Seeking Peace: International Diplomacy


After Israel became the 59th member of the United Nations in May 1949, the U.N. began attempts to implement its initial 1947 partition proposal and bring peace to the Middle East.

The U.N. tried to resolve Arab-Israeli conflicts in the area through mediation and the installation of U.N forces. In November 1967, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which called for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the Six-Day War in return for peace, secure borders and mutual recognition of Arab and Israel state independence. Although neither party met these demands, the trade of "land for peace" has been the central tenet of diplomatic efforts ever since.

Time-Line Of Negotiations:

  • 1977-9: Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty
    The first Arab-Israeli talks occurred in November 1977 between Egypt and Israel. The following year, President Jimmy Carter held the first Camp David talks between these two states, which led to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Aside from creating agreements on trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations, the treaty provided for the incremental return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for Israeli use of the Suez Canal.
  • 1991: Madrid Peace Conference
    On October 30, 1991, a multilateral conference led by the U.S. and the Soviet Union convened in Madrid, Spain. The main participating parties included Syria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, European countries and a Jordanian delegation that worked in conjunction with the PLO. This conference set the stage for future direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinian officials.
  • 1992-94: Oslo, Mutual Recognition & DOP
    In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel's moderate Labor party was elected on a mandate to compromise on territory without dividing Jerusalem. Secret talks in Oslo, Norway, began in January 1993 between Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat. On September 9, 1993, Rabin and Arafat declared mutual recognition of the PLO and the state of Israel, and on September 13, the leaders signed the Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP).

The DOP granted limited self-rule to the Palestinians in Jericho and Gaza under a freely elected government, denounced terrorism and violence as a means of accomplishment, and set the stage for future negotiations concerning the status of Gaza and the West Bank. As a result of the agreement, Arafat, Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

  • 1994-5: Israeli-Palestinian Progress
    Since the DOP, the Middle East peace process has evolved significantly. May 4, 1994, saw the signing of the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area, which signified the official beginning to five years of Palestinian self-rule.

In late September 1995, Rabin and Arafat signed an Interim Agreement that provided for additional Palestinian police and Israeli troops to remain in the Jewish area of Hebron, and amended the initial Palestinian charter, which had called for the destruction of Israel. On November 4, 1995, just a month after Israeli troops began to redeploy from certain Palestinian settlement areas, an Israeli opposed to the peace process assassinated Prime Minister Rabin.

  • 1996-98: Netanyahu And Wye Memorandum
    Between May 1996 and October 1998, the process was marked by terrorist attacks and an Israeli government less willing to compromise under the new leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On October 23, 1998, Netanyahu and Arafat signed the Wye River Memorandum with President Clinton and King Hussein of Jordan mediating the discussion. This accord detailed implementation of the 1995 Interim Agreement, required specific anti-terrorist action by the Palestinian National Council, and created a U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli committee to evaluate progress.

  • July 2000: Camp David Trilateral Agreement
    Although final status negotiations were not resolved, Barak, Arafat and Clinton signed a trilateral agreement. In this document, Israelis and Palestinians pledged continued support to end decades of conflict through negotiations based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Additionally, they recognized the need to avoid unilateral actions in trying to achieve peace.

  • Oct. 2000: Agreement Reached In Egypt
    In response to the weeks of violence between Palestinians and Israeli forces, a multilateral meeting of leaders convened in Egypt. President Clinton once again assumed the principal role in brokering peace between Barak and Arafat.

    The result from two days of intensive talks was a verbal agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Both sides pledged to publicly demand an unequivocal end to violence and to proceed by restoring the situation that existed before the recent conflict. Secondly, both leaders agreed to the formation of a fact-finding committee to evaluate the recent events and prevent any further recurrence of violence. Finally, they agreed to work with the U.S. to address the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Players

The elected leaders of Israel and Palestinian, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, led the Camp David negotiations with mandates from their homelands. The two leaders continue to seek a resolution that their people will support.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat


Born in the Gaza Strip, Arafat became involved in efforts of Palestinian resistance as a teenager in the 1940s.

In 1965, he founded a group known as Al Fatah, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement. The group aimed to free Palestinian lands from Israeli occupation. At first Al Fatah was ignored by the larger Arab nations, which had formed the PLO.

When the Arabs lost the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967, the Arab nations turned to Arafat. In 1969 he was elected Chairman for the Executive Committee of the PLO and still holds that title.

