As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, a new Gulf war was
averted in February 1998 by skillful diplomacy backed up by
firmness and force. Without President Clinton's determination to
use force if necessary, Saddam Hussein might not have agreed to
U.N. inspection of his weapons and weapon sites.
Unlike in 1991, in 1998, Arab, Russian, French and Chinese
opposition to a U.s. military option left Britain as almost the
only ally of America. The most telling change, seven years after
the Gulf War, was the refusal of Saudi Arabia, Washington's
traditional ally in the Arab world, to allow Saudi-based U.s.
planes to be used against Iraq, or to let American troops use Saudi
military facilities. Most Arab states, led by Egypt, a staunch ally
of the United States in 1991, set out to convince Saddam Hussein to
comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. This view was shared
by Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, who had
openly sided with Saddam Hussein in 1991. Paradoxically, the PLO's
increasing isolation in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War and Arafat's
weakened position, along with the demise of the Soviet Union,
probably paved the way for his pragmatic reassessment of his future
relations with Israel.
In the final analysis, both in 1991 and 1998, Washington was
calling the shots. For the past five decades, in one way or
another, the United States of America has been playing a key role
in the Middle East. In retrospect,
there was no major development in the decades-long Israeli-Arab
conflict in which Washington was not eventually intensively
involved, even when the Americans were on the sidelines at first.
Indeed, Washington has come a long way from the traditionally
pro-Arab position of the U.S. State Department in the forties and
fifties, to the developing support of Israel from the mid-sixties
and eventually to the position of major mediator, assuming the role
of "honest broker" between Israel and the Arab side for the past 25
America's role as the major and actually only effective mediator
has become more pronounced in the nineties, following the demise of
the Soviet Union as a superpower. But, even prior to that, the more
pragmatic and moderate leaders of the Arab world had come to
realize that only America could have a real impact on Israel's
decisions and "deliver" some significant concessions, although
Washington's ability to exert relentless pressure on Israel had and
still does have its limits.
However, to judge from previous experience, in the final analysis,
only the U.S. will be able to negotiate the kind of compromise and
mutual concessions which will be necessary in order to complete the
peace process. Such a process must achieve mutual recognition
between the PLO-Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel, with
a lasting, permanent-status solution that will also accord
statehood to the Palestinians. The resumption and possible
conclusion of peace talks between Syria and Israel, if and when
these should be broached again in earnest, is also impossible
without the United States.
In order to appreciate these basic assumptions, it will be helpful
to remind ourselves of some of the more important events and
chapters in the recent political history of the Israeli-Arab
conflict, so that we can learn a lesson from Washington's changing
roles and attitudes towards the Middle East during the past half
From the 1940s
• Prior to the U.N. General Assembly vote on November 29,
1947, on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states,
the American State Department, which voted for the resolution, was
not prepared to help mobilize important votes of other U.N.
member-states in order to attain the necessary two-thirds majority.
Only the personal intervention of President Harry Truman could
overcome the influence of the State Department's strong pro-Arab
lobby so that, in the end, 33 states voted for the partition, 13
against, while 10 abstained .
• In December 1947, the U.S.A. declared a total embargo on
arms shipments to the Middle East, as heavy fighting between Jews
and Arabs broke out one day after the U.N. vote for partition,
which was fiercely opposed by the Arab side.
• On January 19, 1948, the State Department Policy Planning
Staff, headed by George Kennan, recommended that no further U.S.
initiative should be taken in implementing or aiding the U.N.
partition resolution. Since the Arabs would not cooperate, and a
Jewish state would not survive without outside help, the issue of
Palestine should be returned to the U.N. General Assembly with a
recommendation that it investigate the alternative of a
• At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on March 19,
• Ambassador Warren Austin called for the suspension of the
partition implementation, in view of the ongoing fighting, and for
a temporary U.N. trusteeship in Palestine. President Truman was
taken by complete surprise and embarrassed by Austin's statement,
as only one day before, on March 18, he had a secret meeting with
the Zionist leader Chaim Weizman, reassuring him that the U.S.A.
still favored partition. The president felt that the State
Department people had deliberately undermined him.
