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"In this updated edition of Waging Peace, Itamar Rabinovich once again brilliantly combines the firsthand insight of a diplomat with the analytical rigor of a scholar. I can think of no better guide to lead us through the political imperatives at the root of the Israel-Palestine conflict."—Henry Kissinger
"Itamar Rabinovich brings to this topic both the experience of a veteran participant and the skill of a distinguished historian. The result is a fascinating and illuminating narrative and analysis. His added coverage of the events of the last four years is particularly valuable."—Bernard Lewis, author of What Went Wrong
"A keen strategic mind is at work in Waging Peace—dovish but tough, focused on the big picture yet ever attentive to particulars. This eloquent book is essential reading for anyone following the Arab-Israeli peace process."—Mitchell Cohen, New York Time Book Review
"[Waging Peace] is calm, dispassionate, impersonal, unusually well-informed. . . . Rabinovich is not a polemicist given to flourishes of rhetoric. . . . [He possesses a] keen strategic mind."—Amos Elon, New York Review of Books
"In Waging Peace, Itamar Rabinovich offers a good diplomatic history of how the Israeli-Palestinian peace process unraveled. Ultimately, the former ambassador believes not only that Arafat 'failed the test of leadership' but that the broader Arab world's rejection of normal ties with Israel keeps the door of war perpetually open."—Jerusalem Post
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The Arab-Israeli conflict has crossed the half-century mark. A conflict between the small Jewish and the much larger Arab community in Palestine had first erupted in the late Ottoman period. It became fiercer and more significant after the First World War, the publication in 1917 of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government supported the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people," and the establishment in 1920 of a British Mandate over Palestine on both sides of the Jordan River. During the next three decades, Arabs and Jews fought over rights and control, their conflict culminating in a war that broke out after the United Nations' decision in 1947 to partition the country between a Jewish state and a Palestinian-Arab one.
Throughout the decades of conflict, the indigenous Palestinian Arabs were supported and helped by a large part of the Arab world, but it was the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the invasion by five Arab armies that gave birth to the full-fledged Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel's victory, the consolidation of its existence and expansion of its original territory, the Arabs' military defeat, the failure to establish the Palestinian Arab state envisaged by the UN resolution, and the consequent problem of Palestinian refugees were the fundamental facts in the process that transformed the Arab-Jewish conflict in Mandate Palestine into the Arab-Israeli conflict we still know today.
The conflict's fifty-year history is evenlydivided by the October War of 1973. For twenty-five years, the old wounds festered as efforts to heal them or at least address some of their causes failed for reasons that I shall analyze. But after the Israeli victory in October 1973, diplomatic procedures were inaugurated that four years later developed into an Israeli-Egyptian peace process, which in March 1979 produced Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state, though this subsequently came to a grinding halt; the stasis lasted through the 1980s. Then a new phase of peace negotiations was inaugurated in October 1991 at the Madrid Conference. The ensuing set of negotiations gave birth to a second Arab-Israeli peace treaty in 1994, with Jordan, to a Palestinian-Israeli breakthrough, and to a significant degree of Arab-Israeli normalization; but even in its heyday in 1993-95 the "Madrid process" failed to bring about a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict or to end the political disputes and the bloodshed between Israel and parts of the Arab world. New developments in 1996 slowed it down and in 1998 brought it near collapse.
The Madrid process represents the first sustained international effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is significant that no comparable effort—as distinct from short-lived attempts, various mediation efforts, and partial settlements—had been undertaken before, and that twenty-five years of an uneven peace process have still failed to produce a comprehensive settlement. The Arab-Israeli conflict has indeed been one of the more complex and difficult international problems of the second half of the twentieth century. The first step to understanding its complexity is a recognition that there is no single Arab-Israeli dispute but a duster of distinct, interrelated conflicts:
(1) The core conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a classic conflict between two national movements claiming title to and vying for possession of the same land. This original strand in the Arab-Israeli dispute was overshadowed for some fifteen years (1949-64) by the pulverization of the Palestinian community that had been dispersed during Israel's war of independence, and by the pre-eminence then of pan-Arab ideologies and Arab state interests. The resurgence of Palestinian nationalism in the mid-1960s and, ironically, the establishment in 1967 of Israeli control over the whole of Palestine west of the Jordan River restored a major role to the Palestinians in the Arab world. Their new importance was reinforced by the PLO'S offensive against Israel, conducted with the defeat of the established Arab armies in the background.
