M Graeme Bannerman. Foreign Affairs. Volume 72, Issue 1. 1992.
The New Framework for Negotiations
The pursuit of peace in the Middle East has been a major item on the foreign policy agenda of every American president for the last quarter century. Over this time significant objectives have been achieved, including the 1974 and 1975 disengagement agreements and the 1978 Camp David accords. A comprehensive regional peace, however, has eluded and frustrated all who have pursued it. Therefore, when President George Bush announced a new Arab-Israeli peace initiative in March 1991, most observers viewed his proposal with understandable skepticism.
Taking advantage of changed international conditions and applying the lessons of previous Middle East peace negotiating experiences, the Bush administration initiated a process that altered the search for Middle East peace. The conference held in Madrid at the end of October 1991 established a new framework for continuing negotiations, replacing the 1973 Geneva conference as the benchmark for future discussions of Middle East peace. Despite Israeli and American elections, terrorist attacks and military raids, slow but significant progress was achieved, and the process begun in Madrid continued throughout 1992.
The ability of the Clinton administration to continue this process will have a significant impact on Middle East stability and, as a consequence, on American interests in the region. Those committed to negotiations are facing significant and growing challenges from those opposed. When the United States is not engaged in the search for peace, extremist forces gain strength.
Islamic extremists gain in appeal when the peace process appears stalled. Israel’s decision in December 1992 to yield to public opinion and expel more than four hundred members of the Hamas faction of Palestinians only strengthens the hand of rejectionists. The more moderate Palestinians, as well as the PLO in Tunis, will steadily lose support if peace talks are seen as futile. Conversely, the ability of the Jordanians and the more moderate Palestinian leadership to continue negotiating will be limited by the growing influence of extremists.
The Clinton administration will be judged, in part, by how far it is able to advance peace in this tumultuous area.
Moderate Arabs: Breaking Away from Their Past
Conditions in the Middle East after the 1991 Gulf War were ripe for a new peace initiative. Those who traditionally rejected a negotiated peace—Iraq, Libya, Palestinians opposed to compromise, and others—were in disarray. The United States, moderate Arab states and the international community had inflicted a severe political and military defeat on those obstructionists. The importance of the military defeat is apparent. Equally important, but not as obvious, is the mechanism responsible for this defeat: the establishment of a moderate Arab coalition opposed to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Under the sometimes not-too-subtle leadership of Egypt, a majority of Arab states united with non-Arabs to inflict a military defeat upon one of their own. The willingness of some Arab states to break away from the pack and act in their own interest was an important precedent, crucial to any successful peace negotiation.
In the past, peace initiatives foundered, in part because, with the notable exception of Egypt under President Anwar al-Sadat, no Arab state was willing to proceed without a consensus among all Arab states. The least compromising party set the pace of negotiations. More important, no benefit came to those who were willing to take risks for regional peace. Indeed frustration with the ability of an inflexible Syrian leadership to dictate the pace and direction of the peace process was a primary factor in President Sadat’s decision to strike out on his own in November 1977 with his historic visit to Jerusalem. Egypt, however, suffered subsequent years of isolation from the Arab world by signing a peace treaty with Israel.
The most daunting task for the Middle East peace process is inducing the regional actors to abandon entrenched views. Doing so is always politically risky, but absolutely necessary, if differences are to be bridged. If the process is to be successful, Middle Eastern leaders must show leadership and take personal risks. The actions of many during the build-up to the Gulf War clearly demonstrated a willingness to do so.
The willingness of some Arab leaders to break with others on tactical issues has been crucial to the modest successes achieved during the peace process. This flexibility has allowed progress to be made in one area while avoiding other, more contentious issues. In almost unprecedented fashion one or more of the Arab participants has taken decisive action at crucial moments. At Madrid, Syrian unwillingness to commit to participation in future bilateral or multilateral discussions brought the future of the negotiations into question. After repeated efforts to bring the Syrians along, the Jordanians and Palestinians indicated they would join the discussions whether or not the Syrians did. The Syrians ultimately joined the bilateral negotiations but have not joined the multilateral forum.