• On April 23, 1948, Truman sent another personal message to
Weizman, assuring him that, if the trusteeship proposal would not
be adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, the U.S. would recognize
the Jewish state when it was established.
• On May 12, 1948, President Truman convened a White House
meeting to advise on the recognition of Israel. Secretary of State
George Marshall argued strongly against and told Truman that he
would vote against him in the presidential elections later that
year if he were to recognize Israel. Special Counsel Clark Clifford
was in favor and carried the day.
• Warren Austin and the entire U.S. delegation to the U.N.
threatened to resign when President Truman announced the
recognition of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, only several
hours after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed its establishment in Tel
• Ralph Bunche, a senior American diplomat, was appointed as
acting U.N. mediator in September 1948, following the assassination
in Jerusalem of Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden by Jewish
• During February, March and July 1949, Ralph Bunche
succeeded in concluding armistice agreements between Israel and
Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
• In May 1949, Israel was admitted as a member of the United
• In the same month, President Truman expressed "deep
disappointment" at Israel's failure to show flexibility on the
Palestinian refugee problem at the meeting of the Palestine
Conciliation Commission (PCC) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Truman
warned that the U.S. might reconsider its attitude toward Israel.
The U.S. was a member of the PCC, together with France and
• On December 9, 1949, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a
resolution calling for the internationalization of Jerusalem.
Following this decision, Israel's Prime Minister Ben-Gurion
proclaimed on December 13, 1949, that "Jerusalem was Israel's only
and eternal capital," but the holy places would be supervised by
the UN. Most countries, including the U.S.A., refused to move their
embassies to Jerusalem.
• In May 1950, the U.S., Britain and France issued a
Tripartite Declaration, expressing their opposition to the use of
force between Israel and its Arab neighbors and guaranteeing the
existing armistice lines.
• Israeli-Soviet relations worsened considerably in June
1950, after Israel joined the 45 nations, led by the U.S.A., who
voted for UN sanctions against North Korea, in response to its
invasion of South Korea. The Soviet press called Israel a
"satellite of Western imperialism."
• Following a meeting of Ben-Gurion with Truman in
Washington, Moscow's Pravda asserted, in May 1951, that the visit
of Israeli ministers to the U.S.A. was the "culmination of the
transformation of Israel into an American colony."
• In July 1951, King Abdallah of Jordan was assassinated and
one year later the officers' revolution, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser,
deposed King Farouk of Egypt.
• Through contacts of U.S. mediator Robert Anderson, Egypt
proposed, in March 1953, border adjustments to Israel that would
provide Egypt with a land link to Jordan through the southern
Negev. Israel also was to pay compensation to Palestinian refugees.
Initially, Israel agreed in principle to negotiate, on condition
that the Arab boycott would be lifted and the Suez Canal blockade
• In June 1953, US. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
outlined the Middle East policy of President Eisenhower's
Administration, after having toured the region:
• The U.S.A. would adhere to a principle of exact neutrality
so as to win the respect of both the Arabs and Israelis and favor
direct negotiations to establish peace; Jerusalem should be
internationalized, but there should be "some political status in
Jerusalem for Israel and Jordan"; some Arab refugees should be
resettled within Israel, but most in Arab countries.
• Israel moved its Foreign Ministry to Jerusalem in July
1953, having delayed the move for over two years because of
• Eric Johnston, President Eisenhower's personal envoy, began
his water mediation mission in September 1953, to urge a plan for
the joint Arab and Israeli use of the Jordan River water resources.
The mediation failed.
• Border clashes along the Jordanian and Egyptian armistice
lines with Israel and infiltration into Israel of fedayeen
continued throughout this period. In
• December 1954. U.S. diplomats stationed in the Middle East
defined u.s. policy for the region: a) complete and strict
impartiality between the Arab states and Israel; b) friendship for
all Middle Eastern countries; c) support of these countries in
their efforts to create strong and stable governments; d)
reaffirmation of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950; and e) support
of the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization.
