The Middle East Riddle – A Study of the Middle East Peace Process and Israeli-Arab Relations in Changing Times
by Luis Fleischman
(Washington D.C.: New Academia Publishing, 2021) 249 pp

Reviewed by: Prof. Avi Shilon, New York University and Tel-Hai College

Luis Fleischman's book, The Middle East Riddle is refreshing in its attitude to the possibility of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fleischman, a political sociologist and a sociologist of international relations, teaches at Palm Beach State College. He began writing his book out of a double disappointment: the first stems out of the failure of the Oslo process, which he believed, during the 90's, was the right path for peace. But he was also disappointed to see how many scholars, journalists, and politicians put the blame for the failure on one side only: Israel.

Against this background, he embarked on a journey designed to examine why the peace process has failed and how, despite the common feeling of despair, it would be possible to solve it.

Fleischman wrote a balanced book. On the one hand, there is no doubt in his tendency to see Israel as a country that honestly asked for a compromise and the Palestinians as those who refused it. On the other hand, Fleischman is not afraid to criticize Israel's political maneuvers. For example, he regards the expansion of the settlements as a burden for achieving true peace. He also totally understands the Palestinian aspiration for independence.

After a comprehensive introduction of the research literature on the subject - while ignoring more radical literature - Fleischman states the main reason for the failure of the Oslo Accords. To his mind, the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not succeed, or more accurately, was not interested in building sustainable democratic institutions that could function as a vehicle for peace. In his words, "In the Palestinian territories there is a problem of factionalism and competing sovereignties that threatens the monopoly of violence of the central authority." (page 8)

Therefore, Fleischman claims, the PA - certainly since Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip - is mired in internal structural problems that make it difficult to advance the peace process. Its weakness stimulates the need for incitement against Israel in order to win the support of the masses and prevent a rebellion.

In doing so, Fleischman echoes the last speech of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, at the UN General Assembly in September 2022: although Lapid expressed support for the two-state solution, he put the responsibility for achieving that goal mainly on the Palestinian Authority.

The unique aspect of Fleischman's book lies in the way he sees a chance to change the situation. In contrast to how the peace process has taken place until now, that is, with American and sometimes European mediation, he proposes the Sunni Arab world as the main “instrument” to bridge the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians. (pages 171-177)
The "Abraham Accords" Israel signed with the Gulf states - as well as the shared concern of Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel about the Iranian threat - could result in Arab countries acting as a fair mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. While in the past they refused to play this role, now they could guarantee future agreement, writes Fleischman.

By suggesting that option, Fleischman actually proposes to turn the central idea of the Oslo process on its head. That is, instead of waiting for peace between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve Israel's integration in the Middle East, he proposes the current process, in which Israel is increasingly accepted as a legitimate member of the Middle East, as the scaffolding for building an arrangement with the Palestinians.

Fleischman draws encouragement not only from the "Abraham Accords" and the alliance behind the scenes between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also from the strengthened civil society in many Arab countries following the "Arab Spring," even though the desire for democracy has not yet been achieved in the Arab world.

To sum up, Fleischman has written an interesting book, with an original point of view. The Middle East Riddle manages to both analyze the failure of the peace process in a nuanced and balanced manner and spread optimism about the future.