No. 438 15 Elul 5760 / 15 September 2000
A NEW PARADIGM FOR ARAB-ISRAELI PEACEMAKING:
A COMPREHENSIVE REGIONAL SYSTEM FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Abraham "Abrasha" Tamir
Bilateral versus Multilateral Peace Processes / Organization for Security and
Cooperation in the Middle East / The Birth of the Peace Process in 1974 / Why
the Peace Process Developed Bilaterally / Limitations of the Bilateral
Peace Process / Approaches to a Regional Security System / An Analysis of the
Options / The Growing Utility of Regional Groupings
Bilateral versus Multilateral Peace Processes
Over the last two decades, the reliance on separate negotiating tracks in the
Arab-Israeli peace process has resulted in a cumulative loss of territories
vital for the defense of Israel's very existence, without any corresponding
buildup of peace and security for Israel that could last for generations. The
military capabilities of Israel's potential adversaries have not diminished,
but, in fact, have expanded considerably. The normalization of relations
between Israel and the Arab world, as stipulated in the peace treaties between
Israel, Jordan and Egypt, has not advanced, but, rather, has been held hostage
to further Israeli concessions in each of the separate negotiating tracks.
Finally, the employment of terrorism and violence by Israel's neighbors became
part of the negotiating process with Syria and the PLO.
This was not the original paradigm for the peace process. In 1975, a year after
the peace process began under the umbrella of the Geneva Conference, the late
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave priority to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli
peace process, in the context of an agreed strategic framework, as opposed to
moving forward with separate, bilateral peace tracks with each of Israel's
neighbors. However, the bilateral approach eventually became the choice of
Israeli governments that sought to circumvent difficult problems, like the
status of Jerusalem and the location of international boundaries.
In order to obtain separate peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, Israel
withdrew from all of the territories it had captured to which they held claim
(all of Sinai went to Egypt and territories from the Arava as well as in the
Jordan Valley went to Jordan). To reach an interim agreement with the PLO in
accordance with the Oslo Agreements, Israel has so far conceded control of 40
percent of the West Bank and 90 percent of the Gaza Strip. Yet, with all of
these separate agreements, Israel did not modify the joint Arab approach to red
lines for peace with Israel, as detailed below.
One central factor influenced the decisions of Israeli governments for
territorial withdrawals of such an extent for the sake of separate peace
agreements: the involvement of the United States, which provided Israel with
greater self-defense capabilities and increased financial assistance in order
to offset the risks of renewed warfare and terrorism. In other words, the U.S.
made up for the inadequacies of the strategy of separate peace tracks through
its technological and foreign aid programs for Israel. Additionally, security
arrangements, including limited forces zones and demilitarization in Sinai,
were instituted in order to impede any real-time, surprise attack from Egypt or
However, the real hopes of Israelis for a secure peace as a result of these
separate agreements have not been realized. If implemented in spirit and in
practice, they were supposed to provide fertile ground for the eventual
emergence of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace that would provide Israel with
security for generations. The "end of the Arab-Israel conflict" would be
realized when peace would spread across the entire region, but this has not
Presently, given the expected agreements with a future Palestinian state and
with Syria, ones that require Israelis to deal with tearing at the heart of
Judaism (the status of Jerusalem) and the basis of Israeli national security
(Israel's final borders), it makes sense to have the remainder of the peace
process advance within the framework of a comprehensive peace.
This peace framework should be based on the provision of secure borders for the
Jewish nation-state (and not for a bi-national state) on the basis of changes
in the lines of 4 June 1967. These changed borders should be created by
annexing and placing under Israeli sovereignty certain settlement blocs that
were originally established out of national security considerations, whose
purpose is to safeguard the unity of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, widen the
approaches to Jerusalem from the coastal plain, provide defense for the coastal
plain from the western slopes of the hills of the West Bank (western Samaria),
and provide for the defense of the State of Israel along its borders with
Jordan (utilizing the Jordan Rift Valley and the Dead Sea) and with Egypt (in
the southern Gaza sector).