• The U.N. Security Council adopted a U.S.-British-French
resolution, condemning Israel for the massive retaliation attack
against Egyptian military headquarters in Gaza in February
• As the cycle of violence and mediation efforts continued,
John Foster Dulles in August 1955 proposed yet another
U.S.-sponsored program to put an end to the war between Israel and
the Arab states. In a speech, approved by President Eisenhower,
Dulles outlined the following points: agreement on borders;
international guarantee of these borders sponsored by the U.N.,
with American participation through formal treaty obligations; an
international loan, with heavy U.S. participation, to enable Israel
to pay compensation to Arab refugees; and u.s. aid to help create
more arable land where the refugees would reside.
• Citing the Israeli attack in Gaza, President Nasser
announced in September 1955 a massive Czech arms deal under Soviet
sponsorship, in exchange for In December 1955, the U.S.A. and
Britain nevertheless gave Egypt assurances of financial aid for the
construction of the Aswan Dam through the International Bank.
Negotiations for a $200-million loan began and Egypt accepted the
offer, rejecting the Soviet proposal.
• In January 1956, the U.N. Security Council again
unanimously adopted a U.S.-British-French resolution, condemning
Israel for its December attack on Syrian positions near the Sea of
• Former President Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt and labor leader
Walter Reuter urged Washington to provide defensive arms to Israel
to protect itself from the introduction of Communist arms to Arab
• In February 1956, Foster Dulles advised Congress that if
Israel lost the arms race with the Arabs, Israel's security would
be assured by the U.N.
• A last effort to resolve the Egyptian-Israeli conflict was
made by President Eisenhower, as he selected former Deputy
Secretary of Defense Robert Anderson to secretly mediate directly
between Ben-Gurion and Nasser.
• The U.S.A. made it known that it would not object to the
sale of arms to Israel by France and Britain, while Washington
continued to defer action on Israel's requests for U.S. arms.
Alarmed at the shift in the Middle East power balance, Dulles
requested Canada in April 1956 to provide Israel with a squadron of
American-licensed jet fighters.
• Britain withdrew its last troops from Egypt in June 1956,
ending 74 years of military occupation.
• In July 1956, Secretary of State Dulles announced that the
U.S.A. had withdrawn its offer to finance the construction of
Egypt's Aswan Dam, due to Egypt's increasingly friendly relations
with the Soviet Union. One week later, Nasser announced the
nationalization of the Suez Canal. The canal revenue would finance
the dam's construction. Britain and France regarded this act by
Egypt as a threat to world peace.
• In August 1956, Dulles warned Britain's Prime Minister
Anthony Eden that the U.S.A. opposed armed intervention in the Suez
Canal crisis. Undeterred, the British and French assembled military
teams to prepare for landings in Egypt to regain the Suez
• On October 29, 1956, Israel launched the Sinai Campaign
against Egypt, in collusion with France and Britain. One week
later, President Eisenhower sent an ultimatum to David Ben-Gurion,
demanding Israel's immediate withdrawal from Sinai and warning that
Israel should not count on U.S. aid in the event of a
Soviet-assisted attack. U.S.S.R. President Nikolai Bulganin
threatened that Israel's action put in question its very existence
as a state. Ben-Gurion withdrew from Sinai.
• Dulles never forgave Israel's collusion with the French and
British, behind the back of the Americans, and even an Israeli
prime minister of Ben¬Gurion's stature had to wait until March
1960 before he could again visit
• Washington for a first meeting with Eisenhower, during his
last year in office.
• In 1960, Dulles's successor, Christian Herter, agreed to
lift partially the American arms embargo of December 1947 and to
allow Israel to purchase certain defensive weapons, such as Hawk
anti-aircraft missiles. That agreement was implemented two years
later by President John Kennedy .
• A marked improvement in U.S.-Israeli relations began in
1964 at the Texas ranch meeting of President L.B. Johnson with
Ben-Gurion's successor, Levi Eshkol. There, it was agreed for the
first time that Israel could count on getting American military
aid, including modem fighter aircraft and tanks,
• After 11 years of relative calm, a new confrontation
between Israel and Egypt loomed during the critical days of May
1967, when President Nasser demanded the withdrawal from Sinai to
the Gaza Strip of the U.N. Emergency Forces - UNEF - which had been
a buffer between Egyptian and Israeli troops since the 1956 Sinai
Campaign. At the height of the crisis, President Johnson led Israel
to understand that, as an independent state, it could make its own
decisions regarding Egypt's blocking of the Strait of Tiran and the
military threat in Sinai.
