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The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace

The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace

by Dennis Ross

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"The definitive and gripping account of the sometimes exhilarating, often tortured twists and turns in the Middle East peace process, viewed from the front row by one of its major players."--Bill Clinton

The Missing Peace, published to great acclaim last year, is the most candid inside account of the Middle East peace process ever written.


"The definitive and gripping account of the sometimes exhilarating, often tortured twists and turns in the Middle East peace process, viewed from the front row by one of its major players."--Bill Clinton

The Missing Peace, published to great acclaim last year, is the most candid inside account of the Middle East peace process ever written. Dennis Ross, the chief Middle East peace negotiator in the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is that rare figure who is respected by all parties: Democrats and Republicans, Palestinians and Israelis, presidents and people on the street in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Washington, D.C.

Ross recounts the peace process in detail from 1988 to the breakdown of talks in early 2001 that prompted the so-called second Intifada-and takes account of recent developments in a new afterword written for this edition. It's all here: Camp David, Oslo, Geneva, Egypt, and other summits; the assassination of Yitzak Rabin; the rise and fall of Benjamin Netanyahu; the very different characters and strategies of Rabin, Yasir Arafat, and Bill Clinton; and the first steps of the Palestinian Authority. For the first time, the backroom negotiations, the dramatic and often secretive nature of the process, and the reasons for its faltering are on display for all to see. The Missing Peace explains, as no other book has, why Middle East peace remains so elusive.

Editorial Reviews

Glenn Frankel
[Ross] served as midwife, babysitter, taskmaster and father confessor to a generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders and negotiators. Ross -- and they -- struggled, exhaustively and sometimes nobly, and ultimately they failed. Now he has written an equally noble, exhaustive and, at times, exhausting 800-page account of the people and the process.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This is the ultimate insider's account of the roller-coaster ride of the Middle East peace process from 1988 to the breakdown of talks in 2001. More than anything else, Ross, the chief U.S. negotiator for Presidents Bush 41 and Clinton, has written an epic diplomat's handbook. We see the moves and countermoves on both sides, the preparation that goes into any statement or gesture, the backroom wheeling and dealing and the dance of language and meaning. Ross lays out, in painstaking detail, the "one step forward, two steps back" approach that finally led to such breakthroughs as the handshake on the White House lawn. He offers detailed accounts of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, the rise and fall of Benjamin Netanyahu and a picture of Arafat "seeking to have it both ways... La-Nam (no and yes in Arabic)." Ross's critical eye paints a vivid picture of the very different characters and strategies of Arafat, Barak and Clinton, and what led to the failure at Camp David. While Ross lands in the blame-Arafat camp, he is not without criticism of Barak and Clinton. Tragically, for all those who follow this region, Ross's book does not present a hopeful picture; the litany of failures sounds like a broken record: "We left the region hopeful, but that hope was premature"; "Once again, however, our best-laid plans went awry." Sure to garner its share of controversy and media attention, this work of history in the making is essential reading for anyone interested in why we are where we are in the Middle East. Maps not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Now Ross's book has added to the literature, covering in exquisite detail the history of Arab-Israeli negotiations from the preparations for the Madrid Conference in 1991 to the final hours of the Clinton presidency and the de facto end of the Oslo process in January 2001. Ross's own involvement in nearly every aspect of these events, his detailed personal notes on conversations, the candor with which he describes both events and personalities, and the fairness he displays in writing about many sensitive and contentious moments all combine to make The Missing Peace a major contribution to the diplomatic history of the twentieth century.
Library Journal
Ross was the U.S. government envoy to the Middle East peace process for 12 years, from 1988 to 2001. This memoir, based on his extensive notes and diaries, presents a detailed account of the considerable efforts made to achieve a viable settlement. Many of these efforts were not documented by the press; some were deliberately kept secret. Ross is very frank in pointing out failures and errors of judgment, including his own; neither side is blamed exclusively for the lack of success. While researchers will find this a valuable resource for its firsthand perspective, nonspecialists will likely be overwhelmed by the minute detail and the regular use of first names only when referring to other participants in the negotiations. They may turn instead to Madeleine Albright's recent Madame Secretary, which devotes three chapters to this topic, or to Charles Enderlin's Shattered Dreams, comparably detailed but a journalist's account (based on interviews with the participants) rather than an insider's. For academic and research collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/04.]-Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Why can't Palestinians and Israelis just get along? The answer, writes US diplomat Ross, has as much to do with timing as with any particularly felt enmity. When the Israelis are ready to deal, their neighbors are not and vice versa, so that "after the 1967 war Israel was ready to return nearly all the captured territories for peace, but the Arabs, guided by Nasser's ‘three no's,' were not ready to accept Israel, much less negotiate with it." Ross adds that the poor timing has not been helped by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who is incapable of making any lasting peace with Israel-mostly, Ross suggests, because of Arafat's unwillingness to transform himself from revolutionary boss to statesman. Ross tracks efforts on both sides over a ten-year period in which he was active, as a negotiator and go-between, at nearly every level of deal-making: running secret letters back and forth between Tel Aviv and Damascus, assuring Egypt of Israeli's not-harmful, if not good, intentions, watching as carefully structured face-saving situations devolve into fracases and squabbles. The narrative is painfully slow at times, but not through any fault of Ross's; the events themselves moved so tortuously as the affected parties came together (always unwillingly) for confabs and cajoling, then moved apart, then-sometimes-returned for more talking. Occasionally, Ross finds a revealing chink in the stoic armor his protagonists wear, as when he finds Arafat and his assembled lieutenants absorbed in an episode of the American TV sitcom The Golden Girls, "rich in Jewish humor." Mostly, though, he finds politicians on both sides of the divide deeply mistrustful not only of each other, but also of the men andwomen on the street in their own countries; as Syrian leader Asad remarks, for instance, "If we exert efforts and [Israeli troops in Lebanon] don't stop shooting, then the [Hezbollah] resistance will turn their guns on us."Though tedious-and aptly so-Ross's study does much to explain why the Oslo Accords have never taken. In this respect alone, it's an important addition to the literature of the Middle East conflict.

