Why can’t Palestinians and Israelis just get along?
The answer, writes US diplomat Ross, has as much to do with timing as with any particularly felt enmity. When the Israelis are ready to deal, their neighbors are not and vice versa, so that “after the 1967 war Israel was ready to return nearly all the captured territories for peace, but the Arabs, guided by Nasser’s ‘three no’s,’ were not ready to accept Israel, much less negotiate with it.” Ross adds that the poor timing has not been helped by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who is incapable of making any lasting peace with Israel—mostly, Ross suggests, because of Arafat’s unwillingness to transform himself from revolutionary boss to statesman. Ross tracks efforts on both sides over a ten-year period in which he was active, as a negotiator and go-between, at nearly every level of deal-making: running secret letters back and forth between Tel Aviv and Damascus, assuring Egypt of Israeli’s not-harmful, if not good, intentions, watching as carefully structured face-saving situations devolve into fracases and squabbles. The narrative is painfully slow at times, but not through any fault of Ross’s; the events themselves moved so tortuously as the affected parties came together (always unwillingly) for confabs and cajoling, then moved apart, then—sometimes—returned for more talking. Occasionally, Ross finds a revealing chink in the stoic armor his protagonists wear, as when he finds Arafat and his assembled lieutenants absorbed in an episode of the American TV sitcom The Golden Girls, “rich in Jewish humor.” Mostly, though, he finds politicians on both sides of the divide deeply mistrustful not only of each other, but also of the men and women on the street in their own countries; as Syrian leader Asad remarks, for instance, “If we exert efforts and [Israeli troops in Lebanon] don’t stop shooting, then the [Hezbollah] resistance will turn their guns on us.”
Though tedious—and aptly so—Ross’s study does much to explain why the Oslo Accords have never taken. In this respect alone, it’s an important addition to the literature of the Middle East conflict.