• With the outbreak of war on June 5, 1967, Israel's attempts
to ask King Hussein to stay out of the fighting failed. As a result
of Israel's victory, it has for over three decades ruled over the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip, against the will of the Palestinian
people. After the June 1967 war and the adoption of U.N. Resolution
242, which demanded Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories,
President Johnson nevertheless declared clearly that the U.S.A.
would vouch for Israel's security, but not for its conquests.
• President Richard Nixon's first secretary of state William
Rogers became known for his "Rogers Plan "of 1969, which demanded
that Israel return most of the occupied territories (West Bank and
Gaza Strip), except for "minor border modifications." Such ideas
were total anathema to Prime Minister Golda Meir's government,
which also rejected any negotiations with the Palestinians, or
• The 1970s
• In August 1970, the American "Rogers Initiative" achieved
an effective cease-fire along the Suez Canal, ending the War of
Attrition between Israel and Egypt that had lasted nearly three
years and caused heavy casualties on both sides. Washington was
alarmed by Egypt's Soviet-manned air defense. Prime Minister Golda
Meir refused mediation proposals made by U.N. Middle East mediator
• September 1970, "Black September," saw heavy clashes
between King Hussein's Arab Legion and Palestinian fighters in
Jordan. President Nixon denounced Syria's attempted intervention in
support of the Palestinians.
• The subsequent Arab reconciliation summit meeting in Cairo
was marred by the sudden death of President Nasser, replaced by
Anwar Sadat since Vice President Ali Sabry was considered to be too
sympathetic to the Soviet Union. The Arab summit conference decided
that all the Palestinian fighters and their families must leave
Jordan and move to Lebanon.
• In May 1971, William Rogers and Assistant Secretary of
State Joseph Sisco launched the first U.S. "shuttle diplomacy"
between Cairo and Jerusalem, in support of a unilateral withdrawal
by Israel from the Suez Canal frontline that would be linked to the
clearing of the Suez Canal and the rebuilding of the Egyptian towns
along the canal. The idea, which in all likelihood could have
averted the 1973 war, was rejected by Golda Meir.
• With the outbreak of war on October 6, 1973, Henry
Kissinger, Nixon's second secretary of state, saw that Egypt's and
Syria's surprise attacks against Israel could become an important
trump card for the enhancement of Washington's role in the Middle
East conflict. To prove the point, Kissinger deliberately hesitated
several days before he agreed to a massive airlift of badly needed
arms to make up for Israel's enormous losses of equipment during
the first days of the war.
• When Israeli military advances towards Suez City continued
beyond the October 22, 1973, cease-fire, President Nixon declared a
nuclear alert to deter any possible Soviet intervention. But after
an effective cease-fire had taken hold on October 24, and Egypt's
Third Army was totally encircled by Israeli troops, Kissinger put
heavy pressure on Golda Meir to allow immediate food and water
supplies for the Egyptian troops.
• November 8, 1973, should go down in Middle Eastern history
as the turning point in Egypt's attitude towards Washington and the
assumption of a major American Middle East mediating role. At a
tete-a-tete meeting on that day between the Egyptian president and
the U.S. secretary of state, Kissinger was able to convince Sadat
that only Washington could get Israel to give up occupied
territory, while the Soviet Union could only help in waging more
• This meeting paved the way for Kissinger's tireless
"shuttle diplomacy" between Egypt, Syria and Israel during January
and May 1974 to achieve the first phase of military disengagement.
It followed the December 1973 Geneva Middle East Peace Conference
which took place under joint U.S.-Soviet chairmanship.
• Washington's two-pronged policy towards Israel, combining
"friendly persuasion" with outright pressure, if needed, had its
classic expression in 1975, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
was determined to achieve a second-phase withdrawal of Israeli
troops in Sinai, a promise he had made to President Sadat. The
negotiations reached a deadlock and, subsequently, President Ford
declared a "reassessment" of U.S. policy
• towards Israel, which meant suspending temporarily most
military and economic aid projects,
• In May 1975, 76 U.S., senators of the then-99 members of
the Senate wrote to President Ford, rejecting the administration's
attempts to blame Israel for the breakdown of the disengagement
talks and opposing the withholding of U.S. aid to Israel.
