I well remember the excitement surrounding Pres. George H.W. Bush’s successful convening of the Madrid Peace Conference on October 31, 1991! Delegations from Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon– all of which had remained in a formal state of war with Israel since 1948– for the first time sat down directly with an Israeli government delegation and started negotiating the terms for a comprehensive and final peace.
(When the members of the Palestinian delegation returned to Gaza and the West Bank, they were mobbed by massive throngs of admirers. Their cars became stuck in the crowd-filled streets for, in some cases, several hours.)
Jordan concluded its final peace with Israel in 1994– motivated in some part by the fact of the country’s intense reliance on U.S., but also no doubt by the strong desire of the late King Hussein to conclude that peace. But he, like Egypt’s Pres. Sadat before him, still stressed that Israel needed also to conclude land-for-peace peace agreements with all its other neighbors, too. Including the Palestinians.
But none of those negotiating parties except Jordan is any closer to a final peace with Israel than it was in 1991.
… More than 18 years have passed since then. On the Palestinian track, there have been numerous, completely indeterminate rounds of negotiations, most of them dealing with tiny minutiae of yet another “interim” phase, while the final-status deal that urgently needs to be secured on this track has only ever been addressed sporadically.
As of now, the Israelis and Palestinians have not held any peace talks at all– on either interim or final-status issues– for more than a year.
The situation on the ground is now considerably worse than it was in 1991. Back then, there were 231,000 Israeli settlers in the OPTs. Today, there are more than 500,000. Also, in the years since 1991, the Israeli occupation forces have killed and maimed huge numbers of OPT Palestinians, and Palestinians have killed and maimed significant (though far smaller) numbers of Israelis…
Perhaps understandably those losses– and the very harsh conditions of life that the Israeli occupation has imposed on the OPT Palestinians– have transformed the optimism, hope, and self-confidence that marked the Madrid days into a festering stew of fear and sullen resentment on each side.
The outlook for peace diplomacy is therefore, also, considerably worse now than it was in 1991… Or rather, it is worse if you hold to the viewpoint that’s become so widespread in U.S. power circles in recent years that the “only” way to make peace is for the two parties themselves to make it, with a minimum of intervention from outside.
(Except, of course, that there has never been “minimal intervention from outside”, has there? What with the U.S. Congress continuing to shovel mammoth amounts of funding into Israel, while successive administrations have also given the country unparalleled amounts of political, military, and diplomatic support. So all that business about “just leave the two sides to negotiate the peace between themselves” has always been something of a lie, hasn’t it?)
And now, Pres. Obama’s senior peace envoy, Sen. George Mitchell, is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank again next week. (Hey, why not Gaza, too, Mr. Mitchell?) There is word from the region, variously, that Mitchell will be pursuing the idea of “proximity talks” between Israelis and Palestinians, and/or that he plans to “restart Israeli-Palestinian talks on a two-year deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state.”
The peace process, more than any other factor, gave Israelis access to markets and tourism sites abroad, connected the Israeli economy to the global economy and led to Israel’s gradual acceptance as a legitimate neighbor in the Middle East…