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The Missing Peace

The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace

By Dennis Ross

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2004 Dennis Ross
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-70808-5


Why Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians See the World the Way They Do

THERE IS LITTLE PROSPECT of mediating any conflict if one does not understand the historical narratives of each side. I say this not because it is important to perpetuate the historical debate or because one side can convince the other that it is wrong, but rather because both sides in any conflict must see that a third party understands why it feels the way it does, why it values what it values, why its symbols say so much about its identity.

Peacemaking in the last decade emerged from a historical context of deep-seated grievances and desire for justice on both sides. Arabs and Israelis each have a narrative that tells their story and interprets their reality, and these narratives were lurking in every discussion. To understand these narratives, one needs to know what shaped them; how they evolved; and how particular historical developments affected attitudes and beliefs. Only then can one appreciate what we had to contend with in trying to promote peacemaking.

The Israel Narrative

For the Israelis, their national movement, Zionism, is a natural response to the tragedies of Jewish history. Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Jews had been dispersed and without a homeland. Dispersal had made Jews weak and vulnerable, and led to repeated expulsions and devastations. Weakness had become a way of life. Zionism meant a cultural, psychological, and political renaissance. It meant creating a homeland for Jews that could be a safe haven. It meant creating a new "man" who was strong, close to the earth, able to defend himself or herself. A history of meekness and disaster would give way to strength and never again turning the other cheek.

The philosophy of Zionism began emerging in the 1860s, but it took the pogroms in Russia, the Dreyfus trial in Paris, and the emergence of leading figures like Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Ahad Ha'am, and Nahum Sokolow to transform it into a political movement with deep national yearnings. The Dreyfus trial convinced Herzl, a Hungarian Jew living and working in France as a journalist, that even in an enlightened place like France there was no refuge from anti-Semitism. It was not only that Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French officer who was Jewish, had been arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Germany. It was hearing a French crowd outside the trial chant "Death to the Jews" that left Herzl certain that there was no hope for assimilation of Jews in their host countries: the only answer was Jewish sovereignty. For Herzl, Jews could never be secure without a state of their own.

