Who can bring peace? The role of external actors in the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process

Scientific Essay, 2005

22 Pages, Grade: 63% (1,7)



1. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

2. Past developments
2.1. Oslo
2.2. Camp David
2.3. Taba
2.4. Reflection

3. A chance for final peace?
3.1. What are the chances for peace?
3.2. Who plays a key role?

4. Conclusion


The Arab-Israeli conflict, the dominant theme regarding the International Relations of the Middle East, is“(…) one of the most bitter, protracted and intractable conflicts of modern times.” (Shlaim, 2005: 242). At its core lies the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which will be addressed in this essay and which mainly refers to the dispute between the Jewish and Palestinian national movements over Palestine.[1] This dispute is multidimensional: “(…) religious, political, cultural, economic and psychological elements pile up and feed each other to create a seemingly indissoluble impasse.” (Korany, 2005: 64). Some attempts have been made in the past to find a peaceful solution for Israelis and Palestinians - but these did not result in the success that was hoped for.

However, by considering several recent developments it appears that new opportunities to end the conflict are within reach. Against this background it becomes necessary to discuss the impact of Israelis, Palestinians and external actors on a possible peace, which will be the purpose of this essay.

The paper first provides an overview about the main issues of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Section two then reflects on the development of the peace-process in the past and in this context analyses the roles of Israel, Palestine and external actors that were involved. This is essential to be able to draw a profound conclusion regarding the current situation, which is discussed in section three by addressing two questions: A) What are the chances for peace? B) Who plays a major role in this context? The essay concludes by answering the question of whether it is only the conflict-parties and not external actors who could bring peace.

1. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the ancient clash between Jews and Palestinian Arabs over the land of Palestine.[2] Over time the dispute deteriorated, leading to several violent confrontations.[3] The following issues are at stake:

Territory: During the 1967-war Israel illegally occupied land[4] and since then has built Jewish

settlements, mainly in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians demand an Israeli withdrawal and a

Palestinian state. Refugees: In the 1948-and 1967-wars huge numbers of Palestinians were forced to flee from the Israeli-occupied areas.[5] Palestinians demand a right of return of Palestinian refugees.[6] Religion: Both sides have religious claims to the land, especially to the Eastern-part of Jerusalem.[7] Nationalism: Zionist extremists and Palestinian nationalists call for a single Jewish/Palestinian state in all of Palestine.[8] Palestinian terror and Israeli repression are part of the dispute.[9] The conflict is even more complicated by the internal division, between moderates and extremists, of both camps.[10]

Finally it has to be noted that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is also an international issue and thus central to powerful external actors.[11]

2. Past developments

The following section focuses on the development of the peace-process in the past. It reflects on the Oslo-agreements as well as the Camp David-and Taba-talks and discusses the impact of Israel, Palestine and external actors in this context.

2.1. Oslo

Israel and Palestine started secret bilateral negotiations in Oslo in 1993[12], which resulted in a

historic breakthrough.[13] The Oslo accords consisted of the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO and the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, which laid down the Israeli military withdrawal from areas in Gaza and Jericho; the establishment of an internationally recognised Palestinian Self-Government-Authority[14] ; and the commence of negotiations about all outstanding final status issues, resulting in the conclusion of a permanent settlement.[15]

Although the Declaration did not address the vital issues of the dispute[16], the Oslo-accords were revolutionary: For the first time in the Israeli-Palestinian history the two parties had shown a determination to end the conflict. Additionally, the agreement had far-reaching positive consequences for the Arab-Israeli-level of the dispute.[17] And finally, the Oslo-accords provided a basis for further steps in the peace-process.[18]

Concerning Oslo, what can be concluded about the roles of Israel, Palestine and the US?

First, against the favourable background of the labour-victory in 1992 Israel and Palestine had both pushed for secret negotiations and had reached the Oslo-accord on their own without external influence. This showed “(…) that the fate of the peace process lay in the hands of the protagonists rather than in the hands of the intermediaries.” (Shlaim, 2005: 245).[19]

Second, the critical impact of the United States in terms of facilitating, insuring and monitoring

the peace-process should not be underestimated.

