"Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: Patterns, Problems and Possibilities" :: Book Review ::

As the peace process grinds to a halt, many are reflecting on the problems with the process that led to what was an expected, if not inevitable failure. Why does it seem that the same mistakes are repeated over and over again, and that those managing the peace process today learn nothing from the mistakes of their predecessors?

To get a good handle on the flaws of peace processes past, Laura Eisenberg and Neil Caplan’s Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: Patterns, Problems and Possibilities is a good place to start. The newly released second edition covers every interaction between the parties from Arab-Zionist negotiations in the 1910s-20s, up through the more recent peace talks in the post-Oslo era. What emerges is an important study on what works and what doesn’t work in peace-making.

The authors look at several in-depth case studies, examining eight Arab-Israeli encounters since 1977, including the Camp David peace process, the Israel-Lebanon treaty of 1983, the Hussein-Peres London Document of 1987, the 1991 Madrid Conference and subsequent Washington talks, the Oslo peace process between Israel and the PLO and the Palestinian-Israeli summits at Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001.

Within each case study, the authors examine the parties’ previous experience negotiating together, the variety of purposes and motives for entering negotiations, the question of timing, the status of the negotiating partners, the effect of third-party involvement, the proposed terms of agreement and the physiological factors affecting both leaders and followers.

Ultimately, the authors conclude, that physiological factors, including leadership personality, are the most critical factors that influence the outcome of the cases they analyzed. They write:

Consider at different junctures Yitzhak Shamir’s immovability; Anwar Sadat’s courage and flair for the dramatic; Manachem Begin’s rising to the occasion of Sadat’s opening in contrast to the prime minister’s later condescension toward Bashir and Amin Gamayel; Ehud Barak’s arrogance toward his Syrian and Palestinian counterparts, Benjamin Netanyahu’s disdain and distrust of his Arab interlocutors, Shimon Peres’ unbridled, often inexplicable, optimism, Yitzkhak Rabin’s embrace of King Hussein and reluctant relationship with Yasir Arafat, King Hussein’s cautious but persistent readiness to work with all Israeli leaders, Hafez al-Asad’s enigmatic absolutism; and Arafat’s own highly idiosyncratic and unpredictable behavior. In similar circumstances with equivalent access to intelligence and information, different leaders respond differently and relate to one another in ways sometimes reflecting more the sheer force of personality than an objective calculation of costs and benefits. Different leaders also provoke different reactions from their own people and from the opponent’s.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the stalling of these most recent peace talks can easily be understood when one considers the leadership personality of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the effect of that leadership personality on the process. It was, of course, Binyamin Netanyahu who boldly claimed responsibility for torpedoing the Oslo peace process on video and further claimed that the United States could easily be manipulated.

The authors of Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace do a remarkable job of distancing themselves from passing judgment in their analysis while regularly incorporating the voices of various critics and supporters of the process. There may be some methodological questions raised about the generalization of conclusions based on such a limited number of cases. Further, an expanded discussion on how the different variables vary in influence when the negotiations move from Arab-Israeli to Israeli-Palestinian would have been helpful. Overall, the book makes for a very interesting, albeit academic, read at a very pertinent time.


[1]. Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, Second Edition: Patterns, Problems, Possibilities (Indiana University Press; Second Edition edition, 2010)
by Laura Zittrain Eisenberg and Neil Caplan