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Peace-Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967.

Peace-Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967

William Quandt

Brookings Books, $15.95

By Barry Rubin

American presidents, secretaries of State, and a good portion of the U.S. State Department have spent over a quarter-century trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Today, success may be in sight, or is it merely another mirage? At any rate, no current issue has kept the United States so long engaged; no series of efforts even approaches it in complexity; no policy area has seen so many initiatives or frustrations.

For these reasons, William Quandt's new book is useful and timely. His status as a veteran observer and sometime participant makes him a good guide. Quandt served on the National Security Council between 1977 and 1979 and participated in the Camp David negotiations. He has written a huge amount about U.S. Middle East policy over many years.

All this research and experience is used here to good effect in providing the first detailed, comprehensive narrative history of these complex events. Although one can quarrel with many details and points of analysis, the basic story is presented with considerable clanty and insight.

Yet so much has been written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, so many trees with deep, entangled roots obscure the horizon, that it is easy to become lost. The cast of characters makes War and Peace look like a one-act play. A whole dictionary is needed to explain the issue's vocabulary of terms--each with its own precise meaning and historical context, each with its own bias and implication--such as "Black September," "disengagement agreements," "two-state solution," "territories for peace," "Rogers Plan," "Reagan Plan ," and so on.

In Washington, scores of experts, journalists, and bureaucrats have built careers on writing, chatting, and--often very badly--trying to interpret this massive story. Quandt writes of the "alarming regulanty" with which "American presidents have found themselves dealing with Middle East crises for which they were poorly prepared." The poor quality of the experts as well as the general incompatibility of American and Middle Eastern political culture have contributed to some of the more memorable policy debacles in a number of administrations.

U.S. action in this region has been based on several premises about national interest, some of them clearly exaggerated. It was argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict was the overriding (often seeming to be the only) issue in the Middle East. Unless the United States found some solution, the Soviets would supposedly take over the area, the Arab world would turn to communism or Islamic fundamentalism, and wars would erupt at any given moment.

In fact, and here is a point usefully applied to other crises, the conflict has a logic of its own. As for the American goal of containing instability, the overwhelming economic, diplomatic, and strategic assets of the United States were highly successful in preserving its interest. The Cold War was already won in the Middle East when the outcome was still in doubt in other parts of the world.

As for ending the conflict, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat once said that 99 percent of the cards were in America's hands. But as Sadat himself showed when he made his own break-through by going to Israel (an act that greatly discomfited the Carter Administration at first), the local players were in control. The Arabs had to be ready to accept Israel's existence.

The deal being discussed today is close to what the Arab states and Palestinians might have achieved in 1967 or 1977 had they then been willing to live with a Jewish state in their midst. True, during the second half of the eighties, a conservative Israeli government offered considerably less, but that era was more of an exception than the norm.

In its broad outline, the process has been one in which Arab states and Palestinians first discovered their inability to destroy Israel through conventional military, terrorist, or political forces; then underwent a long--still uncompleted--process to reconcile themselves to that fact. Meanwhile, they exploited the conflict to muster a great deal of political support, money, and rationalization for their own failures on economic development and democracy. It was this long and bitter experience, casualties and wasted resources, the collapse of their major ally in Moscow, unquestionable U.S. dominance, the defeat of the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalism, and Saddam Hussein's radical Arab nationalism that made them begin to change course. But this issue will continue to be one of Clintoffs major foreign policy problems.

Barry Rubin is a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Foreign Policy Institute and teaches at Tel Aviv University. He i3 the author of the forth-coming book, Revolution Until Victory?: The Politics of the PLO, published by the Harvard University Press.
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Author:Rubin, Barry
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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