Third, Israel was in a stronger position than Palestine. Israelis were traditionally backed by the US and only started direct negotiations with the PLO in 1993 although Arafat had signalled willingness already in 1988. Also, it seemed that Israel had gained more out of the Oslo-accords than Palestine. Most of the agreements represented a compromise solution but this compromise “(…) tilted heavily towards the Israeli position.” (Shlaim, 2005: 251).[20]

2.2. Camp David

In July 2000 Barak and Arafat met in Washington for final status talks to resolve the outstanding settlement issues. Barak, committed to reach a comprehensive agreement and end the conflict, had requested the trilateral summit despite Arafat’s warnings that he was not prepared.[21] Camp David-negotiations were unsuccessful because both parties could not agree on the borders of a Palestinian state, the number of Palestinian refugees that could return and the sovereignty over East Jerusalem.[22] It could be argued that Oslo finally failed in July 2000.

What can be concluded regarding the roles of Israel, Palestine and the US at Camp David?

First, Israel played a dominant role. Barak, backed by Clinton, pushed very hard for the summit. This, in turn, had dramatic consequences: He lost the majority in the Israeli Parliament and due to his weak domestic position the room for diplomatic manoeuvre was reduced. Therefore he adopted a ‘take-it-or-leave-it-approach’ without considering the pressure this caused on Palestine.[23]

Second, the Palestinians had not been ready for final status talks.[24] Arafat had warned against the risks of failure but nevertheless was pressured to the summit by Clinton and Barak. He finally rejected the ‘all-or-nothing’ proposals without offering reasonable counter-proposals.[25]

Third, not even the strongest US-pressure for a comprehensive agreement could change the result in the end. It could even be argued that particularly this pressure contributed to the failure of Camp David, which was blamed on Arafat, especially by Clinton. Yet, to assert that Israel and the US offered a nearly perfect deal and Arafat simply walked away from it, would be misleading.[26]

2.3. Taba

Diplomatic activity between Israel and Palestine continued through back channels without outside involvement after Camp David.[27] In December 2000 Clinton presented a peace-proposal that initiated renewed negotiations in Taba. Until January 2001 dramatic progress was achieved on almost all crucial issues and Israelis and Palestinians hammered out final status proposals. Both sides came closer than ever before.[28] However, final talks had to be postponed due to the Israeli-elections in February 2001. But the Taba-negotiations never continued. The hardliner

Sharon had won the elections and Likud was back in office.

2.4. Reflection

Some important conclusions can be drawn concerning the development of the peace-process in the past that will be helpful for the analysis of the current peace-prospects in section three.

With regard to the peace-process itself, the following can be noted:

First, the Oslo-, Camp David- and Taba-negotiations were positive milestones in a history of conflict and confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians. These negotiations demonstrated that both parties are willing to end their dispute and that peace is not just an abstract concept. Moreover, Oslo, Camp David and Taba initiated the peace-process and provided the basis for further steps towards a final solution.[29]

Second, nevertheless they failed in the end.[30] This was mainly due to great mistakes on both sides as well as to the influence of peace-process-opponents who were often supported by the broader population. Palestinian extremist opponents expressed their stance with terror campaigns. Especially the ‘Al-Aqsa-Intifada’ that broke out in 2000 provoked a cycle of escalating violence.[31] On the Israeli side, the internal political division between the moderate Labour-and the Zionist-influenced-Likud-party was problematic. It seems that the peace-process

developed under a Labour-government but stagnated with Likud in office.[32]

Third, the crucial issue regarding the failure of Oslo, Camp David and Taba was the final status settlement. It was not treated in Oslo, no agreement could be reached at Camp David, and in Taba, it was addressed but a final settlement had to be postponed.[33]

Finally, Israel and Palestine had learned three things: first, their interests are compatible.[34] Second, they do not achieve anything with force and violence.[35] And third, the final status settlement cannot be delayed indefinitely.

