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The term “peace process,” writes William B. Quandt in Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, began to be widely used “sometime in the mid-1970’s” to describe “the American-led efforts to bring about a negotiated peace between Israel and its neighbors.” As Quandt explained it, “The phrase is synonymous with the gradual, step-by-step approach to resolving one of the world’s most difficult conflicts.” Quandt added, “In the years since 1967 the emphasis in Washington has shifted from the spelling out of the ingredients of ‘peace’ to the ‘process’ of getting there.”
In the aftermath of the Six Days War of 1967, with Israel in control of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, a fierce debate began in Israel over how to make peace with its Arab enemies. The political-left saw an opportunity to use the captured territories as bargaining chips for peace — hence the land for peace formula.
The political-right, on the other hand, looking pragmatically at Arab hostility and the Arab world’s unwillingness to neither make peace with Israel (nor recognize or negotiate with the Jewish State), argued for keeping most of the captured territories (certainly Judea and Samaria) and maintained that Israel had as much of a claim to the territories as the Jordanian monarchy or the Arab-Palestinians. Moreover, they asserted that the Arabs would never make a full and sincere peace with Israel.
Within the Israeli center-left establishment, the Allon Plan (named after General and Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon) gained a great deal of currency. It called on Israel to retain the strategic areas (the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley) and negotiate over the densely populated cities of the West Bank with Jordan in exchange for peace.
This debate over land for peace proved meaningless as the Arabs and the Palestinian Arabs made no attempts at peace negotiations for years. In 1979, however, things changed when Egypt signed the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel (the Begin center-right Likud government gave up the Sinai for peace, and later in 1994, the Rabin center-left Labor government made some territorial concession in order to conclude a peace agreement with Jordan). The Oslo Accords and subsequent peace process of the 1900’s tested the assumptions of both the right and the left.
Prior to the signing of the accords at the White House Lawn ceremony in September 1993, President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker dipped their hands in the peace process. Following the victory against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, they organized a conference in October 1991 in Madrid, Spain, that brought together Israel, alleged Non-PLO Palestinians and Jordanians, as well as Syrians. It was meant to serve as a preamble to direct bilateral and multilateral talks between Israel and its neighbors. The impatience of both the new left-leaning Rabin government in Israel, and the new Clinton administration in Washington with, doomed the success of the Madrid process.
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