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.
The Oslo Peace Accords dealt with the conditions and elements for a Palestinian state on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 – officially titled the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, or DOP. Arafat, who had been biding his time in Tunisia following his ouster from Lebanon, was permitted to return to the Palestinians territories – a move that, in effect, granted entry to a “Trojan Horse” determined to destabilize and destroy the Jewish state.
Most Israelis, including those on the political left, have come to acknowledge that the Oslo experiment was an abject failure, along with the concept of land for peace. And, the process made it all the more obvious that neither the Palestinians nor the Syrians were ready to make full peace with Israel then or since.
A wave of suicide attacks prior to the 1996 elections in Israel, which came in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in November 1995, brought opposition leader Benjamin “Bibi’ Netanyahu to power. Despite the fact that he rejected Oslo prior to the elections, Bibi made overtures to Arafat hoping he might make some headway. Bibi demanded “reciprocity” from Arafat, meaning an end to incitement and direct and indirect support for terrorism. Though these demands were never met, Netanyahu signed the Hebron and Wye agreements, resulting in further redeployments in the West Bank and security compromises.
President Bill Clinton, anxious to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace, invested an inordinate amount of personal capital in the Camp David Summit of 2000. In the end, despite major Israeli concessions proposed by Prime Minister Barak, Arafat would not sign on to “an end of conflict” clause. He walked out of the summit, and soon thereafter launched the Second Intifada.
President George W. Bush, while initially reluctant to enter the fruitless “peace process,” was persuaded to act after the 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut produced a “peace plan” endorsed by the Arab League. In July 2002, the “Quartet” (United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) outlined the principles of a “road map” for peace, which included an independent Palestinian state. As a first step on the “road map,” the Palestinian Authority was required to “undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere[.]“
In August 2005, the Sharon government carried out a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian elections, took over the territory, and immediately began a massive missile attack on Israeli communities in the western Negev. Subsequent negotiations in 2008 led by Sharon’s successors, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, with Abu Mazen, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, went nowhere – in spite of additional unilateral concessions made by Olmert.
President Obama’s new paradigm, which considers the creation of a Palestinian state a priority and the Palestinian issue “key” to regional peace, put heavy pressure on Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and led to a freeze in building in the settlements and the removal of security barriers to accommodate face-to-face negotiations. The Two-State Solution has become an Obama imperative – not so, however, for the Palestinians.
Reflecting on the peace process, one has to conclude that the land for peace approach of the Israeli left was wrong. The “peace process” has proven to be an absolute failure, especially since the Palestinian leadership (PA and Hamas) refuse to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish State. And, when Israel succumbs to pressure from its Western “friends” and continues to negotiate, make unilateral concessions and cross “red lines” even when the reciprocity Israel receives is terror, the message to their enemies is clear – Israel is in retreat.
The “peace process” has been and continues to be based on the flawed premise that the parties have reconcilable goals. They do not. The Arabs reject the idea of a Jewish state in their midst. The evidence for this is incontestable. Not only does the Hamas Charter state this explicitly and unconditionally, but every Palestinian leader, from Yasser Arafat to Mahmud Abbas, to Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has consistently made this rejection their policy. Israel’s left, as well as the West, must face up to this truth.
The only possibility for peace is if there is a change in the nature of the Palestinian society. Only when democracy, civil society, the rule of law, religious freedom, and separation of mosque and state occurs will the “peace process” lead to a lasting peace. Until such time, what has happened and is happening can best be described as a disingenuous peace process.