Herzl authored a book, The Jewish State, in 1896 and founded the World Zionist Organization the following year, even while remaining largely unaware of the activities of Russians beginning to immigrate to Palestine—activities that included reintroducing Hebrew as the national language. Herzl lobbied world leaders to gain support for a Jewish state. He pressed the leaders of the Ottoman Empire, including the Sultan, to lift the restrictions they had imposed on Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine.

When Herzl died in 1904 at the age of forty-four, he left behind a legacy that put the Zionist agenda on the world stage. And others like Chaim Weizmann were continuing to have a major impact on the world outside of Palestine. From the first wave of immigration, referred to as the first aliyah (ascent) to Palestine in the 1880s, there was a split between those actually settling the undeveloped land and those representing the Zionist movement to the outside world. For those in Palestine the hardships were great, the life extremely difficult and austere, and the dangers quite real. Those trying to reclaim a Jewish land had little patience with political niceties; those trying to win favor internationally felt compelled to be patient and not overplay their hand.

The London leaders of the Zionist movement, led principally by Weizmann, made tremendous efforts to gain British endorsement of the Jewish right to Palestine. They succeeded ultimately in November 1917, when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration. While not explicitly supporting Jewish statehood, the Balfour Declaration called for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. A historic threshold had been crossed. The effect on world Jewry was electric, with over 200,000 enthusiastic Jews turning out in Odessa to welcome a visiting Zionist delegation shortly after the issuance of the declaration.

The Balfour Declaration married the symbolic with the practical. By making the Zionist dream seem like something other than a distant hope, it inspired activism. It spurred immigration, especially after the armistice ending World War I. It became a more formal promise when recognized internationally at the Paris Peace Conference and made a part of the British Mandate for Palestine after the war.

The leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine, the Yishuv (literally, "settlement"), understood and appreciated the significance of the Balfour Declaration, but as David Ben-Gurion made clear at the time, it was Jewish pioneers in Palestine, not the British, who would determine the Zionist future: "Britain has made a magnificent gesture; she has recognized our existence as a nation and has acknowledged our right to the country. But only the Hebrew people can transform this right into a tangible fact; only they, with body and soul, with their strength and capital, must build their National Home and bring about their national redemption."

Those in Palestine focused on creating facts on the ground. Those on the outside focused more on symbols of acceptance and legitimacy. Their efforts were complementary, but presaged divisions in the movement. Division and debate were constant hallmarks of the Zionist movement—both within the growing Jewish community in Palestine and between the leaders of the Yishuv and the leaders of the Zionist movement on the outside.

Every conceivable question was subject to discussion in a movement that was secularist, socialist, and egalitarian to its core. Should Arab labor be used? Could Jews develop the land and create a new ethos if they depended on Arab workers? Was it right to depend on them? Shouldn't the Jews be completely self-reliant, both to become completely independent and to avoid any exploitation of others? Should there be cooperation with the Arabs or separation from them? Should areas bought from absentee or rich Arab landowners, so essential for gaining control of the land, be pursued without regard to Arab tenant farmers who were being displaced? Should immigration be limited to numbers the Arabs could tolerate or should there be an all-out effort to bring as many Jews to Palestine as quickly as possible? Should the Jews limit themselves only to self-defense or be prepared to preempt possible attacks by hitting first? Was it possible to reach agreement with the Arabs of Palestine, or was conflict inevitable?

While the predisposition was, in Weizmann's words, to make Palestine as Jewish as France was French and Britain was British, the answers to these questions were not a given until violent Arab resistance to Jewish immigration and Jewish presence began to manifest itself with the deadly riots of 1920 and 1921. The 1921 riots in particular had a devastating effect, beginning as they did with brutal attacks on new Jewish immigrants in Jaffa and then spreading throughout the country over the next several days. Scores were killed, and the British were largely powerless to prevent the carnage. For the Yishuv, there were a number of lessons drawn: separation made more sense than cooperation; segregation, not commingling with the Arabs, became a new focus leading to an exodus from Jaffa and the development of Tel Aviv; acquiring large swaths of contiguous territory took on a new urgency; and self-reliance, especially with regard to defense, became an article of faith.