• In September 1975, only six months after Rabin's clash with
Kissinger over the second-phase troop withdrawal in Sinai, Israel
relented and agreed at last to give up the strategic Mitla and Gidi
passes and to return the Abu Rodeis oil fields to Egypt. Sadat
allowed Israel, for the first time in 15 years, to ship
non-military goods through the Suez Canal. Israel and Egypt also
agreed to refrain from using force to resolve conflicts and to
reach a peace agreement by means of negotiations called for by U.N.
• In an unpublished bilateral U.s.-Israeli memorandum of
agreement, Washington pledged to meet Israel's requirements for
military and economic aid and to support its right to free passage
through the Strait of Tiran at the southern outlet of the Red Sea.
Washington committed itself not to recognize or negotiate with the
PLO as long as it did not accept Israel's right to exist and
refrained from terror.
• In the May 1977 elections, Israel's Labor party was ousted
from power for the first time in 29 years and right-wing leader
Menachem Begin became prime minister.
• President Jimmy Carter agreed with the Soviet Union in
October 1977 to reconvene the Geneva Middle East Peace Conference
no later than December that year. Bringing back the Soviet Union
into the Middle East conflict this way, behind the back of the main
protagonists, was also much to Sadat's dislike. Speaking before
Egypt's People's Assembly on November 9, 1977, with Arafat in the
audience, Sadat declared to everybody's surprise that he would be
ready to do everything to achieve peace, even addressing Israel's
Knesset in Jerusalem, if that could prevent the wounding of even
one Egyptian soldier or officer.
• An official letter of invitation by Begin was sent to
Sadat, through the good offices of Samuel Lewis, then U.S.
ambassador in Israel, making possible Sadat's historic visit to
Jerusalem on November 19, 1977. In the negotiations, it soon became
evident that Begin was prepared to make far-reaching concessions to
Sadat concerning the Sinai, even to give up the entire territory,
in order to keep "Judea and Samaria."
• Before long, the Americans were called upon to intervene in
Egyptian-¬Israeli negotiations. At a meeting between
presidents Carter and Sadat in Aswan, Egypt, in January 1978, they
both adopted a text drafted by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State
Atherton that would recognize the legitimate rights of the
Palestinian people and their right to participate in the
determination of their future. This became known as the "Aswan
• President Carter convened an unprecedented 13-day summit
conference at Camp David in September 1978, with Sadat, Begin and
their top advisers. The Camp David Accords of September 17, 1978,
affirmed U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, promised autonomy and an
elected self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza after a
transitional period, with final-status negotiations starting after
two years. Egypt and Israel were to sign within three months. This
led to a phased evacuation of Israeli bases and settlements from
• In October 1978, Egyptian-Israeli negotiations began at
Blair House in Washington to hammer out a detailed peace treaty.
President Carter and his top Middle East advisers were involved in
the negotiations at every step. When Begin resumed establishing new
settlements in December 1978, Carter criticized him for reneging on
his commitment to delay doing so.
• President Carter himself had to embark on a Jerusalem-Cairo
shuttle early in March 1979 to remove the last hurdles that were
blocking completion of the peace treaty. On March 26, 1979, the
peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed at a festive
ceremony on the White House lawn.
• Repeated meetings of the Egyptian-Israeli autonomy
committee over the next two years failed to make meaningful
progress that could eventually persuade the Palestinians to accept
the scheme as a first step.
• In 1981, following heavy clashes and exchanges of shelling
and bombardments between Israeli troops and Palestinians in
northern Israel and South Lebanon, special U.S. envoy Philip Habib
succeeded in negotiating a cease-fire agreement between Begin's
government and the PLO which held for nearly one year. It was the
first such agreement with the PLO and an Israeli government,
although it was negotiated indirectly by an American mediator
• At the end of 1981, U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar
Weinberger and Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon signed an
unprecedented mutual defense memorandum in Washington, based on
Sharon's concept that the southern Negev and parts of Sinai could
serve as a stock-piling and staging ground for the U.S.A. in its
effort to contain Soviet expansion in Africa and to deal with any
crisis in the Persian Gulf. Arab protests were answered with the
explanation that the memorandum was directed only against the
Soviet Union and not against the Arab states. After several weeks,
Washington suspended the memorandum .