Changes in the international balance of power accompanied favorable conditions in the Middle East. Since 1973 the United States has been the preeminent superpower with close ties to the most important regional military power (Israel), the most important economic power (Saudi Arabia) and the most important political power (Egypt). Ongoing Soviet-American rivalties, however, gave states in the region some room for maneuvering and provided an alternative source of military, political and economic support. The unraveling of the Soviet empire and the overwhelming need of Moscow to concentrate its energies on domestic issues eliminated the ability of Middle Eastern countries to maneuver between the superpowers.
By spring 1991 cooperation had replaced rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. This cooperation has been central to the success of the peace process. The co-sponsorship of the Madrid conference and the subsequent negotiations differed from co-sponsored conferences in the past. Previously the Arabs wanted the Soviets present in order to have a superpower on hand that would most likely support their position. At the very least, superpower rivalries allowed an Arab leader to play one off against the other. In the current process, however, close cooperation between Moscow and Washington has created additional pressure on the regional parties to address the issues. Therefore, dual sponsorship of the process evolved from an impediment to peace into a catalyst for successful negotiations.
Lessons of Peace Negotiations
Taking advantage of changed circumstances the State Department team, under the direction of Secretary James A. Baker, set forth in late 1991 to spark a Middle East peace process. They based their approach on a keen understanding of more than two decades of American experience in negotiating peace between Arabs and Israelis. In applying many of the lessons they had learned, several factors became important.
First, the secretary of state must have the complete confidence of the president and there should be no difference in attitude between them. The Israelis in particular are able to exploit even the slightest divergence of views between American leaders. Although no president and secretary of state had ever been closer than President Bush and Secretary Baker, the Shamir government attempted in September 1991 to take advantage of a perceived difference over the provision of $10 billion in housing loan guarantees to Israel. The president quickly laid to rest any perception that he and his secretary differed. Their unified position served the process of peace well.
A second lesson concerns the diplomats’ ability to work with Congress, which should be brought into the process through consultations. Detailed briefings on negotiating tactics are not necessary, but members of Congress need to feel that they are partners in the overall negotiating strategy. Congress is very cautious about inserting its views into ongoing negotiations. If an administration appears to have a clear course, then Congress as an institution is unlikely to undertake any action that could be interpreted as undermining diplomatic efforts. Individual members may offer amendments, resolutions, bills or speeches that could be unhelpful to the process, but the institution rarely takes substantive action on international negotiations in progress.
The debate concerning loan guarantees for Israel clearly illustrated congressional reluctance to work against the administration and interfere in the peace process. In July 1991 few on Capitol Hill had doubted that, before the end of September, Congress would enact legislation providing loan guarantees to Israel. Issues about evaluating the budgetary cost of the loans, the reaction of constituents, and the acceleration of Israeli settlement activity in the territories occupied after the 1967 Six Day War were troublesome but would have been managed. The issue of loan guarantees, however, became an important element in the administration’s effort to launch a peace process. Arab participation, particularly that of the Palestinians, would have been questionable if the United States was seen as providing huge loans to expand Israeli settlements in the territories. So long as Israel continued to build and expand settlements at a rapid pace, loan guarantees would have been perceived as American support for that activity.
On September 6, 1991, when President Bush announced that he would ask Congress to defer action on loan guarantees for 120 days, no formal challenge came from Congress. Although individual members said they would fight for the loan guarantees, they never forced a vote on the issue. Others sought compromises. Congress as an institution would not challenge the president on an issue having a direct impact on ongoing negotiations.
Another lesson learned was that important international actors who are not included in the process can divert the peace negotiations. In 1980, for example, the European Community’s Venice declaration complicated the talks on the issue of Palestinian autonomy by injecting a European interpretation into already contentious negotiations. In order to avoid this problem, the EC, Japan and the United Nations have been included in the Madrid process.
The underlying strategy of the Bush-Baker approach was based on the lessons of their predecessors. They worked to create a situation in which no party could withdraw from the negotiations without appearing opposed to peace. In the past the process had failed because various parties to the conflict were allowed the opportunity to object to an element of a peace proposal without appearing to reject peace in principle. Secretary William P. Rogers’ plan in 1970 as well as President Ronald Reagan’s effort in 1982 are examples of such failures.