As would happen so often in this conflict, violence and the resulting sense of vulnerability would harden attitudes and limit choices. It led to a mind-set among the Jews of Palestine that security was not only a necessity but a way of life. The threats did not alter the resolve to build the Jewish presence; if anything, they fueled the desire to achieve a Jewish majority in Palestine—a majority that could make them more secure and ensure a state.

Arab resistance to Jewish immigration increased, but even leaders in the Arab national movement often surreptitiously sold land to the Jewish National Fund for Jewish settlement, feeding the Jewish perception that Arab hostility was being manipulated for the purposes of gaining advantage over rivals for power. But regardless of whether the hostility was being manipulated, it became far worse and the violence far more systemic in the 1930s. Beginning with the riots of 1929, which triggered a massacre of the Jews in Hebron and led to the evacuation of a Jewish community that had lived continuously in Hebron for eight hundred years, the violence reached a new level during the Arab revolt of 1936—39.

Struggle within Palestine was intensifying at the very time that the need for a haven for Jews was becoming more acute. Hitler's rise to power threatened first Germany's Jews and then all the Jews of Europe. The reluctance of the world to take in Jewish refugees combined with the British restriction on Jewish immigration to Palestine (the response to the Arab revolt) to make escape impossible for the vast majority of European Jewry.

The Holocaust, an unimaginable evil for the rest of the world, was an unspeakable reminder for the Jews of Palestine that the worst can happen; that weakness begets tragedy; that others can never be relied upon; and that they must have a state of their own—for themselves and the survivors. While pragmatism, facts on the ground, and creating realities on which to build reflected core beliefs that guided the mainstream leadership of the Yishuv, they took on new urgency after the Holocaust. Even prior to it—as the threat to European Jewry became more apparent and the threat from the Arabs escalated—a hardheaded approach to getting what one could took on new meaning. When the Peel Commission in 1937 responded to the Arab revolt with the recommendation of partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, David Ben-Gurion, the elected leader of the Yishuv, accepted the recommendation—even though the boundaries of the Jewish state would have made it small and seemingly untenable. As he said at the time, "A partial Jewish state is not the end but the beginning, a powerful impetus in our historic effort to redeem the land in its entirety."

Others like Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the leader of the opposition Revisionists, were far more dogmatic; they fought, especially after World War II, against surrendering any part of biblical Palestine, fearing the practical and ideological consequences of giving up any claims. However they were in the minority. Again, Ben-Gurion's pragmatic attitude governed the Yishuv's response to the UN partition plan that was ultimately adopted on November 29, 1947.

Once again the Jewish leadership accepted the partitioning of Palestine into two states: one Arab, one Jewish. Only now, with the British having turned the Palestine problem over to the UN to resolve, and having announced their own withdrawal in six months' time once the partition plan was adopted, the fighting in Palestine became far worse. Much as with the response to the Peel Commission recommendations, the Arabs again rejected the partition plan and the very concept of a Jewish state.

For the Jews of Palestine, enduring Arab opposition and hostility had become a given. In response, a distinct mind-set took root: create an unmistakable reality that would leave the Arabs no choice but to accept and to adjust to that which they opposed. Here again, there was the mainstream or Labor establishment sentiment and the minority or Revisionist school of thought. While both believed that Arab rejection could only be combated by unmistakable strength and by creating immutable realities, the mainstream believed that the Arabs would accommodate themselves to the new state of Israel when it became clear to them that it could not be defeated and would never disappear. Peace was therefore possible, but not until the Arabs adjusted to Israel as a fact that could not be undone. The Revisionists were basically more pessimistic. Some felt the Arabs would never accept a Jewish state in their midst, and that, in the words of Jabotinsky, an "iron wall" would need to be erected to separate the Jews from their neighbors. Living under siege was an unfortunate reality, but one that could be endured.

