Washington, the road to full peace entailed a series of political, military, and economic steps designed to increase contact, promote understanding, and develop