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Prior to the 1973 war, efforts at peace negotiations between the Arabs and Israel had been minimal and ineffective. After the war, there was a heightened sense of interest in resolving the outstanding issues between these actors. For Israel, the 1973 war had shown that it was not invincible as the Arabs had been able to inflict a massive military blow to the country. For the Arab states and the Palestinians there was a strong desire to achieve some territorial adjustments. Also, the United States now accepted the need to play a role in the peace process, both out of a desire to maintain regional stability but also to limit the chances of a superpower confrontation such as had occurred during the 1973 war.

The first major event in the Peace Process was the Camp David Accords of 1978.

Camp David (September 1978)
President Jimmy Carter invited President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel to the presidential retreat of Camp David in the Maryland countryside. They met from September 5 to 17, 1978.

The result was the Camp David Accords. There were two parts. The first was a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, negotiated at Camp David and formally signed March 26, 1979. In the treaty, a formal peace was to be established, a definite border between the two states was to be created, and there would be the beginnings of diplomatic and economic interaction between the two states. In exchange Israel would begin a phased withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, returning control of this land to Egypt. The other part, "A Framework for Peace in the Middle East", was an agreement to begin to seek solutions to the regional issues that remained. The framework included a provision for a five-year period of "autonomy" for the West Bank and Gaza during which time negotiations were to take place as to the final settlement of these areas. However the agreement was vaguely written allowing all parties to interpret it in different ways. There was also the issue that Sadat was not the representative of the Palestinians, the Jordanians or the Syrians. As a result of these and other fundamental disagreements, no serious effort was ever made to implement the framework.

In the Arab world, Sadat was branded a traitor. They saw Camp David as a separate peace with Israel, thereby weakening the unity and strength of the Arab camp in its efforts to resolve other issues involving Israel. Sadat was later assassinated in 1981 in part because of Camp David. Israel was quite content with the agreement. In exchange for returning a piece of land which was not really valued, Egypt had been split off from the other Arab states. Any weakening of the Arab coalition was seen as a strengthening of the Israeli position over areas and issues that it did care about. Finally, both Israel and Egypt gained greatly in terms of diplomatic, economic, and military support from the United States.

During the 1980’s, there was virtually no progress on the peace front between either Israel and the Palestinians or between Israel and the Arab states. A stalemate developed in the region which no one seemed willing or able to break.

There was a resurgence of interest in the peace process following the 1991 Gulf War. The collapse of the Soviet Union as an Arab ally was widely seen as signaling the end of the strategy which argued that Israel could be forced to negotiate due to Arab strength. Also, the Palestinian support of Iraq during the Gulf War had made it an international outcast. There were hopes that coming back to the negotiating table would generate positive feelings towards the Palestinians. Finally, a change in the Israeli government in 1992 brought into power a new leadership under Rabin considered more supportive of the peace process.

One highly visible effort to move ahead on these issues was the convening of what is referred to as the Madrid Talks of October of 1991. The idea was to begin a series of bilateral negotiations between Israel and those with territorial claims, and also to pursue a series of multilateral talks on regional issues such as water, environment, economic development, refugees, and arms control. Overall, the Madrid process has made little headway, though the multilateral working groups continue to operate.

Israeli-PLO Accord
While the Madrid process faltered other efforts were underway. After a year and a half of secret negotiations, Israel and the PLO announced a major breakthrough in their relations. The announcement was preceded by a 9/9/93 letter from PLO Chairman Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Rabin in which Arafat recognized Israel's right to exist, accepted UN resolutions 242 and 338, renounced terrorism, and rejected the PLO Covenant calling for the destruction of Israel. The agreement (the Declaration of Principles) was then signed on September 13, 1993.

The accord provided for Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. Israel would retain sovereignty over Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The more difficult issues (such as the status of Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinian refugees) were to be discussed in further negotiations.

Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty
Once significant progress had been made between Israel and the Palestinians it was easier for other Arab parties to make peace with Israel. Jordan did so through the Washington Declaration of 7/25/94 which ended the state of belligerency and in which Israel recognized Jordan's special role over Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem. On October 26, 1994, a formal peace treaty was signed between Israel and Jordan.

Oslo II Interim Agreement (September 28, 1995)
In a follow-on agreement known as Oslo II, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to the holding of elections for a Palestinian Council. Israeli also agreed to a withdrawal from the major cities of the West Bank (Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Kalkilya, Ramallah, and Bethlehem), turning administration over the Palestinian National Authority. In exchange, the Palestinians agreed to make efforts to guarantee the security of Israelis and to formally revoke the offending parts of the PLO Covenant

A series of terror attacks within Israel in early 1996 by HAMAS (a Palestinian Islamist group opposed to the peace process) led to a loss of support for Shimon Peres the Labour PM who had replaced the assassinated Itzhak Rabin in 1995. Peres was subsequently defeated in the 1996 elections by Netanyahu of the conservative Likud party.

Under Netanyahu the progress of the peace process slowed dramatically. Initially there was some progress such as the redeployment of Israeli troops out of the larger cities and towns in the West Bank. However, meetings between the two sides came to a halt in the first half of 1997 when Israel began to create new Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. This action was followed by suicide bomb attacks by HAMAS members inside Israel.

After about a year and a half of inaction, a new agreement, called the Wye River Memorandum", was signed by Israel and the Palestinian National Authority in October of 1998. Under this agreement, the PNA was to take stronger actions to crack down on violence by Palestinian terrorists and to revoke the clauses in the Palestinian National charter considered hostile to Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces, was to redeploy from an additional 13.1 percent of the West Bank, Israel was to transfer an additional 14.2 percent of the West Bank to full Palestinian control, 750 Palestinian prisoners were to be released, and there were to be created two corridors of safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. After this interim action, if undertaken, the plan was to move to the Final Status negotiations which would address the central, and difficult, issues of:

  • final borders
  • the rights of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlers
  • jurisdiction over Jerusalem
  • water sharing

This momentum was short-lived however, as Israel soon entered into a domestic political crisis that eventually led to the fall of the Netanyahu government and the calling for early elections in Israel. In those elections, held in May of 1999, the conservative Likud Party of Netanyahu was defeated by the more liberal Labour Party, led by Ehud Barak.

Since the election of Barak there has been a renewed interest among all parties to move towards meaningful negotiations on a number of fronts. On the Palestinian-Israeli track there have been a number of meetings between Barak and Arafat, with signs that the two sides may soon begin the Final Status talks. On the Syrian-Israeli and Israeli-Lebanese tracks, there have been clear indications of a desire for progress on achieving deals regarding the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon. The future of all this remains very much an open issue.



Ancient History
..|..British Mandate Over Palestine..| Birth of Israel..|..The Arab-Israel Wars..|..The Peace Process..|..Security Issues

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