Concerning the roles of Israel, Palestine and external actors in the peace-process, it can be concluded that:

First, Israel and Palestine alone have direct influence and can take action. In the past, this direct influence had a positive as well as negative impact on the peace-process. However, Israel seems to be in a stronger position than Palestine. Oslo and Taba have demonstrated that peace is within reach. If both sides are willing and prepared to negotiate they can achieve dramatic progress without external interference. Yet, Camp David showed that Israel’s and Palestine’s direct influence can also hamper the peace-process.

Second, other mistakes on both sides contributed to the failure of the peace-process.

Palestine underestimated the significance of the terror-attacks for Israel. The corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA) under Arafat’s leadership did not demonstrate full commitment to fight terrorism and its infrastructure.[36]

However, Israel’s mistakes were more substantial. Netanyahu and Barak both failed to fully implement the Oslo-provisions, which caused widespread Palestinian frustration.[37] Barak also intensified the construction of Jewish settlements and delayed further negotiations with Palestine.[38] Under Sharon Israelis reoccupied Palestinian autonomous areas and a Defensive Wall in the West Bank was constructed.[39] Another problem was the Israeli arrogance towards Palestine. The regular humiliation of Palestinians in the occupied territories and the continuation of Jewish settlement-activity reinforced the belief among Palestinians that Israel did not really want peace.[40] Israel’s arrogance also indirectly caused widespread support for extremist groups among Palestinians.[41] Yet, Sharon’s visit of the Temple Mount in September 2000 was the tip of the iceberg that ultimately led to the outbreak of the second intifada. Israel’s response of repression and collective punishment[42] further radicalised both sides.


[1] Shlaim, 2005: 242. However, the conflict is complicated by inter-Arab relations and the involvement of outside powers.

[2] Judea was the home of the Jewish people in ancient times. Soon after it had been conquered by the Romans (who renamed it Palestine) and later on by the Arabs, a Zionist movement arose that aimed at the restoration of the Jews to Israel. (http://www.mideastweb.org/history.htm) In 1917 Palestine was granted to Britain as a League of Nations-mandate to build a national home for the Jewish people, which was reinforced by the Holocaust and opposed by the Arabs. Thus the United Nations decided to partition Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state in 1947 (articulated in the UN General Assembly Resolution 181- the UN Partition Plan for Palestine) but Palestinian Arabs did not accept this and war broke out in 1948. See Smith (2005: 217/218), Bunton (2003), Hajjar, Rabbani, Beinin (1989: 101), Isseroff, w.y. and Rogan (2005:36-37).

[3] War between Israelis and Palestinians broke out in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982. In 1948 the victorious Jews expanded their land and declared the state of Israel but Palestinians refused to recognise Israel. Shlaim (1987; 1990; 1998), Khalidi (2001).

[4] Israel occupied Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel.

[5] Smith, 2005: 225. Many refugees live in poor conditions in crowded refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The number of Palestinian refugees has amounted to circa 4 million people.

[6] Palestinians base their demands on the UN- Resolution 194. However, if the refugees would be allowed to return to Israel this would create an Arab-majority and mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus Israelis oppose this demand.

[7] Jews have their religious roots in Israel/Judea. Jerusalem was the ancient capital of Judea and the site of the Jewish holy temple. On the other hand, Jerusalem is also the site of the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque. See Don-Yehiya (1984).

[8] Zionists view a single Jewish state under Israeli rule as fulfilment of ancient Jewish rights and only solution to anti-Semitism. Arab-Palestinian nationalism includes extremists such as Hamas. Nimni (2003) and Nusseibeh (1992).

[9] Almost all Palestinian extremist groups were founded with the declared aim of destroying Israel by violence Only the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) renounced this aim officially. However, it is important to point out that Palestinian terror was mainly a reaction to the Israeli occupation and even more importantly to Israeli-settlement activity. Sayigh (1997), Lustick (1993), Robinson (1997: 47), Stein (2005), Frisch (1998: 93-108) and http://mideastweb.org/peaceplans.htm.