Such a framework should also be based on the provision of strategic depth for
the borders of Israel, based on the interdependence between Israel's
self-defense capability and security arrangements (political military, and
economic) on the bilateral and multilateral levels, which would have at its
core an "Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East."
Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East
Only by re-fashioning the Arab-Israeli peace process to take a more
comprehensive approach can a secure and lasting peace be achieved. This means
the creation of a new paradigm for Arab-Israeli peace-making, one that seeks to
develop enduring peace and security within a multilateral framework of security
and cooperation, as has occurred in other regions such as Western Europe
(European Union) or Southeast Asia (ASEAN), where regional arrangements have
been used to prevent old inter-state armed conflicts from returning or new
conflicts from erupting. Indeed, this more regional approach to peace-making is
precisely the way Israel had originally defined its preferred strategy for
reaching peace back in 1975 when the peace process was just beginning.
With the change of administration in Washington in early 2001, and the possible
emergence of a new Israeli government as well, if elections are advanced, a new
peace strategy may be conceivable that would allow for the completion of a
comprehensive peace agreement. For completing peace treaties with Syria (and
Lebanon) and with a Palestinian state, and implementing past treaties in spirit
and practice, the best solution is through the establishment of a regional
organization for security and cooperation.
The Birth of the Peace Process in 1974
The process for terminating the Arab-Israeli conflict and creating a durable
peace between Israel and the Arab states began in 1974 on the basis of UN
Security Council Resolution 242 (approved on 2 November 1967, after the Six-Day
War). This process was also launched under the auspices of the international
conference which emerged from UN Security Resolution 338 of 28 October 1973,
after the Yom Kippur War.
From the start, the peace process required an understanding of the
interdependence between bilateral peace treaties between Israel and the states
that it borders, and multilateral agreements between Israel and the Arab
states. Bilateral peace agreements were intended to establish agreed-upon
borders. They were to be anchored in security arrangements (diplomatic,
military and economic) that would remove the risks of war and terrorism which
might emanate from these states, including their potential strategic ties to
other states as well as to terrorist organizations. Additionally, bilateral
agreements were intended to promote the development of normalization of
relations by means of diplomatic and economic ties.
Beyond this, however, multilateral peace agreements were intended to bring
about a termination of the Arab-Israeli conflict, whose origins date back to the
beginning of the twentieth century, by means of durable agreements that
reflected a regional system for peace and cooperation.
Ultimately, Israel needs a peace process that is based on the combination of
both bilateral and multilateral approaches for a number of reasons: The first
involves the relationship between Israel's need to establish permanent
boundaries, and the depth of its national security concerns prior to the
achievement of permanent borders. For example, Israel's security needs with
respect to certain boundaries are often a function of threats that emanate from
states beyond the immediate circle of countries with which Israel is engaged in
a bilateral process.
Israel also seeks the removal of risks to its national existence that are
derived from the threat of a conventional military attack by a broad Arab
coalition along all of Israel's fronts and theaters of operation. This
consideration includes states that do not actually border Israel but
nonetheless have historically dispatched significant expeditionary forces as
part of a coalition attack, such as Iraq. In fact, Israel has had to defend
itself against such coalitions repeatedly, in 1948, 1967, and in 1973. The
risks to Israeli security that need to be addressed in a peace process also
include weapons of mass destruction that have been deployed across large
expanses extending over a number of Arab states.
Two international conferences opened with great fanfare for the purpose of
achieving Arab-Israeli peace. The first, held in Geneva in 1974, never even
reached the threshold of multilateral diplomacy, producing only three partial
agreements--two with Egypt and one with Syria. The second, held in Madrid in
1991, did not produce any bilateral agreements and began a multilateral process
that quickly froze.
Why the Peace Process Developed Bilaterally
The course of the peace process that emerged from both international
conferences was influenced by a number of interdependent factors. First of all,
the U.S. administration preferred bilateral processes, under American
mediation, over a comprehensive peace process that would have required
incorporating the Soviet Union, in accordance with the requirements of Moscow's
client states including Syria, Iraq, and even Egypt, until the beginning of the
Israeli-Egyptian peace process.