In order to avoid this problem, Secretary Baker obtained agreement on general negotiating principles during his eight visits to the region between March after the Gulf War and the Madrid conference in October. These principles were deliberately ambiguous and subject to the widest possible interpretation in order to allow each party to commit to the process without compromising its own position. They served as an umbrella under which all parties could agree to initiate a peace process.
These principles were included in the letter of invitation to the Madrid conference issued by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev. The main points were: direct bilateral and multilateral negotiations will follow a general conference; the conference will have no power to impose a solution nor veto decisions taken by the parties; the goal of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, who would be part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, would be to reach an agreement on a five-year interim self-government arrangement followed by negotiations on permanent status; and negotiations between Israel and the Arab states will take place on the basis of U.N. resolutions 242 and 338. In addition, the American commitment to the process and previously articulated American positions were reportedly conveyed to each of the parties in separate but consistent letters of assurance.
Issues and Obstacles to Peace
Even under these conditions, bringing all of the parties to the negotiating table in Madrid represented an unprecedented challenge. Determining the future of the West Bank and the parameters of Palestinian participation, and getting the Syrians and Israelis to attend a conference were the most difficult obstacles. The experience of previous efforts again served as a guidepost.
Concerning the future of the West Bank, the Camp David formula served as the basis for negotiations. A five-year interim agreement was to be negotiated. Subsequently, negotiations to determine the final status of the territories were to be undertaken.
The form of Palestinian participation was more troublesome. Repeated efforts to find a formula following the signing of the Camp David agreements had failed. Because almost all Palestinians and Arabs recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Palestinians living within the occupied territories were unwilling and unable to represent broader Palestinian interests. PLO participation, however, was unacceptable to the Israelis. This conundrum was never solved, and as a result the Camp David process foundered in the early 1980s.
Since that time significant changes had occurred. The Palestinians within the territories, through the intifada and other actions, had made their voice heard in determining their destiny. At the same time, Israeli settlement activity was in the process of changing reality on the ground. The Palestinians faced the prospect that they might not have anything left to negotiate if they waited. In addition PLO leadership had been greatly weakened military by its expulsion from Lebanon in 1982 and politically during the Gulf War. By siding with Saddam Hussein they had lost the support of the majority of Arab states, including their primary financial backers.
Both internal limitations within the Palestinian movement and external requirements imposed by Israel ultimately shaped Palestinian participation in the peace process. PLO leaders found themselves challenged by those opposed to any negotiated settlement, including Hamas, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. On the other hand, West Bank leaders pressed hard for Palestinian participation in the negotiations.
The Israeli government insisted that no one from the PLO, the Palestinian diaspora, Jerusalem or members of the Palestine National Council (PNC) could represent the Palestinians. Furthermore the Israelis demanded that the Palestinians participate as part of a joint delegation with the Jordanians. From the Israeli perspective a compromise on these points would enhance Palestinian standing and weaken the Israeli position. In the end the Palestinians agreed to participate under those conditions that they had previously rejected. To maintain their own position, Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the diaspora and those closely associated with the PLO served as advisers to the joint delegation and conferred regularly with the PLO leadership. By taking this approach the Palestinians benefited greatly by being able to negotiate directly with the Israelis in an international peace conference.
The Syrians and the Likud government in Israel were least anxious to participate in the peace process. Secretary Baker spent most of his visits to the region in 1991 persuading both governments to join. The Syrians had never participated in direct political negotiations with the Israelis. In 1949 U.N. envoy Ralph Bunche had mediated between the Israelis and Syrians at Rhodes. In 1974, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger conducted his shuttle diplomacy to arrange the disengagement of forces in the Golan Heights, Syrian and Israeli military representatives signed the agreement in the Egyptian-Israeli working group.
The changing balance of regional forces following the Gulf War made it difficult for Syria to remain outside the process. The Israelis had overwhelming military strength, and Syria’s Arab allies in the Gulf War were pushing hard on Syria to participate in the negotiations. By remaining aloof, Syria risked losing the financial support of the Persian Gulf states. In addition, the Syrians faced their most difficult international challenge in decades: their superpower sponsor, the Soviet Union, was in a state of collapse. Military support from the Soviets like that received in 1973 was unthinkable, as was rapid resupply of modern military equipment as occurred in 1974 and 1982.