[10] Moderates favour historic compromise and a two-state solution. Extremists are influenced by the nationalist ideologies. Moderates on the Israeli side are represent d by the left-wing Labour party and Israeli Revisionism is embodied by the right-wing Likud-Party. Moderates on the Palestinian side include Yasser Arafat’s Fatah-Party and also the PLO (Arafat was head of the PLO from 1969 onwards). Hamas and Islamic Jihad in contrast represent Palestinian extremist groups. See Dannreuther (2005).

[11] The US have always been a supporter of the Israelis but also play the role of a mediator in the peace-process. Yet, the EU, UN, Russia and several Arab states are also involved. (Binder, 1958 and Hudson, 2005: 289).

[12] The US initiated an international conference in Madrid in October 1991, to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the larger framework of the Arab-Israeli dispute. Negotiations were based on UN Resolution 242 (it articulates the principle of exchange of occupied land in return for peace and demands the Israeli withdrawal of territory occupied in the 1967-war) and excluded the PLO since PLO-leader Arafat had supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War 1990/91. (Smith, 2005: 26). As the subsequent bilateral talks in Washington led nowhere, Israel and Palestine used a back channel-Oslo. (u.a., 12 February 2005).

[13] The decision of the head of the labour-party Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin to directly negotiate with the PLO was a diplomatic revolution. The secret talks started in January 1993 and were held over an 8-month period. (Shlaim, 2005: 244).

[14] The Palestinian Authority was established in 1994. Direct elections to the Assembly, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), were held in 1996 and Arafat was elected President. The President is elected for a 5-year term and appoints and heads the Palestinian Authority-cabinet that is responsible for the Legislature.

[15] These negotiations would end within 5 years with a permanent settlement based on UN-resolutions 242 and 338.

[16] Vital issues were the shape of a permanent settlement, the refugee’s right of return, a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank/ Gaza. It separated the interim from the final settlement. (Tessler, 1994: 756).

[17] For example a peace-treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1994. (http://mideastweb.org/meoslodop.htm)

[18] Three agreements on the power-transfer to Palestine and Israeli withdrawal were signed in 1994. (Shlaim, 2005). In September 1995 the Oslo II-Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza, which terminated the first stage of the negotiations, was signed.

[19] Both sides had different motivations to start the negotiations. Arafat faced economic, diplomatic and political losses as a result of his alliance with Hussein during the Gulf War. Furthermore, his international backing had diminished with the end of the Cold War. Rabin, on the other hand, regarded the Islamic-inspired violence (Hamas and Islamic Jihad had launched a campaign of terror during the official bilateral talks in Washington) as a greater threat than Arafat and the PLO. (Smith, 2005: 234).

[20] Palestinians had only achieved autonomy and were still economically dependent on Israel.

[21] Shlaim, 2005: 256. One reason for Barak’s request was that Arafat had threatened to issue a unilateral declaration of independence. However, Arafat was convinced that the gaps concerning the crucial final status issues were still too wide.

[22] http://www.mideastweb.org/campdavid2.htm. Barak proposed that Palestine should include almost 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza. The territory adjacent to the borders of 1967 would be annexed to Israel. Concerning Jerusalem, Barak offered ‘inner ring autonomy’ rather than sovereignty and asserted the Israelis sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Arafat rejected any solution that would not give Palestine full sovereignty over Haram al- Sharif and East Jerusalem. (Stein, 2005: 211)

[23] Such an attitude was difficult to handle for the Palestinian delegation, especially because Barak had asserted the Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, including Haram al-Sharif, which was a crucial factor for the Palestinians. Furthermore, Barak had staked his own political future on the agreement. (Isseroff, 2003-a).