Another factor involved the policies of past Israeli governments that preferred
a bilateral peace process, with American mediation, in order to avoid highly
controversial decisions that could split the Israeli people and endanger the
survival of the government in the Knesset. This reluctance to tackle tough
issues particularly applied to the status of Jerusalem, final borders, and
Furthermore, past Syrian policies promoted inter-Arab unity, or at least
coordination, by means of a joint Arab delegation to the Geneva Peace
Conference. This policy eventually led to the establishment of the Rejectionist
Front that opposed the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.
Finally, there was the rising political weight of the PLO which became the
paramount national movement of the Palestinians. The implications of its growth
led to increasing concerns by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for its own
integrity. The rise of the PLO also led to a political clash between Egypt,
Syria, and Iraq, each of which sought to become the chief patron of the PLO as
part of their regional struggle for strategic hegemony over Arab states.
Despite these developments, the bilateral peace process that began in 1974 did
produce a separate peace with Egypt, because of that country's determination to
move toward peace even without Syrian agreement. Furthermore, the bilateral
process also produced the 1994 Peace Treaty with Jordan in the aftermath of the
Oslo Agreements because of Jordanian aspirations to protect its national rights
in the framework of an independent Palestinian state expected to emerge in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The motivating force behind these agreements was a preference for an
ideological/territorial compromise over a war that would only yield intolerable
losses and in which neither side would be able to impose its conditions on the
other side (by political, military, and economic measures).
Limitations of the Bilateral Peace Process
Yet, the bilateral peace agreements that were achieved with Egypt and Jordan
did not bring a halt to threats against Israel that emanated from Arab parties
that were not yet a part of the peace process. These agreements also did not
lead to a cessation of threats from Iran that potentially endangered the
existence of Israel. The red lines that became the common basis for the Arab
approach to peace did not change: an Israeli withdrawal to the lines of 4 June
1967, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with
East Jerusalem as its capital, and Israeli recognition of the right of return
of Palestinian refugees to the territory within its pre-1967 borders.
In a peace process based on bilateral agreements alone, there was to be no real
normalization of relations, as was originally expected from the separate peace
treaties that were signed. This was a result of the connection that the Arab
regimes made between normalization and the need to achieve a comprehensive
No real enduring security was produced by these separate agreements. This was a
direct consequence of the connection that each Arab regime made between Israeli
security and its own security on the basis of mutuality in security
arrangements. Additionally, there was an insistence that Israel dismantle its
purported nuclear capability. Some Arab regimes even insisted that Israel give
up its technological superiority that might have military applications; they
thus opposed Israel retaining a qualitative military edge in conventional
forces against their quantitative superiority.
Threats to Israeli security from beyond the immediate ring of Arab states
bordering Israel were not even addressed in the bilateral peace process. This
became a far more acute problem in the early 1980s, as the greater Persian Gulf
area (Iran, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula) became the focal point of a
military buildup in the Middle East, instead of the Arab-Israeli sector. The
shift of location for the arms race in the region emanated from both the
increase in oil revenues from the late 1970s and the two Gulf Wars, which
accelerated the pace of military modernization in the Gulf region. It also led
to a rush to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic
missile delivery systems. As a result, the bilateral peace process now entails
Israel assuming greater territorial risks, without any corresponding
threat-reduction in the zone that has increasingly emerged as the main military
challenge for Israeli security in the future.
If the bilateral approach was workable in 1979, when Israel made peace with
Egypt, it has become untenable with respect to Israel's eastern neighbors.
Along Israel's western front, Egypt is the main source of military strength;
other western front states like Libya and Sudan do not significantly add to the
considerable military strength of the Egyptian armed forces. Thus, Israel could
safely withdraw from Sinai with only bilateral security arrangements.
