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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat signed the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum in September, which implemented the provisions of the Wye Memorandum.
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
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.
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.
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
President Ronald Reagan
President George Bush
President Bill Clinton
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 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.
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Source: Ryan Gillis, Mike Barnes and Kytja Weir