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4. The Middle East peace process




In 1995 there was both success and tragedy in the Middle East peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish extremist on 4 November. The Labour Party continued negotiations under his successor, Shimon Peres, but it lost a close election in May 1996. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (the Oslo II Agreement) was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 28 September 1995, almost two years behind the schedule set in the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements of 13 September 1993 (known as the Oslo Agreement). On the other hand, the peace process has proved to be resilient. Much has been accomplished since the 1991 Madrid Conference that was unthinkable at that time.

The negotiation between Israel and Syria made little progress for most of 1995, but resumed after the Rabin assassination. As 1995 ended it was apparent that quick action would be required if an agreement was to be achieved before the Israeli and US elections in 1996. The implementation of the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty of 26 October 1994 proceeded smoothly in 1995.

The progress made in the Palestinian negotiations was fundamental. The two sides seem to be on course, and the election of the Palestinian Council should provide President Arafat and his peace policy with even greater legitimacy. That progress was slower than expected may not prove to be detrimental in the long term.

Progress continued on the multilateral track of the process. However, some participants continued to refuse to take part in initiatives designed to normalize relations with Israel before the Israeli-Syrian talks are concluded and such issues as the future status of Jerusalem are decided.

The murder of Prime Minister Rabin had a profound impact. Although Prime Minister Peres has all the qualifications to succeed him and may well prove willing to move more quickly than Rabin, Rabin's standing as a champion of security has caused an Israeli public already sceptical on security issues to look even more closely at the process.

More broadly, the assassination of Rabin indicates that the political landscape of the Middle East remains subject to violent disruption at the hands of extremists. The continuing efforts in the region of groups which justify their acts on religious grounds are a reminder that a radical change in any nation's leadership and policies as a result of violence remains a possibility. Indeed, as the process moves closer to finding solutions, the activities of terrorists on all sides can be expected to increase.

Moving beyond the Arab-Israeli peace process, and looking at the region as a whole, it seems unlikely that true regional security will be achieved in the absence of Iran and Iraq. Both states, although weakened by war and economic embargoes, retain the power to fundamentally upset the most careful calculations of regional stability, and they have demonstrated that they are prepared to use that power.

In 1996 the Israeli, Palestinian and US elections will have an impact on the peace process. The Iranian parliamentary election will also provide indications of future political developments in that country. Other events and trends to watch include: the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian Final Status talks, developments on the Syrian track and the general economic development of the region. It is in this last area that the multilateral negotiations can make their greatest contribution to stability in the region by convincing people in the Middle East that an end to the cycle of bloodshed will improve their daily lives in measurable ways.


Appendix 4A. Documents on the Middle East peace process

Appendix 4A reproduces the Israeli–Palestinian Taba Joint Statement and Israeli–Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.