Cover image for Waging peace : Israel and the Arabs at the end of the century
Waging peace : Israel and the Arabs at the end of the century
Rabinovich, Itamar, 1942-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
227 pages ; 22 cm
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DS119.76 .R33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors have lasted for more than half a century. How can they be ended? In this important book, a noted expert goes beyond the old formulas to suggest new ways to normalize international relations in the Middle East.

Itamar Rabinovich considers the issues in all the relevant contexts: the core conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a classic dispute between two national movements claiming title to and vying for possession of the same land; the broader political and cultural -- and occasionally religious -- conflict between Israel and Arab nationalism; the many bilateral disagreements between Israel and its various Arab neighbors; and the international structure in which colonial and postcolonial power rivalries, geopolitical factors, and talk about the "Holy Land" all play a part. His vivid account of the hopeful peace processes of 1992 to 1996 and the more dispiriting record since then points the way to the crucial matters that will be address in 1999 and 2000. Will Arafat declare Palestinian statehood? Are hostilities to be expected? With his shrewd assessments of the major players (and the striking differences in how each "tells the story") and his realistic understanding of the possibilities, Rabinovich offers real hope for an intelligent achievement of enduring peace.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

When a veteran Israeli diplomat such as Rabinovich tackles the daunting task of bringing clarity to the relationships between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians, readers should avail themselves of the opportunity to learn something. This lucid primer on Middle East diplomacy is timed to coincide with Israels May elections. As head of the Israeli delegation that negotiated with Syria from 1992 to 1995 and as a former ambassador to the U.S., Rabinovich had a good view of the diplomatic footwork that followed the Madrid conference and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. While he offers summaries of Israels postCamp David cold peace with Egypt and its negotiations with PLO proxies (before direct talks), Rabinovich is most enlightening when discussing the very difficult negotiations with Syria and when demonstrating how the intricacies of domestic Isreali politics figure in the calculations of its negotiating counterparts. He is also very adept at explaining how, despite paying lip service to pan-Arab solidarity, Egypts Hosni Mubarak, Syrias Hafez al-Asad, Jordans King Hussein and PLO chairman Yasir Arafat were also competing against one another for advantage (and, frequently, for American favor). A firm advocate of the peace process, Rabinovich is cautiously optimistic. While celebrating the fact that a web of vested interests, relations and expectations condusive to peace has been established, he envisions peace arriving, if it arrives at all, haltingly, over many years and with many setbacks. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This concise, focused, and readable book is a welcome addition to the literature on Israeli-Arab relations. Published to coincide with the Israeli elections, it is a thorough examination of the 50-year effort to achieve peace among Israel, its neighboring Arab states, and the Palestinians. Rabinovich, an Israeli professor and diplomat, headed the Israeli delegation to the peace talks with Syria (1992-95) and was the Israeli ambassador to the United States (1993-96). He is knowledgeable and insightful as he systematically documents peacemaking attempts from Camp David to the Wye River agreements, expertly describing the multiple paths the process has followed. He attempts to be objective, providing views opposing the Israelis, and is equally critical of all sides in discussing diplomatic failures. The question is now not whether but when, with whom, and in what form peace will come. A chronology at the beginning would have been useful. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. (Index not seen.)ÄRuth K. Baacke, Whatcom Community Coll., Bellingham, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Rabinovich, a scholar, politician, and leader of the Israeli peace movement, combines personal political commentary with a careful examination of the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian peace process as it unfolded across various wars, failed beginnings, and remarkable accomplishments. He addresses both the personalities and interests of the various actors and nations who have shaped the complex Middle East peace process. Written from a moderate-left position in Israeli politics, the book also assesses blame within and without Israel for specific failures and missed opportunities. The first half of the book provides a powerful historical overview of the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli peace processes since 1948. It reveals the multiple tracks by which peace has progressed in fits and starts. Unfortunately, the second half is somewhat repetitive; it undertakes a nation-by-nation survey of the significant actors and interests in the peace process, often repeating information previously provided in the historical overview. Although slightly out-of-date in the aftermath of the recent Israeli elections, this volume presents useful and fair coverage of a contentious topic. Recommended at all levels. A. L. Crothers; Illinois State University



Chapter One THE BACKGROUND * * * 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 evenly divided 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. 1948-67 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. Copyright © 1999 Itamar Rabinovich. All rights reserved.