However, along Israel's eastern front the situation is entirely different. The
Palestinians and Jordan are not the main military threat to Israel. The main
potential threats from the east are now from Syria--from both conventional
weapons and weapons of mass destruction; Iraq--despite the results of the Gulf
War with respect to its weapons of mass destruction; and Iran--which is very
near to achieving nuclear capability and delivery systems that cover all of
Israel. Thus, a bilateral peace process along Israel's eastern front, based on
bilateral security arrangements with bordering states alone, would simply be
These threats are not just directed against Israel but rather against all
states in the region, and create several dangerous scenarios. There is the
threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction by miscalculation or by
extremist regimes. They may be used, as well, in connection with international
terrorism. Equally, weapons of mass destruction may be used as a
counter-deterrent that raises the prospect of new conventional wars. Finally,
these weapons and their delivery systems may be deployed in the territory of
third parties. In the past, Iraq, for example, has used the territory of Jordan
and Syria as a platform of attack against Israel, but this principle could
apply in other cases.
The bilateral process, moreover, created a situation in which the major threats
to Israel's security, those that directly affected the calculus of the risks
that it could take upon itself, were less noted by public opinion. As a result,
Israel underwent a total reversal in the eyes of world opinion. From a state
which Arab regimes sought to destroy or at least diminish to narrower borders,
it became a state accused of preferring the use of force in order to maintain
its territorial conquests.
Under such conditions, it was not surprising that some Arab parties felt they
had the freedom of action to conduct a peace process that involved using the
threat to resort to war and terrorism every time Israel refused to accept
Arab terms for peace. This was particularly true of Syria as it supported
Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups in Lebanon as a form of leverage
against Israel as it sought to regain the Golan Heights. This was also true of
the Palestinian Authority, which gave freedom of action for hostile activities
(from the Hamas, other Palestinian extreme organizations, Fatah-Tanzim, and
also Palestinian police forces) as a form of pressure on Israel to make further
concessions. There were no commonly accepted regional rules of behavior that
precluded this kind of activity. Thus, rather than begin negotiations only
after the achievement of a cease-fire, which was the original concept of the
peace process, the main parts of the negotiations with the Palestinians and the
Syrians were actually conducted under the threat of fire that emanated from
areas under the military control of Israel's negotiating partners.
Approaches to a Regional Security System
There have been a number of inter-state frameworks for strategic cooperation
established in the Middle East since World War II. The Arab League was formed
under British auspices in the 1940s in order to protect British interests in
the region. Under this framework, its members have joined together over a
struggle against "imperialism," war against Israel, Syrian involvement in
Lebanon, and fruitless efforts to resolve inter-Arab differences.
The regimes of key Arab states--such as Egypt, Syria, and Iraq--erected
frameworks for strategic cooperation in order to protect their hegemony in
parts of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, with American backing, established the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to protect Saudi hegemony among the Arab Gulf
states. The common ground for much of this inter-Arab cooperation was the war
against Israel, the struggle against "imperialism," and the resolution of
inter-Arab conflicts in accordance with the interests of the regime seeking
U.S. administrations created various frameworks for strategic cooperation that
included Arab and Muslim states in addition to Western allies, in order to
secure Western oil resources and sea lanes from interdiction. During the Cold
War, regional security systems for strategic cooperation, under U.S.
leadership, were intended to contain the spread of Soviet power in the Middle
East. In the course of the Iran-Iraq War, this cooperation was aimed at
protecting freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, particularly from the
threat of Iran, which sought to cut off Iraq's oil trade. After the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait, strategic cooperation under U.S. leadership not only sought
to liberate Kuwait, but also to neutralize threats to pro-Western oil producing
states from Iraq and Iran (a policy known as "dual containment").
Israel also has a framework for strategic cooperation with the U.S., but it is
only intended for the Eastern Mediterranean and not for the rest of the Middle
East. Even the U.S. command structure kept Israel within the jurisdiction of
the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and not under the U.S. Central Command
(CENTCOM), whose primary responsibility is the defense of the Gulf region. The
reason for this distinction is the U.S. preference to not link its strategic
cooperation with the process of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. One direct
ramification of this policy was the decision not to integrate Israel into the
1991 Gulf War effort.
Soviet governments sought to develop frameworks for strategic cooperation with
the Arab states, until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, in order to accumulate
strategic positions along the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf,
the Red Sea, and the eastern Indian Ocean. These strategic relationships led to
the equipping of these states with Soviet weaponry. Even today, when the U.S.
remains the sole superpower for resolving regional conflicts, there still
remains a potential risk that a new regime will emerge in the Russian
Federation that will return the Middle East to the Cold War period.
