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Chances for Peace

Chances for Peace
Missed Opportunities in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

This innovative reexamination of thirty pivotal episodes in the Arab-Israeli conflict, beginning with the 1919 Faysal-Weizmann Agreement and ending with the 2008 Abu Mazen-Olmert talks, reveals both missed opportunities and realistic possibilities to negotiate lasting peace.

November 2015
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423 pages | 6 x 9 | 12 maps |

Drawing on a newly developed theoretical definition of “missed opportunity,” Chances for Peace uses extensive sources in English, Hebrew, and Arabic to systematically measure the potentiality levels of opportunity across some ninety years of attempted negotiations in the Arab-Israeli conflict. With enlightening revelations that defy conventional wisdom, this study provides a balanced account of the most significant attempts to forge peace, initiated by the world’s superpowers, the Arabs (including the Palestinians), and Israel. From Arab-Zionist negotiations at the end of World War I to the subsequent partition, the aftermath of the 1967 War and the Sadat Initiative, and numerous agreements throughout the 1980s and 1990s, concluding with the Annapolis Conference in 2007 and the Abu Mazen-Olmert talks in 2008, pioneering scholar Elie Podeh uses empirical criteria and diverse secondary sources to assess the protagonists’ roles at more than two dozen key junctures.

A resource that brings together historiography, political science, and the practice of peace negotiation, Podeh’s insightful exploration also showcases opportunities that were not missed. Three agreements in particular (Israeli-Egyptian, 1979; Israeli-Lebanese, 1983; and Israeli-Jordanian, 1994) illuminate important variables for forging new paths to successful negotiation. By applying his framework to a broad range of power brokers and time periods, Podeh also sheds light on numerous incidents that contradict official narratives. This unique approach is poised to reshape the realm of conflict resolution.


Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title List

  • List of Maps
  • Preface
  • Prologue: A Story of an Opportunity Not Missed
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Faysal-Weizmann Agreement (1919)
  • Chapter 2. The Peel Plan for Partition (1937)
  • Chapter 3. The UN Partition Plan (1947)
  • Chapter 4. Israeli-Jordanian Negotiations (1946–1951)
  • Chapter 5. Israel and Syria: The Husni Zacim Initiative (1949)
  • Chapter 6. Israeli-Egyptian Relations: The Alpha Plan and the Anderson Mission (1949–1956)
  • Chapter 7. Egyptian-Israeli Contacts (1965-1966)
  • Chapter 8. Israel's Peace Overtures in the Post-1967 Period
  • Chapter 9. The Rogers Plan (1969)
  • Chapter 10. The Jarring Mission and the Sadat Initiative (1971)
  • Chapter 11. Disengagement Agreements with Egypt and Syria (1973–1975)
  • Chapter 12. The Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty: An Opportunity Not Missed (1979)
  • Chapter 13. The Arab Peace Plan and the Reagan Plan (September 1982)
  • Chapter 14. The Israeli-Lebanese Peace Agreement (May 1983)
  • Chapter 15. The London Agreement (April 1987)
  • Chapter 16. The Shultz Initiative (1988) and the Shamir Peace Plan (1989)
  • Chapter 17. The Madrid Conference (1991) and the Oslo Agreements (1993–2000)
  • Chapter 18. The Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty (1994)
  • Chapter 19. Israeli-Syrian Negotiations (1991–2000)
  • Chapter 20. The Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, and the Taba Talks (2000–2001)
  • Chapter 21. Arab Peace Initiative (2002–2012)
  • Chapter 22. The US Road Map (April 2003)
  • Chapter 23. The Annapolis Conference and Abu Mazen-Olmert Talks (2007–2008)
  • Conclusions
  • Postscript
  • References
  • Index

Jerusalem, Israel

Podeh is a Bamberger and Fuld Chair in the Department of Islamic and Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a senior research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He is also a board member of Mitvim—the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.



On September 1, 1982, US president Ronald Reagan outlined his plan for resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a speech that would later be known as the Reagan Plan. Reagan ended his speech with the following passage:

It has often been said—and regrettably too often been true—that the story of the search for peace and justice in the Middle East is a tragedy of opportunities missed [my emphasis]. In the aftermath of the settlement in Lebanon [following the Israeli invasion] we now face an opportunity for a broader peace. This time we must not let it slip from our grasp. We must look beyond the difficulties and obstacles of the present and move with fairness and resolve toward a brighter future. We owe it to ourselves, and to posterity, to do no less. For if we miss this chance to make a fresh start, we may look back on this moment from some later vantage point and realize how much that failure cost us. (cited in Quandt 1993, 482)

In this passage, Reagan used a term, “missed opportunity,” that has since come into frequent use by academics and laymen both. Zeev Maoz, for example, asserts in his analysis of Israeli-Arab diplomatic exchanges that Israeli decision makers missed many opportunities to resolve the conflict. In his examination of the negotiations with Jordan’s King ʿAbdallah, he states that the monarch “was clearly eager to make peace with Israel. Yet Israel turned a cold shoulder and perhaps missed an opportune moment, as had been the case with the [Syrian leader’s] Zaʿim initiative” (2004, 398). Likewise, the so-called New Historians employ the term “missed opportunity” to denote the availability of an alternative policy choice that was not pursued by decision makers in Jerusalem. These studies usually place the blame for missing the opportunity for peace squarely and exclusively on Israeli shoulders (see, in particular, Shlaim 2000; Maoz 2004; Pappe 2006).