In 1991 the United States was clearly the only superpower, and President Bush had displayed a willingness to use overwhelming force where American interests were at stake. Syria came to realize that under these changed circumstances it needed good relations with the United States. Furthermore the Syrians perceived President Bush and Secretary Baker to be more sensitive to Syrian concerns than previous American leaders. Bush and Baker were also seen as willing to stand up to the Israelis, as was demonstrated by the president’s decision not to provide loan guarantees so long as Israeli settlement activity continued unabated. In the final analysis, abstention from the process was riskier for Syria than participation.
The Syrians, of all the parties in the process, are under the least pressure to conclude a peace quickly. They entered the process because in so doing they would strengthen their international position and move back into the mainstream of the Arab world. Their goal appears to be reclaiming all the Golan Heights while also achieving an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
After the electoral defeat of the Likud bloc in June 1992, the extent of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s reluctance to become involved in an international peace conference became apparent. The defeated premier stated publicly that his intention had been to drag out the talks with the Palestinians while changing the facts on the ground. Shamir stated frankly, “I would have conducted the autonomy negotiations for ten years, and in the meantime we would have reached half a million souls in Judea and Samaria.”
Several concerns formed the basis of Likud’s distrust of the American-sponsored peace process. First, the process would require Israel to make the more tangible concession of land for the less tangible concession of peace. Second, an international conference would produce a situation in which a large number of participants would be aligned against an isolated Israel. The Israelis would be dependent on Americans, and American views differed significantly from Likud’s plans. The Americans, for instance, believed that a settlement under U.N. resolution 242 would require the Israelis to withdraw on all fronts. In contrast the Likud believed the withdrawal from Sinai satisfied the territorial requirements of resolution 242. Their policy was, in fact, creeping annexation. As a result, negotiations under U.N. resolution 242 as envisioned in the Camp David accords were unlikely to lead to a settlement that the Shamir government and its supporters would want. Even the American views as articulated in September 1982 by President Reagan, the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, were unacceptable to the Shamir government.
Despite these strong reservations about the Bush-Baker peace process, Israeli refusal to participate would have been very costly. The Shamir government had to be certain that entering the process did not prejudice its interests, including preserving Israel’s claim to the occupied territories. The Israelis made significant gains during the negotiations leading to the Madrid conference. They reestablished diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. They made no concessions on the issue of Palestinian representation and obtained de facto recognition from a majority of Arab states that agreed to negotiate with Israel. And they were able to continue settlement activity in the territories. For example, Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Sharon announced two new settlements as the Madrid conference concluded.
Nevertheless the cost to the Shamir government was considerable. A process, the outcome of which was beyond the control of any of the participants, had been initiated. The Likud settlement policy and the refusal of President Bush to support loan guarantees so long as Israeli settlement activity continued highlighted the strong differences with the United States. Underlining those differences was not in Israel’s interest. Ultimately, this confrontation contributed to Likud’s defeat at the polls in June 1992.
Madrid: Changing the Political Equation
The Madrid conference was the pivotal event that the United States had envisioned while developing a post-Gulf War strategy. The conference fundamentally altered relations between Arabs and Israelis. Even if the current round of negotiations fails, the Madrid meeting has set a precedent for all subsequent negotiations. Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and the Jordanian-Palestinian delegations attended a conference sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition, participants included the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab Maghreb Union, the EC, Japan and the U.N. secretary general. By opening the meetings, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev dramatized the importance of the conference.
No new positions were articulated at Madrid: each participant delivered a recitation of standard views. The Israelis and the Syrians were particularly strident, while the Lebanese and the Jordanians were more conciliatory. Despite the lack of substantive progress, Madrid initiated a process that none of the participants believed wise to abandon.
The framework for negotiations called for bilateral discussions between Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Eight sets of bilateral sessions had taken place by the end of 1992. Moreover, five multilateral groups were established to discuss arms control and regional security, water, economic development, the environment and refugees. The multilateral groups have met twice, once in the spring of 1992 and again in the following fall. The United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the EC hosted the various multilateral meetings in Washington, Moscow, Ottawa, Tokyo and The Hague.