(2) A broader dispute between Israel and Arab nationalism. This is a national, political, cultural, and increasingly also religious conflict. Both sides came into this conflict carrying their historical and cultural legacies. The Jewish people's national revival in their historic homeland in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and after millennia of exile and persecution, unfolded during a head-on collision with an Arab national movement seeking revival, renewal, and power after a century of soul-searching and humiliation at the hands of Western powers. Unfortunately, most Arabs have perceived Zionism and Israel as either part of the West or, worse, a Western bridgehead established in their midst.
(3) A series of bilateral disputes between Israel and neighboring Arab states created by geopolitical rivalries combined with other factors. Thus Egypt was drawn into war with Israel in 1948 by the Palestinian problem, but its decision to join the Arab war coalition and its subsequent conflict with Israel were also affected by the ambitions of Arab and regional leaders, by its sense of competition with Israel as the other powerful and ambitious state in the region, and by a desire to obtain a land bridge to the eastern Arab world through the southern Negev Desert. Similarly, Syria's bitter relationship to Israel has expressed both its genuine attachment to Arab nationalism and to the Palestinian cause, and its acute sense of rivalry with Israel for hegemony in the Levant.
(4) The larger international conflict. The "Palestine question" has always been an important and a salient international issue. The interest and passion aroused by the "Holy Land" (Falastin to Arabs and Muslims), the saliency of what used to be called the "Jewish question," the rivalries of colonial powers and later the superpowers in the Middle East, and the overall geopolitical importance of the Arab world were some of the considerations and forces that have accounted for the significance in international affairs of the evolving Arab-Israeli conflict. It was not originally and was never allowed to be a local squabble. Arabs and Israelis from the outset sought international support for their respective causes, while foreign governments and other actors—out of genuine commitment to one of the parties, in search of gain, or for the sake of peace and stability—have always intervened.
These international factors were magnified and exacerbated by the Cold War. The Middle East, because of its intrinsic importance, its geographical closeness to the Soviet Union, and its openness to change, became an important arena of Soviet-American competition. In the early 1950s, the Soviet Union shifted from initial support for Israel to sweeping support for the Arab states, and it exploited the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to weaken the Western position in the Middle East and enhance its own. After about a decade of fluctuation, the United States decided on a policy of open cooperation with Israel and other Middle Eastern allies against the region's radical and pro-Soviet regimes. So, in the Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973 and in other Middle Eastern crises, the two superpowers contended by proxy. Israel's power was increased dramatically by American aid and support, but the Soviet Union's military assistance to its allies and clients, the prospect of Soviet military intervention, and Soviet help in rebuilding the defeated Egyptian and Syrian armies were important in denying Israel the political fruits of its military power and achievements.
Whereas in the 1950s and early 1960s it was the Soviet Union that tended to take advantage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the equation was altered by Israel's victory in the 1967 war. Within a few years, the Arab world grasped that the key to regaining the territories Israel had gained in that war was to be sought in Washington. American endorsement of the principle of exchanging "land for peace," and a willingness and ability to act on it, were at least some of the time the basis on which the United States was able to orchestrate the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations and register several impressive achievements. For example, the Egyptian-Israeli peace process initiated after the 1973 war, the first major breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict, was intimately linked to one of Washington's greatest Cold War accomplishments: Egypt's transition from a Soviet ally to a nation in the American orbit.
This was the formative period of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 1948 war which gave birth to both the state of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict ended with a series of armistice agreements, not with a peace settlement. This fact has in recent years been the focus of a fierce debate in Israel among three schools of opinion: an orthodox, establishment-oriented, sometimes almost official historiography which blames this failure on the Arab world and its refusal to accept Israel's existence; a revisionist school which considers these critical years through a contemporary ideological prism, relying on several newly opened archives, primarily Israel's state archives, and which lays much of the blame on Israel and its leader, David Ben-Gurion, for refusing any sensible compromise or concession; and a further school of post-revisionists, also using newly available archival and other sources, which shuns both the apologetic tendency of the first historiography and the blunt revisionism of the second.
