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Saturday, December 15, 2012

"The Peace Puzzle"

TITLE: The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (Published in Collaboration With the United States Institute of Peace)
AUTHOR: Daniel C. Kurtzer, Scott B. Lasensky, William B. Quandt, Steven L. Spiegel, and Shibley Z. Telhami
PUBLISHER: Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013, (352 pages).

Few places are more volatile than this region. Few countries in the world contain so much deeply held religious, social, cultural, and political baggages. That is right. I am referring to one of the world's most difficult puzzle to solve. The Middle East. For a world to work toward true peace, there are few who will argue that peace in the Middle East will set the pace for peacemaking all over the world. If it is indeed possible, that the Middle-East finally be at peace, it will be a model that can be heralded and profitably applied to other regions around the world. Four major developments have triggered this project. First, many existing documentation of the peacemaking process are flawed. Second, without proper literature and research, how can future leaders learn from the mistakes of old, let alone trying to build good success on the right moves? Third, it is an attempt to recapture some of the key turning and learning points from important leaders responsible for the peacemaking efforts through the years. Four, the peacemaking process is dangerously close to be unraveled, where years of good hard work are going to be wasted. Enters five passionate individuals who attempt to piece together the many broken fragments of efforts, to make some sense of of a puzzle that looks increasingly unsolvable. Yet, the call for peace remains a crucial piece of the human peacemaking dilemma. The facts remain depressing.
  • Only three US-assisted breakthroughs after so many decades
  • Not a single significant breakthrough for the past 20 years
  • Inconsistent Presidential led peace process
  • Much to learn from Henry Kissinger's peacemaking efforts, but have people learned?
  • Flawed data
  • Failure to learn from the past, well enough
  • Political squabbling and infighting that has threatened the peace process
  • Lack of unity within the US government and the legislature
  • ....

There is an interesting observation about the two concepts of US peacemaking since the 70s, the first transitional/incremental, and the second, the involvement or (non-involvement) of the PLO. Both of these have led to the present shortage of peacemaking breakthroughs. The US has largely failed to prevent both Israel and its neighbours from derailing any progress gained. There is also a perceived lack of resolve by the US to go much further. That in itself is puzzling. The book that goes on to describe the historical events, the three major breakthroughs by the US, and the circumstances and contexts that led to the deafening lack of progress in the past two decades.

Part One presents the puzzle upfront as something that contains ups and downs at the negotiations in Oslo and Madrid. After NATO's victory over Iraq in 1991, and the support of Kuwait, and many other Arab countries, George H.W. Bush's reputation and the US-led peacemaking efforts are presented with a golden opportunity to work toward more lasting peace. The Oslo-accord brings Israel and the PLO together. This first chapter is a bird's eye view of the Presidential peacemaking process from Bush to Clinton. Chapter Two tracks the peace process from 1993 to 2000, examining why it has failed badly. Chapter Three looks at the Camp David summit matters in 2000. Marked more by failures rather than successes, the US has been perceived at that time to be more on Israel's side rather than a peacemaker. Chapter Four looks at the peacemaking initiatives under President George W. Bush, where two decades of how the American Presidency has left needed work to the subordinates instead of himself taking a greater role. The events of September 11 only makes it worse. Chapter Five looks at Bush's second term as President and Chapter Six about Obama's peacemaking attempts.

The authors end with eleven recommendations as follows.

  1. Keep the peacemaking process firm and moving, even when the US continues to be perceived as pro-Israel;
  2. US needs to "coddle" both Israel and the Palestinians
  3. Ensure better transition when US Presidents change
  4. US needs to be extremely "agile and determined" to exploit all opportunities for peacemaking
  5. Simple slogans are unhelpful as the Middle-East peacemaking efforts are extremely complex. 
  6. Consult more, surprise less.
  7. Intense preparation needed, always.
  8. Believe that even the most difficult leader can be influenced for peace
  9. Do not "outsource" the peacemaking process. Remain a committed partner
  10. The US needs to be equally tough negotiator, like the Israelis and the Palestinians
  11. Domestic support, both in Congress as well as public.

My Thoughts

This book is a frank and scholarly assessment of what has gone right and what has gone wrong in America's efforts to broker peace in the Middle-East. Supported by the US Institute of Peace, five top researchers work on primary sources to study the role of the United States from the years 1989 to 2011. You can refer to more of the sources here. Through interviews, memoirs, workshops, as well as primary and secondary sources, this book is a culmination of a six year project, done mostly on the premises of the United States Institute of Peace, examining the different ways during the years of the different US Presidents, namely, Ronald Reagan (1981-89), George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), Bill Clinton (1993-2001), George W. Bush (2001-2009), and the current Barack Obama (2009-present).

If the world's superpower cannot solve one of the world's most difficult and distressing problem, can any one else do it? This is why future activists and peacemaking initiatives need to build on solid ground of well-founded documentation, research, and above all, the wisdom of peacemaking. Some puzzles may never be solved in one generation. Yet, the hope and a vision that one day it will, should be enough to keep our chins up, our hopes high, that we learn from the past, hope for the future, and work hard for peace in the present. We can all work toward peace in our neighbourhoods we live in. As far as the Middle-East peace process is concerned, maybe, we can support the US in their efforts to bring peace to the Middle-East by praying for them. Hopefully, knowing that the whole world has more to gain by the Middle-East at peace, may inspire more of us, to encourage our country's leaders to assist the US in cracking this peace puzzle. Together. This book may not have presented the magical solution. At least, it has uncovered some flaws in the previous documentation. It has also highlighted important learning moments as well as not repeating the mistakes from the past. More importantly, missed opportunities are not to be cried over. With time, there will be a new opportunity. This book can very well train our eyes and ears to see and hear the opportunities, and give us a new resolve to do something about it in the direction of peace.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Cornell University Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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