Negotiations have thus been initiated on separate fronts. Progress has been painstakingly slow. Many of the early sessions were spent trying to determine who should attend, what the agendas should be, and the venue and timing for the next meeting. Israel delayed the first set of bilateral discussions. Israelis also refused to attend the first round of multilateral discussions on economic and refugee affairs because they would not accept the Palestinian representatives sent to the meetings. The Syrians and the Lebanese have not attended the multilateral meetings because they do not believe sufficient progress has been made in the bilateral discussions.
Despite these setbacks the Madrid process developed its own momentum. Negotiators from the various countries began to develop a feeling for the other side. Psychological barriers slowly eroded. The process of engagement became as important as the substance. Israelis and Syrians meeting face-to-face regularly for more than a year significantly changed the political environment in the Middle East.
An Evolutionary Process
The genius of the current process is that it is evolutionary. Long-held views are being gradually reshaped. Differences are being narrowed, albeit at times at an imperceptibly slow pace. The slow pace, however, is important because it allows national leaders to prepare public opinion for change. Furthermore, despite the slow pace, significant changes have occurred throughout the year. With regard to the future of the occupied territories, the Israelis are now not only discussing functional authorities of the interim government, but are also discussing its territorial component.
The negotiators are no longer reciting set positions and shutting out their interlocutor’s views. They are now talking to each other. In a major breakthrough, the Syrians and Israelis are now discussing issues of trading land for peace. Yet major obstacles remain. The Syrians are interested in discussing full Israeli withdrawal, while Israelis prefer to concentrate on the nature of peace and the normalization of relations.
Because the negotiations are occurring in separate sessions, impediments to progress in one area do not block progress in others. Conversely, progress in one area actually spurs action on the others. In the bilateral negotiations, each of the Arab parties is concerned that one of the others will negotiate a separate peace with Israel. Because of the independence of each of the Arab negotiators, the party least willing to compromise cannot set the pace of negotiations. Consensus among the Arabs is not a prerequisite for discussions.
While serious issues have yet to be addressed, progress can be seen in several areas. The Israelis have clearly modified their position concerning the Palestinians. While technically the Palestinians are part of a joint delegation with the Jordanians, in fact the Israelis meet them separately. Each session has a separate agenda. The Israelis have also relaxed their position on which Palestinians can participate. The issue of PNC membership has been diluted by accepting an American formulation that membership in the PNC occurs only while an individual attends a PNC meeting. Diaspora Palestinians have been allowed to attend the multilateral economic and refugee sessions although the Israelis had boycotted the spring meetings over this issue. In December 1992 the Israeli Knesset took the first step toward passing a bill that would lift the ban on meetings between PLO officials and Israeli citizens—one more indication that Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinians are changing.
The durability of the process is its most impressive attribute. Israeli elections, American elections, terrorist attacks, Israeli air strikes and arms sales to the region—none have derailed the peace process. Sessions continue to take place and slow evolution continues. In the past any one of a half dozen incidents that have occurred would have slowed if not ended the negotiations. The resiliency of the current process to external disruption is unique in the history of Middle East peace efforts.
Israeli elections in June of a government led by the Labor Party gave real life to the process. Israel under Shamir and Likud was resistant to the change necessary for peace. Israel led by Yitzhak Rabin and Labor is a catalyst for necessary change.
Rabin reiterated the historical Labor Party stance on the settlements: Israeli positions along the Jordan Valley, on the Golan, and protecting the approaches to Jerusalem are necessary for security. Other settlements, however, are called political. Likud, particularly under Sharon’s leadership, had supported settlements that changed the political balance in the territories. The Rabin government canceled contracts for 6,681 housing units, limited future growth to “security installations,” and canceled special mortgages and loans that had been made available to settlers occupying residences in East Jerusalem. President Bush responded to this new Israeli position by urging Congress to proceed with the approval of loan guarantees for Israel.
The Rabin government made significant concessions in several other negotiating areas. Prime Minister Rabin shifted from Shamir’s preference for Palestinian municipal elections to a new policy supporting general elections. The new Israeli government appears to support the view that U.N. Security Council resolution 242 does indeed apply to all fronts, including the Golan Heights. Rabin has worked to lead Israeli public opinion to perceive the benefits of peace as well as the need for additional concessions. Rabin has already visited Cairo—which Shamir never did. Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa’s visit to Jerusalem was the first high-level visit since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. These exchanges of visits with Egypt have underlined the importance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and the potential for good relations between Israel and an Arab country. Rabin has also visited settlers on the Golan and has apparently indicated that negotiations would determine its future.
