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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

The Difficult Road to Peace: Netanyahu, Israel and the Middle East Peace Process
Neill Lochery

Reading: Ithaca Press, 1999
350pp. Biblio. Index. ISBN 0-86372-248-2.

This book analyses and chronicles the developments of the various tracks of the Middle East peace process, and in particular the Oslo accords, under the Likud government led by Binyamin Netanyahu between 1996 and 1998. Two main themes are presented by the author. Firstly, it is argued that the difficulties that the peace process has encountered under Netanyahu are not a matter of specific party politics or a specific style of leadership and would have also occurred under a Labour government. Secondly, it is argued that a number of internal restraints have considerably influenced Netanyahu's policy towards the peace process. Internal restraints acquired increased salience as a result of changes in Israel's electoral system in 1996 aimed to enhance the power of the prime minister through direct elections. It is argued that such changes may have actually had the opposite effect as they resulted in a fragmentation of the Knesset with decline in support for both parties and the subsequent difficulty of managing an unruly government coalition.

The book is divided into five sections: Section I analyses changes in the Israeli political system and how they have produced restraints on Netanyahu's scope for action. Section II focuses on the Palestinian track of the peace process and in particular security arrangements in the West Bank and Gaza strip, the question of Palestinian refugees, the final status of Jerusalem, and the economic dimension of the process in terms of possible peace dividends for the Palestinian and the Israeli economies. Section III pays specific attention to Israeli relations with the Arab states and in particular to peace negotiations with Jordan and Syria as well as relations with Lebanon and Turkey. Section IV analyses the role of external actors in the peace process with specific emphasis on the United States. Finally, section V attempts to draw lessons from the Middle East process applicable to other areas of high conflict potential and territorial dispute.

The arguments presented in this book are valuable because of the specific attention paid to domestic factors in influencing foreign policy making. The domestic level of analysis has been very much dismissed by international relations theory since neorealists such as Waltz have charged foreign policy analyses adopting such an approach with reductionism. However, much of current international relations theory has had problems in explaining satisfactorily the main sources of major post-Cold war changes, which have undoubtedly occurred at the domestic level. Moreover, domestic factors are of particular importance in explaining the difficulties encountered by both Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders.

However, the causal argument linking the internal constraints variable (influence of religious parties, coalition constraints, etc.) to the foreign policy variable (Netanyahu's attitude and policies towards peace process) is rather weak. Moreover, the author states that there is 'a direct relationship between the formation of Israeli policy toward the peace process and ... changes in Israel's method of electing its governments' (p.xv). Such a relationship is far from direct and self-explanatory. Netanyahu's weakened position in the Knesset may have been the result of variables not related to changes in the electoral system and the strict system of proportionality adopted in the Knesset is already a major factor leading to fragmentation. Moreover, changes in policy towards the peace process under Netanyahu could be imputed to factors other than the domestic level of constraint. By adopting a mere speculative view of what would have occurred under a Labour government, the author fails to convince the reader of the significance of the variables purported as explanatory.

This book helps to understand one important aspect of problems with the implementation of the Oslo agreements related to some constraints on Israeli policy making. Moreover, the final chapter represents an excellent (albeit somehow rushed) effort to spell out crucial factors and mechanisms which may increase or decrease the chances for a successful diplomatic settlement of problematic territorial issues. The sections dedicated to the advantages of secret diplomacy; problems related to interim stages in agreements; role of external parties; and the importance of peace dividends and reconstruction are particularly interesting and may constitute an excellent framework of analysis for future studies.

However, one major shortcoming of this work (perhaps because of the sources of primary and secondary material employed) is its over-sensitivity towards policy views and needs of the Israeli government. The underlying assumption throughout the book that the Oslo agreements cannot be fulfilled (p. 55, 58, 239); the use of the term Jerusalem to indicate Israel (p. 218, 226) and the emphasis on the United States as the exclusive mediator of the process (pp. 223-225) are some of the factors which throw doubts on the objectivity of the work. This book should be regarded more as an analysis or even a portrayal of Israeli foreign policy rather than a comprehensive view of the possibilities for implementation of the Oslo agreements.

Marina Arlati

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