While most of these initiatives arose from military-strategic considerations
that may not be as relevant today, still, it is not surprising that Middle
Eastern states seek to integrate themselves into diplomatic initiatives for the
resolution of conflicts by means of peace treaties and security arrangements.
Indeed, many of these conflicts still could potentially erupt into full-scale
wars between the Arab states and Israel, between the Arab states themselves, or
between Arab states and other Muslim countries, such as Iran and Turkey.
But the preferred way to solve military conflicts, over the long term, is by
integrating states into multilateral frameworks that allow new peace processes
to stabilize and endure in a world of great geo-political uncertainty,
especially with the ongoing efforts to accumulate military capabilities on both
the conventional and non-conventional levels. The possible linking of these
efforts with extremist ideologies represents a real threat to the national
existence and security of many states.
An Analysis of the Options
There are a number of optional multilateral frameworks for regional security
and cooperation. One would involve the Arab states and Israel, while another
could encompass the entire Middle East region including Muslim states like Iran
and Turkey that influence the security of the region. Additionally, great
powers outside the Middle East that could influence its geo-politics could be
included, especially the U.S., Russia, and the European Union.
An exclusively Arab-Israeli organization would not have the capacity to remove
the existential threats that emanate from outside of the borders of the
member-states, and would not be able to develop the mechanisms for cooperation
to solve international disputes through political means and confidence-building
measures. Furthermore, without the incorporation of the U.S., the Russian
Federation, and the leadership of the European Union, it will be impossible to
erect a regional security system for conventional disarmament and for a zone
free of weapons of mass destruction or their delivery systems.
A regional organization for the Middle East that will include Turkey and Iran
as well as concerned great powers is preferable, even though it would involve a
wide framework containing a number of contradictory national, cultural, and
strategic interests. This is because of the interdependence of potential
dangers emanating from several regional conflicts that have yet to be resolved:
between the Arab states and Israel, between the states of the Persian Gulf,
between the states along the Red Sea, and between the Arab states and Muslim
non-Arab states--like Syria versus Turkey, or Iraq and the Gulf states versus
Furthermore, such a wider arrangement would enjoy much greater economic
resources and could serve as a means to help alleviate conflicts through
economic cooperation, as well as to mobilize the massive economic aid that will
be needed for removing economic deprivation that has provided fertile soil for
the rise of extremist regimes in the region.
It would also help to remove the dangers from the conventional and
non-conventional arms race that emanated chiefly from outside the Middle East,
because of the linkage between regional hegemonial ambitions from inside the
Middle East to national ambitions of states outside the region seeking to
improve their strategic position.
The Growing Utility of Regional Groupings
The growing utility of regional groupings stems from the declining importance
of strategically-based alliances in influencing both sides of a
military/ideological/boundary dispute. This development has been influenced by
a number of factors, including the collapse of colonialism (Western and
Eastern) in the second half of the twentieth century; the rise of Third World
states on the geo-political map which enjoy political freedom of action to
decide in which international strategic framework they wish to belong; the end
of the Cold War which endangered the world with nuclear weapons; and the
emergence of a common denominator by which most states prefer peace and
security over war--despite continuing national-ideological disputes over
ethnicity, religion, and culture. International cooperation on an exclusively
global basis (the UN Security Council) would not be able to remove existential
threats to the security of states.
There are three main threats to the security of states in the twenty-first
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Intensified struggles for self-determination leading to movements for
secession in multinational and multi-tribal states, such as in the former
Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, and in all parts of the world.
Economic deprivation, including resource deprivation (such as water), that
provides fertile soil for the rise of extremist regimes.