The Arabs responded to the Rabin initiative by presenting their own approach. The Syrians placed on the table a draft declaration of principles. While it clearly did not meet Israel’s minimum needs, the Israelis engaged in discussions on the basis of the draft. An agenda for future talks was established. Each side appears to understand the needs of the other. However, neither has yet been willing to negotiate on a basis that would include full peace and full military withdrawal. The Israelis have not accepted the Syrian view that full withdrawal from the Golan is a possible outcome of this approach. Conversely the Syrians have not accepted the Israeli view that full peace is a possible result of the negotiations. Resolving this difficulty remains the primary impediment to beginning detailed negotiations on substantive issues.
The Jordanians offered a surprisingly forthcoming agenda during the October 1992 bilateral meetings. Most observers considered this agenda to be an outline for a future peace treaty. Among its new points were: outstanding territorial issues will be settled by the demarcation of international borders; the issue of Palestinians in Jordan will be settled according to international law; security concerns of each party will be addressed; and agreement on the principle that these negotiations will be concluded in a peace treaty. If the issue of the future of the Palestinians and the West Bank could be set aside, few doubt that Jordan and Israel could resolve their differences expeditiously.
The Israeli-Palestinian discussions were expected to address substantive issues from the beginning. They have failed to live up to those expectations. Three years of negotiations following Camp David had made significant progress on defining the powers and responsibilities of the interim self-governing authority. Although the discussions had been suspended for nearly a decade, many anticipated that the agreements reached at that time would serve as a basis for current negotiations. This did not occur.
The Israelis and the Palestinians offered separate and widely differing approaches, and they have yet to agree on how to proceed. The Israelis do not want an interim self-governing authority that would inevitably lead to an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Therefore they approach autonomy by starting from an empty page and measuring out authorities to the self-governing authority one by one. In contrast the Palestinians want an interium self-governing authority inevitably leading to an independent state. Therefore, they start from the position that all authorities except defense and foreign affairs should be given to the authority straightaway.
America and the Elusive Peace
The American election has inhibited the peace process. None of the parties appears willing to enter substantive discussions without a better understanding of the views of the incoming American administration. This attitude emphasizes the importance of the American role. Yet for the first time, Arabs and Israelis are negotiating directly, as the United States goes through the process of changing administrations. While no one would want to see the process halted and an opportunity for peace lost, keeping the process going will not be easy because conditions necessary for its continuation will not last indefinitely. The personalities and commitment of President Bush and Secretary Baker were crucial to the Madrid meetings and will be difficult to replicate. President Bush had personal ties with regional leaders that were developed over the course of several decades. Relationships between the American leaders and those in the Middle East developed further in the crucible of the Gulf War crisis and were strengthened in the following months.
With these strong personal ties, considerable trust had developed. Trust in the fairness of the Americans is vital for a successful peace negotiation. In order to reassure Middle Eastern leaders that the necessary risks are worthwhile, the international community and particularly the Americans will have to give assurances. The weight given to American assurances will be directly tied to how much American leadership is trusted.
Commitment of time and effort by the Americans was essential to the success of Madrid—at the presidential and secretary of state levels. More U.S. government officials are involved in preparing, conducting and monitoring the current bilateral and multilateral negotiations than have participated in previous peace efforts. Middle Eastern leaders will be watching carefully to see if the new administration has the same commitment. If not, it is unlikely progress will be made.
The new administration will also have to change the nature of the American role. To date, American officials have generally watched as the participants have met. In the bilateral negotiations, Americans are not even in the room. As the negotiating parties begin to grapple with substantive issues, the Americans will have to be more assertive in helping the parties resolve differences. In short, the next phase of the peace process will require an even greater degree of American participation and commitment at a time when a new administration will be least prepared to take on such a role.
The Clinton administration faces a serious dilemma. Keeping the Middle East peace process moving forward will be distracting, time consuming and frustrating. Moreover prospects for success are uncertain. Failure to move the peace process forward, however, is likely to be costly to American interests. Advancing the cause of peace in the Middle East thus represents, whether the new administration chooses to become fully engaged or not, one of its greatest challenges.