• In February 1982, following troop concentrations near the
• President Ronald Reagan warned Prime Minister Begin against
an attack on Lebanon.
• In June 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon
launched Israel's controversial war in Lebanon. Following massive
Israeli bombardments of West Beirut, President Reagan issued stern
warnings to Begin not to enter West Beirut, otherwise Washington
would have to reconsider its policy towards Israel.
• Over 240 U.S, Marines were killed in Beirut in a suicide
bombing attack and in another such attack the U.S, Embassy building
• At the beginning of September 1982, President Reagan
published an American Middle East peace plan in Washington.
Reagan's initiative was rejected by Begin as soon as it was
formally submitted by Ambassador Lewis.
• On September 1, 1982, an evacuation of Palestinian fighters
by sea from West Beirut was negotiated by special U.S. envoy Philip
Habib. The Israelis permitted Christian Phalangists to enter and
attack two Palestinian camps in West Beirut, massacring hundreds of
men, women and children. Sharon was forced to quit the Defense
• Begin resigned in September 1983, apparently depressed at
the way the war in Lebanon had developed. After the 1984 Israeli
elections, a national unity government was formed. In 1985, the
Israelis left Lebanon, except for the so-called "Security Zone"
which was to remain a cause of friction in the years to come. One
of Labor's main conditions for joining the national unity
government was a commitment to launch a new peace initiative,
thought to be possible only with the active involvement of Egypt
and the U.S.
• On December 9, 1987, the Intifada broke out in the Gaza
Strip, in the wake of a traffic accident in which four Palestinians
from the Jabaliya refugee camp were killed by an Israeli truck. It
spread quickly to the West Bank. The uprising of the Palestinian
people against the occupation brought about a radical change in the
• In July 1988, King Hussein renounced Jordan's legal and
administrative ties to the West Bank, thereby surrendering his
claims to the Israeli-occupied territory to the PLO.
• In December 1988, one year after the Intifada broke out,
there was a major shift in Washington's policy towards the PLO, as
President Reagan and Secretary of State George Schulz gave the
green light for a "substantive dialogue" with the PLO. This was
facilitated by a pre¬coordinated statement by PLO Chairman
Arafat in Geneva on December 14, 1988, in which he recognized
Israel's right to exist and committed himself to peace negotiations
on the basis of U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, and rejected
terrorism. In a message to Prime Minister Shamir, explaining the
U.S. decision to open a dialogue with the PLO, President Reagan
stated that "nothing in this decision should be construed as
weakening the United States commitment to Israel's security."
• The annual top-level Israeli intelligence report to the
cabinet in February 1989 concluded that Israel had no choice but to
talk to the PLO in an effort to end the Intifada. There were no
other serious leaders, and the PLO had moved toward moderation, the
• In promoting negotiations, the administration of President
George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker could not at first
make much progress in 1989, and tried to maintain a somewhat
evenhanded policy, favoring an Israel-PLO dialogue. But Washington
continued to oppose a Palestinian state and reaffirmed its total
and unwavering commitment to Israel's security. A statement by
Baker in March 1989, after his meeting in Washington with Foreign
Minister Arens, followed a typical two-pronged U.S. approach: "We
can and must find a way to move ahead toward a solution that
addresses both Israel's legitimate security needs and the
legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people."
• In their first contact with the Bush Administration in
March 1989, PLO officials in Tunis rejected a U.S. request to
reduce violence in the West Bank and Gaza. Nevertheless, the State
Department permitted three PLO members to attend a conference on
the Middle East in New York, obtaining a waiver of the 1974 law
prohibiting entry into the U.S.A. of members of groups that
advocate violence. This move was meant to encourage Israeli-PLO
contacts, as several left-wing Knesset members attended the same
• Disappointed at the lack of Israel's response to various
American proposals, Baker at one point announced the White House
phone number, where he or President Bush could be reached, should
the Israeli government have something to tell him.
