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Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East.

Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, by Daniel C. Kurtzer and Scott B. Lasensky. United States Institute of Peace Press, 2008. 191 pages. $13.00.

In Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, Daniel C. Kurtzer and Scott B. Lasensky provide a peerless example of sound public-policy analysis, in which American national interests are the paramount value pursued. Practitioners, scholars and students are unlikely to see anything like it in literature on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The indictment of America's failures jumps off every page. The author's hard-hitting, no-nonsense descriptions of U.S. failures in exploiting opportunities, of U.S. inability to create openings for peace, and of U.S. neglect of the terrible costs to the people of the region who suffer from a lack of peace, are a reminder that America's impotence has significantly eroded our national interests in the region. This is not a patient, soft-spoken, diplomatic treatise on the niceties of how to negotiate peace treaties. Rather, it is closer to an indictment of how a great country like the United States, with all its resources and strengths, cannot match its power with sophisticated leadership necessary to bring all parties of the Arab-Israeli conflict to an agreement. To make sure the reader does not miss the point, the authors use the word "failure" and its synonyms over 172 times throughout the text.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, U.S. leadership successfully promoted peace between Arabs and Israelis, creating the possibility of a comprehensive agreement. The 1970 Rogers Plan, the ceasefire ending the Yom Kippur War, the 1978 Camp David Accords, and the 1991 Madrid agreements are examples of this effort. The record indicates that the momentum of earlier successes was squandered, leaving both parties in conflict and U.S. interests eroded.

Kurtzer, a 30-year veteran of the Foreign Service and former ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and Lasensky, a Ph.D. from Brandeis University and acting vice president of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.S. Institute of Peace, led a study group of distinguished scholars, diplomats, public-policy professionals and political officials to gather the recommendations of the highest-level experts in the field. The group's roster included: William Quandt, Steven L. Spiegel and Shibley Telhami, all renowned analysts of U.S. Middle East policy. In addition to this qualified study group, Kurtzer and Lasensky consulted with a prestigious list of 39 leaders, that included Madeleine Albright, Herbert Kelman, Robert Pelletreau, Thomas Pickering, Colin Powell and Brent Scrowcroft. The interviews and consultations laboriously collected by Kurtzer and Lasensky culminated in one of the best summaries of facts, methods and conclusions on this subject to date.

The 84 pages of narrative, including 10 critical lessons that are the heart of the book, together with 37 pages of chronology and 57 pages of documents and sources, present the reader with an understanding of the requirements for conducting negotiations between the parties. This is not a book about what is needed to get the parties to agreement, but rather a "how to" on structuring negotiations and nurturing a process toward a final agreement that meets the needs of the Arabs and Israelis and satisfies U.S. interests.

The book is unique in the literature on the Arab-Israeli conflict because it lacks villains, other than the the failure of American leadership. The authors avoid blaming the parties in a one-sided fashion. They identify mistakes and point the way forward, not with optimism but with realistic methods. The book points out on page after page how American leaders missed crucial opportunities because they were not adept at recognizing the difference between tactics that could lead to peace and those used to stall for time. For example,
 [Prime Minister] Rabin secretly told Secretary of State Warren
 Christopher and envoy Dennis Ross in the summer of 1993 that Israel
 was willing to negotiate a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights
 in exchange for full peace and [to] start security arrangements
 with Syria. With Rabin's hypothetical offer in hand, the United
 States did not mount a sustained diplomatic shuttle effort, as had
 been done in the past. The so-called Rabin deposit was ultimately
 squandered (p. 18).

Additionally, there were serious gaps in staffing:
 Clinton's secretaries of state, Warren Christopher and Madeleine
 Albright, assigned day-to-day responsibility for the peace process
 to a special Middle East coordinator. The peace team assembled
 during much of the administration had superior expertise regarding
 Israel, but far less expertise and experience in dealing with the
 Arabs. Assistant secretaries and ambassadors in the field often
 felt cut off from policy formulation and, at key junctures, did not
 participate in important diplomatic talks (p. 52).

Further, the peace team
 failed to monitor performance and enforce commitments the parties
 made to each other and to Washington; this failure was highlighted
 more than any other issue throughout the study group's
 consultations. Former policymakers widely acknowledged that the
 lack of accountability was corrosive, eroding confidence among the
 parties, undermining U.S. standing, and allowing destructive
 developments to proceed unchecked (Lesson 5) (p. 43).

Lesson 5 further elaborates on how obsessed the negotiators were with keeping the talks going. They failed to notice or acknowledge that nothing had changed appreciably on the ground to give the public in both Israel and Palestine any hope that the talks would lessen their hardships or anxieties. The need to "keep the process alive," which became the mantra throughout the Oslo years, was deemed more important than having the United States take strong positions when the parties did not comply with commitments and agreements.

This is the second book that the U.S. Institute of Peace has published on the subject. In 1991, Kenneth Stein and Samuel Lewis authored Making Peace among Arabs and Israelis, in which they presented 26 recommendations or "General Propositions." Kurtzer and Lasensky offer 10 "Lessons Learned and Relearned," which are broken down into four categories: The Strategic Context, Style and Substance, The Foreign Policy Process and U.S. Domestic Politics, and The Negotiator's Tool Kit:

1. Arab-Israeli peacemaking is in the U.S. national interest.

2. U.S. policy must exclusively be formulated in Washington.

3. The United States must exploit and create opportunities for peacemaking.

4. The peace process needs final objectives in mind, not just incremental achievements.

5. Commitments and agreements made by the parties must be respected and implemented.

6. Direct intervention of the president is vital but should be employed selectively.

7. The negotiating team should be diversified.

8. Broad and bipartisan domestic support should be built, using political capital before it expires.

9. Envoys should have unambiguous support from the White House, credibility with all parties and a broad mandate.

10. The diplomatic toolbox should be used judiciously.

The parties in the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot reach peace without a third-party mediator. No self-respecting Israeli prime minister will concede anything unless incentives are provided and supported by the United States with the president's involvement. The Palestinians also believe that Israel is not likely to move toward peace without heavy U.S. involvement. "The eventual collapse of the Oslo process--which was initiated and defined by the parties without U.S. intervention--best exemplifies the general rule that, left on their own, the parties cannot address the deep, structural impediments to peace" (p. 9).

If the lessons in this clear-eyed analysis are followed, perhaps there will be no need for another book on how to make peace in the Middle East.

Omar M. Kader, chairman, PaL-Tech, Inc., a government consulting firm
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Author:Kader, Omar M.
Publication:Middle East Policy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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