This third group is interested less in allocating blame and discovering "missed opportunities" than in trying to understand the stalemate produced by the Arab-Israeli clash of interests and outlooks and in their asymmetries. Israel sustained heavy casualties in the 1948 war, believed that in the aftermath of the Holocaust the Jewish people was entitled to a secure homeland, and maintained that a belligerent force defeated in a war that it had itself initiated could not reasonably demand a reversal of its outcome.
Israel was also guided by a genuine, albeit sometimes exaggerated, existential insecurity and a fear that a "second round" might be initiated by its Arab adversaries, who had refused to accept the war's outcome and Israel's entrenchment in their midst. Under Ben-Gurion's leadership, Israel sought to stabilize the status quo, on the assumption that, once it had consolidated its existence and absorbed the postwar wave of Jewish refugees and immigrants, peace could be made on better terms a few years later. In a series of exploratory and then real peace negotiations conducted after the 1948 war, Israel offered some concessions, though not the ones demanded by its Arab interlocutors.
From the Arab nationalist perspective, Israel was an illegitimate state that threatened the Arab world culturally and geopolitically. The few Arab leaders who agreed to negotiate with Israel insisted on far-reaching concessions (giving up the southern part of the Negev Desert, allowing a corridor to link Gaza to the West Bank, permitting the return of Palestinian refugees, jurisdiction over part of Lake Tiberias), both in order to legitimize any prospective agreement in Arab eyes, and because they believed that only significant and painful Israeli concessions could redress some of the injustices done them by Israel's very establishment and the expansion of its original territory, the defeat of the Arab armies, and the disintegration of the Palestinian community.
A close look at the various attempts to arrive at peace settlements between Israel and its Arab neighbors after the 1948 war will point to many reasons and forces responsible for their failure, but at the root of the difficulty lay the truth that the Arab and Israeli perspectives were irreconcilable. In the circumstances obtaining at the war's end, any concession that could possibly satisfy at least some of the Arabs was perceived by Israel's leaders as an existential threat. This state of affairs continued until June 1967, when Israel's victory in the Six-Day War gave it territorial assets that it could use as bargaining chips in peace negotiations. Until then, the conflict had lingered and festered. The limitations and shortcomings of the armistice agreements, friction over unresolved issues, the impact of radical ideologies espoused by certain Arab army officers on Arab politics, Israel's response to these developments, and the Soviet Union's influence in the region combined to shape a full-blown Arab-Israeli conflict by the mid-1950s. This meant a virtual absence of normal contacts between Israel and the Arab world; a complete Arab boycott; border clashes; individual and organized group Arab violence against Israel and an Israeli policy to retaliate against both; a second Israeli-Arab war in 1956 shaped by Israel's cooperation with Great Britain and France, two declining colonial powers, versus revolutionary pan-Arab nationalists; an arms race; and perennial fear of still more war.
Soon events and developments occurred that led to the crisis of May 1967 and the Six-Day War in June. One was the completion of Israel's overland water carrier, bringing water from Lake Tiberias in the north to the more spacious but arid lands in the south, and the Arab decision to thwart a project designed to enhance Israel's absorptive capacity and thus consolidate its existence. A second was the return of the Palestinians and the Palestinian national movement to a directly active role in Middle Eastern politics with the emergence of various groups and organizations that subsequently assembled under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Third was the radicalization of Syrian politics under the Ba'ath Party's regime and the exacerbation of rivalries among various Arab states, particularly with regard to issues relating to Israel. Fourth was the intensification of Soviet-American rivalry in the region. And lastly there was a leadership crisis in Israel after David Ben-Gurion's second and final abdication in 1963.
1. The Background 1
2. Madrid and Oslo: Years of Hope 38
3. Years of Stagnation 78
4. Ehud Barak and the Collapse of the Peace Process 123
5. Sharon, Bush, and Arafat 181
6. The Web of Relationships 220
7. Peace and Normalization 267
8. Conclusion 305
Posted March 3, 2013
Remember that brilliant professor in high school or college who clearly knew his subject but couldn't get through to his students because he was such a poor communicator? Unfortunately, Mr. Rabinovich seems to fit that description to a T! Clearly knowledgeable of the subject from his years in a position to know, the book is nothing more than a White paper on the subject of Israel and its neighbors, devoid of the slightest spark or semblence of life. Extremely difficult to read due to its hammer-like dullness, this is not for general reading. Very poorly done.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.