[24] Arafat had favoured discrete negotiations prior to final status talks but this was rejected by the US and Israel. Also, already in 1999 he had called for negotiations on a comprehensive settlement, which was rejected back then. (Pundak, 2001).

[25] This was also a result of the fact that the broad Palestinian population as well as other Arab states accused Arafat of not being able to stand up against the US and Israel. (Agha and Malley, 2002). Yet, for the first time Arafat had accepted a Palestinian state on only 22% of mandatory Palestine.

[26] Pundak, 2001: 32. Also see Seliger, 2001; Morris, 2002 and Ross and Grinstein, 2002.

[27] This was only interrupted by the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000.

[28] Pundak, 2001: 44 and http://www.mideastweb.org/taba/htm. On the issue of refugees, the negotiators achieved a draft determining the parameters and procedures for a solution and concerning the territorial dimension, both came closer then ever before to an agreed border line. Israel reduced its demands to 6% but still insisted on a merely symbolic territorial compensation, while the Palestinians agreed to an Israeli annexation of ca. 3% along with a territorial compensation of the same amount.

[29] As noted before, Oslo also contributed to the recognition of Israel in the Arab world and led to a peace-treaty with Jordan.

[30] On the failure of Oslo also see Finkelstein, 2003: 172-183, Frisch, 1998: 109-146 and Isseroff, 2003-a.

[31] The second intifada, mainly organised by extremist groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, involved suicide bombings and terror. Over the past four years it has killed more than 3000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis. (Dowty and Gawerc, 2001). Yet, Hamas had started a campaign of suicide bombings already in 1993 in reaction to the Oslo-accords.

[32] The peace-process was generally opposed by Likud-hardliners such as Sharon or Netanyahu. Netanyahu had called upon the Israeli population to oppose the Rabin-course in the Oslo-negotiations and thus fuelled Zinoist-extremist sentiments. He won the elections in 1996 against Shimon Peres who had been the leader of the Labour-party after Rabin had been assassinated by an Israeli-extremist in November 1995. (Heller, 2000) and Lustick (1997).

[33] This was due to the Israeli-elections in February. The final status settlement included the crucial issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees and settlement activity.

[34] After all both want to realize their national right of self-determination on the basis of a two-state solution (with 1967-borders).

[35] Both have learned that they cannot defeat each other and the imbalance of power does not work.

[36] Sontag, 2001: 78-79. Also, Arafat did not make any effort to reassess the relations with the Palestinian public that had been disappointed by his authoritarian governing style. This provoked frustration and supported terrorist campaigns.

[37] Netanyahu did not implement the Hebron Protocol (1997) or the Wye River Memorandum (1998) either. According to these documents (the Clinton-administration had pressured him to sign them) he had to concede territory to Palestine.

[38] Soon after his election in 1999 the Labour-leader Barak adopted a ‘Syria-first’ approach and dashed all hopes. He also did not release Palestinian prisoners detained prior to the Oslo-agreements. (Agha/Malley, 2002).

[39] Sharon had always supported the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The security barrier was built within the boundaries of the occupied territories to protect from terrorist-attacks.

[40] The Israeli arrogance was also reflected by the ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude of Barak in Camp David, which had put considerable pressure on the Palestinians. Also, Barak never developed a personal relationship with Arafat. Israeli arrogance often took the form of an attitude of the occupier towards the occupied. (Pundak, 2001:33). Also see Yiftachel, 1997.

[41] The Fatah-movement, long the cornerstone of Palestinian support for peace, was gradually replaced by Hamas. (ibid).

[42] This ‘measure’ severely pushed the Palestinian unemployment and put 55-60% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and 70-80% of the Palestinians in Gaza under the poverty line. (http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/mepp/)

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Who can bring peace? The role of external actors in the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process
University of Edinburgh
The Middle East in International Politics
63% (1,7)
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ISBN (eBook)
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Israeli-Palestinian, Middle, East, International, Politics
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Julia Heise (Author), 2005, Who can bring peace? The role of external actors in the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/39097


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