As today is the 25th anniversary of the ceremony on the White House lawn that ratified the Oslo Accords, it’s easy to note the failure of Washington’s persistent efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. After all, the results include the bloody second intifada and a terrorist statelet in Gaza that has started a series of brief wars with Israel, while an actual lasting peace seems as far off as ever. Robert Satloff, however, sees things otherwise. To understand U.S. successes, he argues, one must look to the larger picture of the regional conflict between Israel and the Arab world, and go back to the policies of the Nixon administration in the wake of the Yom Kippur war, when Henry Kissinger crafted a new approach to the Middle East:
The strategy [Nixon and Kissinger] pursued was to devise an incremental approach to peacemaking, eschewing a go-for-broke effort to forge peace by focusing instead on step-by-step measures. At its core was a novel idea: success would come from being not an impartial, third-party mediator but rather an honest broker whose close political affinity for one of the sides (in this case, Israel) would be an asset to peacemaking, not a liability. . . . [A]s soon as one Arab party, in this case Egypt, saw that America could deliver what it needed because of its close relations with Israel—in terms both of Israeli concessions and of critical direct assistance—other Arab parties soon wanted to get into the game.
Eventually, by every measure, the [Nixon-Kissinger] peace process achieved its original goals and more. First, most of the Arab states and Israel have not only embraced a diplomatic alternative to conflict but have effectively renounced war as a way to resolve their differences. The October 1973 war was the last inter-state war between Arabs and Israelis; since then, Israel has faced a range of regional adversaries but they have either been Arab sub-state actors and terrorist groups or the non-Arab Islamic Republic of Iran.
Second, both Arab states and Israel have forged much closer ties with the United States. . . . Some of those Arab states have even developed important, if quiet, ties with Israel. Finally, with the rise of the U.S.-led peace process, two historic allies of Moscow before 1973—Egypt and the Palestine Liberation Organization—gradually moved into the American camp. . . .
In [the context of the current Middle East], what is remarkable is not the setbacks Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking suffered but the considerable successes it achieved. . . . Not only is the quasi-government created by the Oslo Accords—the Palestinian Authority—a reasonably well-functioning entity (certainly by regional standards), but it conducts relations with Israel that are more peaceful, cooperative, and mutually beneficial than many other cross-border relationships in the Middle East. . . . According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, the Palestinian territories have a per-capita gross national income (measured in purchasing-power parity) that exceeds Honduras and Ghana, is about on par with Nigeria, Moldova, Pakistan, Nicaragua, and the Marshall Islands, and even approaches Vietnam. It has infant-mortality rates lowers than Morocco; child malnutrition rates lower than Turkey; and a youth literacy rate on par with Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. . . .
What does this mean for further U.S. efforts at bringing peace? Satloff concludes that Washington ought to remain involved, but focus on incremental measures rather than sweeping solutions, investing little diplomatic capital and expecting little. Contrary to much conventional wisdom, “the moment for peacemaking has not passed. It may not even have arrived.”