Israeli Peacemaking since 1967: Factors behind the Breakthroughs and Failures
by Galia Golan
(New York: Routledge, 2014) 246 pp.

Reviewed by: Raphael BenLevi, Doctoral Candidate, Political Science Department, Bar-Ilan University

Galia Golan is a veteran of the Israeli academia known for connecting her scholarship to real-world action. Golan helped found Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) and is an outspoken member of the National Executive of the far left-wing Meretz Party in Israel. Beginning her career as a Sovietologist and moving to conflict resolution in the Middle East, Israeli Peacemaking since 1967 marks her eleventh book. Using a broad scope and an analytical framework from the conflict-resolution literature, she aims to address the reasons why at times Israel has successfully attained formal peace agreements with some of its former enemies and, perhaps more importantly, why the Jewish state has, more often, not achieved the same success on other fronts.

Golan begins her analysis immediately following the 1967 Six-Day War and traces the changing positions of Israeli leadership toward all the major issues, providing a chronological, detailed, narrative of all of Israel’s attempts to negotiate peace agreements. She analyzes the cases of Jordan (1967-1968), Syria, and the latter stages of the Oslo process as failures, Annapolis (2007) as a near-breakthrough, and Egypt (1977-1980), Jordan (1994) and beginning of Oslo as breakthroughs. Highly informative and well-researched, Golan’s accounts of the negotiations are rich and commentate a play-by-play of the positions taken and the compromises offered. The broad scope gives a bird’s-eye view of 40 years of Israel’s history and provides insights into the various factors that are useful for exploring contentious issues that remain unresolved.

Golan is fair with providing facts—even those that risk casting doubt on her conclusions. For example, she notes the Palestinian refusal to discuss autonomy or independence post-1967[2] and that Yasser Arafat may have never had intentions of pursuing true peace.[3] Though she credits Palestinian leaders for their formal recognition of Israel’s legitimacy to exist, she nevertheless admits that they may not have fully accepted the legitimacy “of the Jews as a people with a right to self-determination and on this piece of land.”[4]

Alongside the detailed accounts and numerous primary sources used, there are, however, a number of methodological issues in her analysis. An ambiguity regarding the object of analysis runs through the entire text, beginning with its very title. Is the book analyzing the outcome of negotiations—success or failure to reach a peace agreement—or is it analyzing Israel’s positions in its negotiations? It cannot be both.

If the object is Israeli positions alone, then one cannot draw conclusions regarding negotiation outcomes. To do that, one must comprehensively analyze the factors underlying positions for both sides of the negotiations, which she does not do. Golan is cognizant of this issue,[5] but the book nonetheless focuses only on the factors behind the Israeli positions without analyzing those that informed its adversaries’ positions to any significant extent. At the same time, Golan consistently concludes chapters with an assessment of the reasons for the success or failure usually pointing to Israeli willingness, or lack thereof, to provide concessions.

While this one-sided analysis runs throughout the text, Golan only makes the reason explicit in the conclusion. Thus, Golan criticizes the Israeli negotiating approach as a decidedly negative factor: “Israeli negotiators approached the talks as a bargaining session of give-and-take: each side gives a little takes a little, a tit for tat of mutual compromises. But this implied equality or symmetry that the Palestinians saw as misplaced.”[6] Golan seems to justify the Palestinians’ view of themselves… “as the side that had been deprived (by Israel) of what was rightfully theirs, they also had made the ‘historic compromise,’ the abandonment of their goal of a state in all of Palestine and a willingness to make do with just the territory occupied by Israel in 1967.”[7]

Deviating from the academic tone adopted throughout most of the text, Golan criticizes the Israeli leadership for believing that the Jewish state, too, has a claim to territory: “this offensive and condescending, as well as unjustifiable, approach may well have contributed at least somewhat to the failure of Oslo…” So, from Golan’s viewpoint, it is Israel’s premise that both sides should compromise that leads to the failures of peace negotiations. Her central thesis states that “ideological (nationalist and/or religious) identity-related factors on the part of the Israeli leadership…”[8] led to the failures—for example, Israel’s insistence on retaining sovereignty over Jerusalem and its surrounding area.

Golan further identifies in Israel a “sense of victimhood” and mistrust of the Arab states that led it to demand security measures such as retaining control of the Jordan Valley or early warning positions of the Golan Heights. She does not seem to entertain the possibility that Israel might have had reasons to be suspicious of Jordan or Egypt in 1968. She considers security-based demands inherently out of place, because, in her view, once a peace agreement is signed, there would be no more reason for security concerns.[9] She does not consider that motivations of national or religious identity drove Jordan’s insistence in 1968 on a total Israeli withdrawal including Jerusalem.

Another problematic component of Golan’s analysis rests is her conception of ‘spoilers.’ This term originally referred to actors that utilize violence to undermine a peace process.[10] But, Golan applies this concept liberally, including Israeli cabinet and parliament members who opposed the concessions offered by a prime minister and resisted politically.[11] When the Israeli public overwhelmingly disapproved of the concessions, Golan terms them spoilers too, whereas only a few instances of Hamas’ targeting Israeli civilians merit her branding of ‘spoiling.’[12] As other scholars point out,[13] categorizing actors as ‘spoilers’ can be a self-serving method of presenting them as extremists who prefer war to peace without considering that negotiations may find resistance among some who believe them to be flawed or concessions to be unjust.

Golan’s intentions are laudable. Her analysis of the Israeli side has provided the material for a comprehensive soul-searching of the positions taken over the years that will be useful to anyone interested in Israel’s conflicts post-1967. She does not hide her background as an academic who doubles as a prominent political activist, admitting that her interest in undertaking this research is not merely academic.[14] The subtext indeed seems to reflect an attitude that attaining a peace agreement is more important than the actual terms of the agreement. With this caution in mind, I would suggest that anyone who holds a skeptical position on the prospects of peace agreements would do well to engage Golan’s arguments and honestly gauge if their current positions do in fact stand up to them.

[2] Golan, 13.

[3] Golan, 208.

[4] Golan, 216.

[5] Golan, 5.

[6] Golan, 206.

[7] Golan, 206.

[8] Golan, 201.

[9] Golan, 16.

[10] Stephen John Stedman, “Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes,” International Security 22, no. 2 (1997): 5-53.

[11] Golan, 72, 78, and 96.

[12] The terrorist strategy of spoiling is well-documented in the Palestinian context vis-à-vis Oslo. See Andrew Kydd and Barbara F. Walter, “Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence,” International Security 56, no. 2 (2002).

[13] Feargal Cochrane, Ending Wars: War and Conflict in the Modern World (Malden, MA: Polity, 2008), 109.

[14] Golan, ix.