- - Tuesday, January 29, 2019



By Zalman Shoval

Foreword by Dennis Ross

Rowman & Littlefield, $38, 368 pages

With President Donald Trump’s administration about to propose a comprehensive peace plan to resolve the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict, likely following Israel’s upcoming parliamentary elections on April 9, everyone is trying to figure out the measures that will finally succeed in resolving this conflict following numerous failed peace initiatives.

To understand what is likely to be effective in this round of U.S.-led peace negotiations, it is important to be aware of the lessons generated by past initiatives, especially when they are recounted by the diplomats directly involved in such negotiations.

In “Jerusalem and Washington: A Life in Politics and Diplomacy,” we are fortunate to have such inside recounting of past Israeli-Arab peace negotiations by Zalman Shoval, one of Israel’s leading politicians and diplomats. Ambassador Shoval had served in the Israeli Foreign Ministry during the negotiations that led to the 1978 Camp David Agreement, and as Israel’s ambassador to the United States during critical periods in 1990 to 1993 and again from 1998 to 2000.

His diplomatic stature was enhanced by his extensive political involvement as a member of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) in the center-right Rafi-State List and Likud parties (to which he was first elected in 1970 and 1974, respectively).

What are the lessons for likely success or failure from Mr. Shoval’s involvement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking? From the 1978 Camp David Agreement — in which Mr. Shoval describes the behind-the-scenes negotiations in great detail it is important to strive for agreements that are practical to achieve in an intensive closed-door session involving the primary leaders in the conflict, supported by their aides.

This enabled the parties, under President Jimmy Carter’s guidance, to reach the basis for a peace accord between Israel and Egypt, with Israel giving up the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt (with security guarantees), and an autonomy framework to strive to resolve the final status of the Palestinian-majority West Bank (and the Gaza Strip) over a five-year confidence-building period. Although this accord did not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least it provided Israel with a peace treaty with Egypt, it’s most powerful adversary, and set the stage for later peace accords, Mr. Shoval adds.

In the next major peace initiative, the 1991 multilateral Madrid Conference, the problem, Mr. Shoval observes, was the lack of sincerity in negotiations by the Arab side, particularly the Palestinians and the Syrians, with their maximalist demands sabotaging any attempts to reach compromise.

Although the follow-on 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had “several positive aspects to it,” Mr. Shoval terms it “fundamentally flawed” because it returned “[Yasser] Arafat and the corrupt PLO leadership from Tunis to the territories,” thereby crowning “a Palestinian leadership that was too remote from what was happening on the ground and from the population of the territories.” Instead, he believes that “direct negotiations with the Palestinian leadership in the territories — not with the PLO — could have led to a better outcome than the Oslo Accords.”

In another abortive peace initiative, Mr. Shoval reveals that, toward the end of his term as ambassador (in mid-January 2000) in a surprising telephone conversation Prime Minister Ehud Barak had confidently predicted to him that “in November [2000] there will be an end to the conflict with the Palestinians and the Arabs in general.”

In retrospect, Mr. Shoval realized Mr. Barak was referring to the agreements he was certain he and President Bill Clinton were expecting to reach at the “Camp David 2” summit in July 2000, where Mr. Barak made “a fundamental mistake, binding himself to a rigid timetable without the other side binding itself to the same,” with Yasser Arafat, unlike Mr. Barak, having “no intention at all of ending the conflict,” and “was already making preparations for the Second Intifada, which broke out a short time after the summit.”

Regarding his own vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Mr. Shoval recommends enabling the “Arab residents in ‘the territories’” to progressively increase the management of their affairs while not harming Israel’s security needs, under a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian or in a multinational regional framework.

Mr. Shoval also writes about his extensive dealings, as the Israeli ambassador, with Washington’s leading journalists.

They include Alan Elsner, a Reuters correspondent, who, despite Mr. Shoval’s praising the Bush administration for its “extraordinarily strong and cordial relations between Israel and the United States,” had unfairly, in Mr. Shoval’s view, highlighted the ambassador’s criticism that on the issue of Jewish immigrant absorption from the USSR: “[T]he Israeli public felt there was insufficient empathy from the administration toward our urgent needs.” This created a firestorm that reached Secretary of State James Baker and almost led to Mr. Shoval’s dismissal.

However, Mr. Shoval notes with warmth his dealings with Wesley Pruden, at the time The Washington Times’ editor in chief, with whom the ambassador “forged a personal friendship” and who “always enabled us to bring our positions to the knowledge of the American public.”

In this gripping memoir, many fascinating details and anecdotes about Israeli politics and diplomacy abound, making it an indispensable account for those interested in the Middle East and the issues that continue to challenge it.

• Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH), in Alexandria, Va.

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