The international community has long tried to promote Arab-Israeli peace. But most of these efforts have failed due to Arab opposition and onerously imposed, unacceptable terms on Israel that the Jewish state necessarily resisted.
For peace to be achieved in the future, the international community should look to the past—successful Arab-Israeli peace efforts exhibit at least one of the two following traits: (1) Talks were conducted directly by the parties concerned and with U.S. mediation, and (2) Direct talks fostered an environment in which the parties felt vested in the process and expressed their intent to implement the outcome.
Successful International Efforts to Promote Peace
Effective peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors resulted from direct, bilateral negotiations between the two parties, or were assisted by exclusive U.S. mediation:
Egypt-Israel peace treaty (1979): The treaty emerged from secret, direct talks between Egyptian and Israeli officials and subsequent U.S. mediation, culminating in the 1978 Camp David Accords. Egypt became the first Arab state to officially make peace with Israel. Today, despite widespread turmoil in Egypt and across the Middle East, the treaty remains stable and an indispensable foundation of U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Oslo Accord (1993): The agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was secretly negotiated between the parties, with the United States helping negotiate follow-up agreements, such as the 1995 Interim Agreement and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum. The Accords led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel’s ceding of civil and public safety authority over portions of the West Bank and Gaza to the PA.
Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty (1994): The treaty was largely negotiated directly between the parties. Talks were initiated at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and continued for almost two years before culminating in the signing of the Israeli-Jordan Common Agenda on Sept. 14, 1993, which set the blueprint for the final peace treaty. Peace paved the way for meaningful bilateral trade and cooperation between the two states.
Failed International Efforts to Promote Peace
Since Israel’s founding, various international efforts have failed to generate Arab-Israeli peace because they were opposed by the Arab parties or imposed unacceptable terms on Israel:
U.N. Palestine Conciliation Commission (1949-present): Composed of the United States, France and Turkey, the Commission was established to develop a framework to solve the Palestinian refugee issue. At the Commission’s 1949 Lausanne Conference, Israel was told to offer territorial compensation for any territory it had acquired during its War of Independence beyond the U.N. Partition Resolution’s narrow boundaries, and repatriate Palestinian refugees. Naturally, Israel found these demands unacceptable. The conference failed, as has the Commission itself, which continues to issue ineffectual and little-noticed reports to this day.
Jarring Mission (1967-1973): The Swedish Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Gunnar Jarring, was appointed by the U.N. Secretary General as special envoy to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which established principles for a negotiated settlement for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jarring continued with his mission for six years, but ultimately the mission failed because the Arab states demanded that Israel agree in advance to withdraw from all the territories as a condition for peace talks. Israel maintained that the only way to achieve peace was through direct negotiations, in which territorial issues would be on the negotiating table.
Geneva Conference (Dec. 21, 1973): The conference was held under the auspices of the U.N. Secretary General, with the United States and the Soviet Union as co-chairs. While the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Israel were in attendance, no agreement was reached.
Aborted Geneva Conference (1977): President Jimmy Carter and the Soviet Union sought to reconvene the Geneva Conference. The conference, however, never materialized because Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat was opposed to a Soviet role in Israeli-Egyptian peacemaking, opting instead to engage in direct talks with the Israelis, with the U.S. mediating the negotiations. That approach bore fruit, leading to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
The Middle East Quartet (2002-present): The Quartet—consisting of the United States, Russia, the U.N. and the European Union—was formed in 2002 in order to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace. In April 2003, it issued the Roadmap for Peace, which laid out a three-phase plan to resolve the conflict; it has never been implemented. Since its formation, the Quartet has held more than 60 meetings, and issued many statements and reports—none of which have had any tangible effects on the ground.
The Current Status of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
The Oslo peace process broke down in 2000 as Palestinians opted to return to armed conflict against Israel, in what became known as the Second Intifada, and subsequently rejected President Clinton’s peace parameters, which were accepted by Israel. The deadly Palestinian violence greatly eroded the tenuous trust built between the two parties during the 1990s.
In July 2013, the two parties returned to the negotiating table for talks aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace deal. However, direct negotiations stalled and collapsed in 2014. While Martin lndyk, the U.S. special envoy to the talks, blamed in part Israel’s settlements activity for the failure of the talks, he also stated that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had "checked out" more than two months before an initial negotiating deadline.
Since then, the PA has attempted to bypass direct negotiations and impose a one-sided solution on Israel through actions at the U.N., the International Criminal Court, and other international bodies. But as history illustrates, no peace agreement can be realized without Israel’s support—a deal can only work if both parties enter negotiations willingly, feel vested in the talks and intend to implement the outcome.
Moreover, international acceptance of Palestinian demands outside of a directly negotiated settlement only encourages Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table, thereby decreasing prospects for peace.
As President Barack Obama said during his March 2013 trip to Israel, “There is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiations—which is why…the United States will opposed unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations…It has to be done by the parties.”
Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report