• In April 1989, under pressure by his Labor party coalition
partners, Prime Minister Shamir presented an Israeli peace plan, at
a meeting with President Bush in Washington. It proposed to hold
"free democratic elections to select representatives to negotiate
with Israel to establish a self-governing administration in the
West Bank and Gaza." Bush expressed support for the plan, but it
was rejected by Arafat, who insisted on U.N. supervised elections.
Shamir rejected PLO involvement or that of Palestinian
representatives from East Jerusalem, such as Faisal Husseini.
• After persistent prodding by Washington, the PLO agreed to
the holding of such elections under American and Egyptian
supervision, on condition that East Jerusalem Palestinian residents
would also vote and that Israel accept the principle of exchanging
land for peace. Direct contacts with the PLO, three years before
Oslo, were still anathema to Israel, including to Labor party
leaders Rabin and Peres.
• A meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Shamir
in Washington in November 1989 failed to break the deadlock, while
Bush expressed concern about Israel's methods of suppressing the
Intifada. Earlier, Baker accused Shamir of hampering peace efforts
with "unhelpful" statements.
• In a characteristic "balancing act," the U.S.A. also
threatened in November 1989 to suspend all financial support for
the U.N. should the General Assembly recognize the PLO as the
"Provisional Government of Palestine." The U.S.A. also condemned as
"objectionable" a proposal to channel U.N. food aid in the West
Bank and Gaza through the PLO.
• In December 1989, Vice President Dan Quayle formally
committed the Bush Administration to repealing U.N. General
Assembly Resolution 3379, which defined Zionism as "a form of
racism and racial discrimination."
• Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in July 1990 and the
Gulf War of January-February 1991 changed the Middle East scene
entirely. President Bush, in an address to Congress in March 1991,
described the change in stating, "The Gulf War has illustrated that
geography cannot grant security and that a comprehensive peace must
be grounded in U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and in
the principle of territory for peace. The time has come to put an
end to the Arab-Israeli conflict," Bush urged.
• Keeping a promise to their Arab Gulf War coalition
partners, Baker's untiring diplomacy succeeded in bringing Shamir,
who then headed a narrow rightist coalition, to the international
peace conference table in Madrid in October 1991, with the Syrians
and with Faisal Husseini representing the Palestinians in a
so-called joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, to help Shamir
save face. It was an open secret that, already during the first
night after the festive conference opening by King Juan Carlos of
Spain, and by presidents Bush and Gorbachev, the Palestinian
delegation members flew with a Spanish government plane to Tunis
for consultations with PLO Chairman Arafat. The actual negotiations
made no real progress.
• Following Shamir's defeat in the May 1992 elections, the
newly elected Prime Minister Rabin realized that Faisal Husseini
and his colleagues could not negotiate in earnest without Arafat's
consent and that King Hussein, as well, could only come to terms
with Israel if there were a realistic negotiating pattern with the
Palestinians. Thus, the eventual way to Oslo and the PLO was open
in the mind of Israel's new leadership, under Rabin and
• Paradoxically, during the first year of Prime Minister
Rabin's government, Israeli-Palestinian tension increased between
July 1992 and July 1993. Norway's Social-Democratic government had
assumed the secret mediating role between Israel and the PLO in
1993, after Sweden's Socialists had lost the elections to the
Conservatives, who had little contact with the Palestinians.
• In December 1992, Rabin's government decided to deport 450
Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists to Lebanon, following the
kidnapping and killing of an Israeli Border Policeman. President
Bush condemned the deportation and threatened to reconsider
continued American support of Israel, if the deportees were not
returned. Rabin agreed after several months to return the
deportees, most of whom rejoined the ranks of Hamas and the Islamic
• During July 1993, while the secret negotiations near Oslo
between Israel and the PLO were nearing their successful
conclusion, tension along the Israeli-Lebanese border escalated to
a near-war situation. Washington urged the Israeli government to
act with restraint. But, following a series of Katyusha shellings
on Israeli towns and villages in the north, Rabin launched, on July
25, 1993, massive artillery and air force attacks all over South
Lebanon, called "Operation Accountability." Tens of thousands of
Lebanese villagers and town residents fled to the north. Following
intensive mediation efforts, a cease-fire was reached on July 31,
• On August 30, 1993, Israel's government approved the
"Gaza-Jericho First" agreement between Israel and the PLO that was
negotiated in utmost secrecy in Norway. On September 9, Israel's
Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat signed their exchange
of letters of mutual recognition in Jerusalem and in Tunis
respectively. Arafat committed himself to abolishing all the
clauses of the PLO Charter which called for Israel's destruction
and pledged to solve the conflict by peaceful means.
