With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict arguably no closer to being resolved than it was a decade ago, one has to wonder: Has the much-vaunted "peace process," hailed by U.S. presidents from both parties, become a charade? The phrase's long history suggests that there's been a lot more process than peace. Now, as Arab uprisings transform the Middle East and Israelis and Palestinians go their separate ways, it may be time to pick a new buzzword: stalemate. --Uri Friedman
After the Six-Day War, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in exchange for the end of hostilities and respect for the sovereignty of all states in the area. The imprecise language neuters the resolution, but the land-for-peace formula will inform -- or haunt -- peace efforts thereafter.
Egypt and Syria launch coordinated surprise attacks on Israel in Sinai and the Golan Heights on Yom Kippur. The U.S.-Soviet brinkmanship over the war and the Arab oil embargo highlight the conflict's geopolitical dimensions, and the United States devotes more diplomatic muscle to resolving it.
In what the media dub "shuttle diplomacy," U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger holds bilateral talks with the Yom Kippur War belligerents, helping defuse the immediate crisis. Kissinger and his advisors refer to these diplomatic efforts as a "negotiating process" and then, as the political climate in the region defrosts, a "peace process." The process stalls as U.S. President Richard Nixon resigns and Six-Day War hero Yitzhak Rabin assumes power in Israel.
Arab leaders recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," transforming the Palestinian question from one of refugee rights into one of nationalist aspirations. "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun," PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat informs the U.N. General Assembly a month later. "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
An influential Brookings Institution study breaks with Kissinger's incremental peace process, advocating a "comprehensive" Arab-Israeli settlement that would include Israel's withdrawing to roughly its pre-1967 borders and support of Palestinian self-determination in return for diplomatic recognition and peace with its Arab neighbors.
U.S. President Jimmy Carter brings several authors of the Brookings report into his administration and resolves to pursue a more ambitious peace process, surprising even his closest advisors by openly calling for a Palestinian "homeland." Israel's Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat express an appetite for peace, and Sadat becomes the first Arab leader to visit Israel.
Sadat and Begin meet with Carter, producing the Camp David Accords and, a year later, an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in which Egypt recognizes Israel and Israel withdraws from Sinai. The treaty invites Israel's other neighbors to "join the peace process with Israel." No takers.
After Sadat's assassination and Israeli attacks on the PLO in Lebanon, U.S. President Ronald Reagan calls for a "fresh start," urging Jordan to work with the Palestinians to achieve self-government. The goal goes unrealized.
Dennis Ross, who would advise five U.S. presidents on the Middle East, argues that the United States should cautiously facilitate diplomacy in the region "while patiently awaiting real movement from the local parties."