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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Bridging the Gap

(Lanham, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)
126pp. Index. Hb ISBN 0-8476-8550-0 39.95; Pb.: 12.95, ISBN 0-8476-8551-9, 12.95.

This slim volume, published under the auspices of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, is the result of an unprecedented collaborative effort by an Israeli academic (Shai Feldman, senior researcher at the Jaffa Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv) and a Jordanian analyst (Abdulah Toukan, science advisor to King Hussein). The book carries the distinct stamp of the more optimistic historical context (September 1994) in which the decision to collaborate was finalized. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 and the subsequent election of Benjamin Netanyahu are acknowledged in the preface but are deemed unable to reverse the Oslo process. Indeed, the sense that the Mideast "security architecture" may be at the end of one era and the beginning of another is the persistent (if challengeable) hope that informs each of the four brief chapters.

The authors use a simple but effective format to develop their argument. The first chapter is jointly written and sketches an up-beat review of the Middle East Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) talks held after the 1991 Madrid conference. The next two chapters are written separately and offer admittedly "very broad strokes" (p. xv) portrayals of Israeli and Arab approaches to security. Here Feldman faces a more manageable task than Toukan and the result is correspondingly more convincing. The contours of the proposed security architecture are brought into sharper (but still fuzzy) focus in the coauthored fourth chapter which also includes some general recommendations on how to mitigate the negative impact of the security dilemma in the Middle East.

As a reminder that "it is time to begin thinking differently about the future of the Middle East" (p. xvi), the book has considerable merit. Historical events have shown however little kindness to the commendable intentions that animate this collaborative project. With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process endlessly stalled over a percentage point or two of further withdrawal, with Syria, Iran and Iraq completely detached from the process and with America's continued engagement under serious strain, one cannot help wondering about the relevance and soundness of the envisioned security architecture.

Yosef Lapid, New Mexico State University

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