The Israeli Peace Process: Mission Accomplished

Efraim Inbar, Professor, Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv

March 8, 2000

What are the origins of the peace process in the Middle East? How have the Israelis fared in these negotiations?

The reason why there is a peace process at all is because Arab elites in the Middle East have had to accept that Israel is too strong for military defeat; Israel has achieved its existence through the successful monopoly and execution of force. The 1973 War was the turning point in this realization. Israel's success in beating back its Arab invaders brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to the negotiation table. This was marked by his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977 followed by the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979. Egypt's recognition of Israel and the relative stabilization of its common border meant that Israel no longer faced the threat of a multi-front war. In addition, Israel's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the threat of their use forced its Arab neighbors to admit certain defeat in the event of war.

In addition to these strategic developments, the Arab Middle East has undergone social and political changes that have favored Israel. These changes include the end of the Pan-Arab dream, which was replaced by particular Arab nationalist agendas. This is visible in Sadat's unilateral move towards negotiations with the Israelis. Furthermore, the nationalist break-up of the Arabs diminished their collective responsibility for the Palestinians. This is coupled with an overall weakening of the Palestinian movement at large. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) peaked in the late 1970's, and then became less effective with the Organization's ousting from Lebanon in 1982 brought on by the Israeli invasion and occupation of Beirut. In addition, the Intifada-the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank-created a schism between Palestinians living outside of the West Bank and those living within. Palestinians within the West Bank were much more realistic in their demands against the Israelis because they had been occupied and controlled by the Israelis and thus knew them better. The PLO's legitimacy was further compromised by PLO Chairman Yasar Arafat's support for Sadam Hussein during the Gulf War. These social and political issues led to the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasar Arafat in 1994 and 1995. In these Accords, Israel was recognized and the PLO agreed not to use force against the state.

Another factor that led to Arab capitulation was Israel's newfound ties with Turkey. Israeli-Turkish relations have further served to establish Israel as a reality in the Middle East with a local ally. This was coupled with Jordan recognizing Israel and stabilizing its common border, reducing another front on which Israel might have to fight.

All of these events have offered sobering lessons for the Arab world. Israel is no longer the biggest threat in the Middle East. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 offered a new enemy in the region. In addition, Sadam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and his hegemonic aspirations in the Gulf further threatened Arab states in the Middle East. Furthermore, the international systemic changes brought on by the end of the Cold War placed Israel on the winning side with the United States, and the Arab states on the losing side with the collapsed Soviet Union. In sum: all efforts of the Arab world to isolate Israel have ended in failure.

Therefore, Israel has emerged the winner-it has secured borders with two of its four neighbors and is in negotiations with Syria. Israel has placed the Palestinians in a position where they can only lose if they try any acts against the state. And Israel is militarily and economically strong. The peace process has fulfilled its potential for the Israelis and, thus, is essentially over.

Dr. Efraim Inbar is professor at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. He is head of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and University of Chicago. He is the author of the recently published book Rabin and Israel's National Security, published by Johns Hopkins University.

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