For two decades violent conflicts between the PLO and Israel gave Arafat an international reputation as a terrorist. But in 1988 Arafat embraced diplomacy, telling the U.N. that the PLO would recognize Israel as a sovereign state. After a series of talks leading to the Oslo Peace Accords, Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Four years ago, Arafat was elected with 83 percent of the vote as the first president of the Palestinian Council governing the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat seeks a Palestinian state, as stipulated by the U.N.'s initial resolution of 1947. In the Camp David negotiations, Arafat also sought governing rights of East Jerusalem and the repatriation of refugees. Although he had pledged to declare independence on September 13, Palestinian officials recently extended the deadline following international pressure to continue peace talks.

    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak 


    On May 17, 1999, Israel's highest ranking military official, Ehud Barak, defeated incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and started to build his Labor government after the model of his mentor, Yitzhak Rabin.

    Barak's "One Israel" campaign platform sparked an unprecedented electoral victory of 56 percent of the popular vote. His coalition made several promises to the Israeli people: to keep Jerusalem undivided under Israeli control; to ensure national referenda on any peace accords; and to impose a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction but protect existing settlements in predominantly Palestinian areas until the ultimate fates of Gaza and the West Bank were negotiated.

    Barak was forced to postpone his departure for the Camp David Summit due to three no-confidence votes in the Israeli parliament on July 10. Barak's government survived the votes narrowly, but three parties abandoned his coalition, opposing possible territorial concessions that he might have made to the Palestinians.

    United States Involvement


    The United States has played an active role in facilitating Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.

    On the one hand, the U.S. has many strong cultural and religious ties to Israel, which annually has received the most U.S. foreign assistance since 1976 according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. Israel is also the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. aid since World War II, currently receiving $3 billion in unilateral funds annually. Israel is reliant on U.S. support, as highlighted by its concession to the U.S. on July 10 not to sell its advanced airborne radar system to China.

    On the other hand, the oil supplies of Arabic countries have made favorable relations essential to the U.S. Additionally, Islamic and Arab Americans maintain strong cultural ties to the Middle East. American foreign policy and national security are closely tied to the region, as evidenced by the U.S. role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

    Negotiating Peace: Creating A Legacy
    In the effort to secure peace in the Middle East, many U.S. presidents have played important roles in securing negotiations. In the process, they have added their foreign policy legacies to the history books.

    President Jimmy Carter 
    Anwar Sadat, Menachem
    Begin, Carter sign
    agreements in 1978. (AP)
    After the Arab-Israeli talks began between Egypt and Israel, President Carter called the first Camp David peace summit in 1978. The historic 13-day meeting yielded agreements on trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations and provided for the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt for Israeli use of the Suez Canal.

    President Ronald Reagan
    Reagan's secretary of state George Shultz unsuccessfully attempted to initiate peace negotiations during the Intifada. The U.S. excluded the PLO from negotiations as long as the PLO refused to accept Israel's right to exist. Palestinians, in turn, would not participate in negotiations that excluded the PLO.

    President George Bush
    In March 1991, President Bush vowed to pursue a policy of "territory for peace," which would ensure Israeli security and recognize Palestinian political rights. That year, a U.S. delegation joined the Soviet Union, Israel and Arab states at negotiating tables in Madrid. Again in 1992, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. called multilateral peace talks.

    President Bill Clinton 
    Clinton mediated the 1993 talks that produced an agreement on a Declaration of Principles and forged mutual recognition of the PLO and the state of Israel. The U.S. continued an active role in the peace process, which led to the 1997 Hebron Protocol and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum. The U.S. assumed an official responsibility in implementing the Wye accord.

    As Clinton ends his tenure in the White House, some observers say he is focusing on finalizing his legacy. Although he was not able to forge an agreement between the two sides at the 2000 Camp David talks, he has remained actively involved in the continuing negotiations.

    A Return To Camp David: The Summit


    Arafat, Barak and President Clinton met in a formal summit at the Camp David presidential retreat for 15 days in July. The timing was crucial for both Clinton and the Middle Eastern leaders.

    Arafat had vowed to declare an independent Palestinian state on September 13. Reports suggested that Israeli and Palestinian forces were preparing for combat if resolutions were not met by the September deadline.

    However, the talks broke down without a resolution when neither side could compromise over the fate of Jerusalem. Although Arafat eventually postponed his September deadline, violence erupted in the region in the last days of the month. The escalating violence, in which nearly 90 people have been killed, has sparked international involvement and concern to stop a full-scale war in the region. Negotiations continue between the two sides, but peace remains elusive.

    Previous article in this series:

    Part 1: Holy Land: Territory At Stake

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    Part 3: Sticking Points In Finding Resolution

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    Source: Ryan Gillis, Mike Barnes and Kytja Weir