• Washington's role remained central, and the bilateral Oslo
Accords were signed in a solemn, historic ceremony on the White
House lawn on September 13, 1993, under the auspices of President
Bill Clinton, as the Declaration of Principles between Israel and
the PLO. Rabin called for an "end to tears and bloodshed" and
Arafat spoke of the "peace of the brave," as Clinton brought about
the historic Rabin-Arafat handshake that was watched by millions
all over the world.
• Washington's close involvement in the peace process
continued against the background of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror
activity against Israel during the last months of 1993, and Israeli
right-wing protest action against the peace process.
• In February 1994, a cruel massacre in Hebron was committed
by a fanatic Jewish settler, who killed 29 Palestinians at prayer
in the Ibrahimi Mosque - the Tomb of the Patriarchs - followed by
demonstrations and casualties which threatened to derail the entire
• During President Clinton's first term of office, his
Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his Middle East team,
headed by Dennis Ross, were always at hand whenever needed to bring
the parties together and to resolve crises. Thus, Christopher
attended the Israeli-Palestinian summit in Cairo on May 4, 1994,
symbolically together with his Russian counterpart Andrei Kosyrev,
in order to prepare the handing over of the Jericho and Gaza
districts to the Palestinians. PLO Chairman Arafat's historic entry
into Gaza took place on July I, 1994. On July 5, 1994, Arafat came
to Jericho, where he presided over the first session on Palestinian
soil of the Palestinian National Council.
• On July 25, 1994, President Clinton hosted another
Israeli-Arab summit in Washington, where King Hussein and Prime
Minister Rabin proclaimed the end of a state of belligerency
between Jordan and Israel. A formal peace treaty was signed five
months later, in the presence of President Clinton on October 26,
1994, just north of Aqaba and Eilat.
• After the Oslo II agreement was signed in Washington on
September 28, 1995, there were violent anti-Rabin demonstrations in
Israel. On November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel
Aviv by a Jewish religious student at the end of a mass peace
rally. President Clinton was accompanied at the funeral by former
presidents Carter and Bush and the entire Senate and Congress
• Repeated suicide bombing attacks in February and March 1996
weakened the position of the Labor government under Shimon
• When, in April 1996, violence erupted again in the north,
Peres decided to launch another massive artillery and air force
attack in South Lebanon (Grapes of Wrath). One hundred Lebanese
civilians were killed at Qana. American mediators worked
successfully to revive the South Lebanon "understanding" agreement
of July 1993.
• Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu narrowly defeated Shimon
Peres in the elections for prime minister on May 29, 1996.
• The Palestinian-Israeli peace process again came close to
the abyss in September 1996, only three months after Netanyahu
became prime minister, with his opening on September 23, 1996, of
the Western Wall tunnel in the Old City, close to the Temple Mount
in the Muslim Quarter. As Palestinians protested, Palestinian
police exchanged fire with Israeli soldiers. In nearly three days
of fighting, 100 Palestinians and 26 Israeli soldiers were killed
and about 1,000 Palestinians wounded.
• Again the U.S.A. had to help to put out the fire and
President Clinton summoned Netanyahu and Arafat to Washington for a
hastily convened summit meeting that took place on October 2, 1996,
with King Hussein.
• After intensive American mediation attempts by Dennis Ross,
also aided by King Hussein, Netanyahu's government decided during
the night of January 14-15, 1997, to hand over most parts of Hebron
to the Palestinian Authority, with special security arrangements
for the few hundred Jewish settlers in the town.
• During President Clinton's second term of office,
Washington's direct involvement in the peace process declined. It
took his new Secretary of State Madeleine Albright nearly eight
months before she decided to come to the Middle East for the first
time in August 1997; whereas her predecessor Warren Christopher had
devoted constant efforts to trying to revive the
• Following the Iraqi crisis at the beginning of 1998, there
were signs that President Clinton would renew American efforts to
revive the Palestinian-¬Israeli peace process.