Unquestioned strength, creating facts, and self-reliance became part of the Israeli sociology. The Zionist view of the disasters of Jewish history put a premium on self-reliance. Israel's early experiences as a state cemented that viewpoint. While the fighting with the Arabs of Palestine had intensified after the partition plan was approved, invasion from all of its Arab neighbors followed immediately upon the declaration of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948.

The 1948 war, what the Israelis call the War of Independence, took an extraordinarily high toll on the new State of Israel. The Jewish population in Palestine at the time was 650,000. Israel lost nearly 1 percent of its population, or more than 6,300 dead, during the 1948 war. No benefactors or allies were on the outside to come to the new state's assistance. The United States, though recognizing the new state fourteen minutes after its declaration, provided no assistance during the conflict. (It allowed private assistance to flow to Israel, but would not provide direct military assistance for more than twenty years after Israel's founding.)

Israel was largely on its own. The Soviets permitted Czechoslovakia to supply arms to the Yishuv in April of 1948, but otherwise the new state had no consistent or reliable source of arms supply through the course of the war. It was not only the absence of help from the outside that cemented the ethos of self-reliance. It was the relatively successful, if costly, experience in the war. As a result of the war, Israel, while unable to hold all of Jerusalem, was able to create borders that exceeded what the partition plan had called for. Once again, establishing facts on the ground created a new reality for the new state—with the Negev Desert, more extensive parts of the Galilee, and the central areas around Ramle and Lod being incorporated into Israel.

Armistice agreements ended the war, but brought Israel no recognition. The agreements set up Mixed Armistice Commissions bringing Israelis into regular contact with representatives of their neighbors for several years. With Transjordan and with Syria, diplomatic openings that appeared after the 1948 war closed quickly with the assassination of King Abdullah of Transjordan in 1951 and with a series of coups in Syria in 1949 and the early 1950s that removed Israel's potential partners. Peace was not in the offing. While France became a covert supplier of arms, the Israelis understood that they could rely on no one else to come to their defense in a region in which from the mid-1950s onward they faced the unrelenting hostility of their neighbors.

Indeed, Ben-Gurion's efforts to have the United States include Israel in its efforts to organize the Middle Eastern states into an anti-Soviet alliance in the 1950s were rebuffed. The Eisenhower administration was eager to forge an alliance in the Middle East that would, in effect, join NATO in Europe and SEATO in Asia to close the ring of containment around the Soviet Union. Knowing that Arab states would not be part of any alliance that included Israel, the Eisenhower administration rejected Israel's request to be included either in the Baghdad Pact or in NATO. Ben-Gurion hoped to find some enduring base of support from the outside. But Israel was left largely on its own while President Eisenhower sought to organize the world into an anti-Soviet bloc.

A bitter experience with the events leading to the Six-Day War in June 1967 solidified the deeply ingrained Israeli conviction that it could never count on anyone but itself for its security and defense. Israel, under pressure from President Eisenhower, had withdrawn from the Sinai Desert in March of 1957; the Israelis had seized the Sinai Peninsula as a result of the Suez war in October—November of 1956. In collusion with the British and French—who sought to undermine Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser—the Israelis invaded the Sinai. The plan called for the British and French to interpose themselves between the combatants in order to safeguard the Suez Canal. But things went awry when the Israelis advanced too quickly and Nasser retreated before the British and French could get to the canal. Though having lost their ostensible reason for seizing the canal, they went ahead and did so anyway. Seeing this as a gross violation of international law, President Eisenhower opposed the British and French, and forced them to withdraw from the Suez Canal.


Excerpted from The Missing Peace by Dennis Ross. Copyright © 2004 Dennis Ross. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dennis Ross, Middle East ambassador and the chief peace negotiator in the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, now heads the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy for George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Foreign Affairs called his first book, The Missing Peace, “a major contribution to the diplomatic history of the twentieth century.”

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