In contrast, the conventional Israeli position is that despite their own relentless and assiduous attempts to reach accord with the Arabs, long-sought peace has eluded Israel because of Arab intransigence. In this connection, the mythical dictum of Abba Eban, Israel’s legendary foreign minister, that “the Palestinians [or Arabs] have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” is often quoted as proof of Arab obstinacy and folly. Interestingly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, discussed the cardinal significance of seizing historical opportunities. In a speech to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) delivered in August 1952, he said the following:

All my life down to today—as a Zionist and as a Jew—I regarded peace and understanding with the Arabs as a basic and primary value . . . I would regard it as a grievous sin not only against our generation but also against future generations were we not to do everything possible to reach mutual understanding with our Arab neighbors and were the coming generations able to blame the Israeli government with missing any opportunity whatsoever for peace . . . I would not want to be the person that our grandchildren or greatgrandchildren would charge with having missed, at some point, a possible chance for Israeli-Arab peace. (quoted in Morris 2001, 268–269)

On the Arab side, conventional wisdom has it that Israel’s intransigent position has been responsible for missed opportunities for peace. Thus, for example, Hassan, then Jordan’s crown prince and an avowed supporter of peace negotiations, asserted in mid-1980:

Often, opportunities for peace have been there for the taking, but Israeli leaders have shown extreme reluctance to abandon the siege mentality and the irredentist claims that have characterized their politics. It is as though they do not want to live in the region as partners, but only as overlords. The state of Israel may be in the Middle East but its leaders do not wish to be of it. (1984, 121)

It is hard to concede that in any given conflict there is only one party to blame; logic dictates that missed opportunities occur on both sides, depending on the historical circumstances and the actors involved. The underlying assumption of this study is that both sides have missed opportunities for peace. By studying all the relevant episodes of Arab-Israeli negotiations on the basis of a theoretical definition developed for this purpose, it is hoped that the present volume will lead to a better understanding of the extent of the opportunity missed in each case and the party to be blamed for missing it.

The fact that the term “missed opportunity” is often associated with the new Zionist historiography is not surprising. Apart from the important analysis of a handful of case studies, the repeated use of this term probably reflects a certain political disappointment at the road not taken by Israeli and Arab leaders. More generally, the question of missed opportunities is raised “when observers are dissatisfied with a given historical outcome and argue that policymakers could have achieved a better one if they had acted differently” (George 2006, 87). It is surprising, however, that the term itself has not been adequately clarified or defined—either in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict or in relation to any other conflict. One possible reason for this omission is that there are serious obstacles to proving that an opportunity has indeed been missed. As Alexander George and Jane Holl asserted, “It is often difficult to judge the degree of confidence that can be ascribed to what appears to have been a missed opportunity.” The efforts to establish that a certain episode constitutes a missed opportunity, they continue, may be regarded as no more than an “academic exercise” (George and Holl 2000, 35).

Despite the academic hazards entailed, the analysis of historical episodes as possible missed opportunities can be related to the study of counterfactuals in the social sciences.1 This kind of study involves “what if ” or “if-then” statements, usually about the past. In Richard Ned Lebow’s opinion, the researcher must construct a “plausible counterfactual,” that is, a logical path between the counterfactual change and the hypothesized outcome (Lebow 2000, 565). To be sure, there have been some attempts at constructing alternative histories in recent years. Their aim was to imagine what might have happened at crucial historical moments had the known outcome not transpired (e.g., Waugh and Greenberg 1986; Roberts 2004; Cowley 2006; Rosenfeld 2005; Tetlock, Lebow, and Parker 2009). In Robert Cowley’s opinion, this kind of writing “can be a tool to enhance the understanding of history, to make it come alive.” In addition, “what ifs” can define true turning points and eliminate so-called hindsight bias (Cowley 2006, xiii–xiv; Taleb 2005, 56). This bias—“outcome knowledge”—leads people to see the future as more contingent than the past; that is, once we know what happened, it is difficult to recall that other possibilities were relevant at the time and that the outcome was not necessarily inevitable (Tetlock, Lebow, and Parker 2009, 17, 25). In the words of the editors of one of the “what if ” collections, “The more people try to transport themselves by acts of imagination into counterfactual worlds . . . the more likely they are to realize that history could indeed have taken a different course” (ibid., 4). Such thinking refutes the notion of historical inevitability, as it involves also the realization of logically possible alternatives other than those which were in fact realized.

Attempts at constructing alternative imaginative historical accounts are more than problematic since “the sinuous paths of conditional events lead to accounts whose potential is nearly infinite. Every event can be retold, relived, and remembered as an ‘opportunity’ that was seized too early, too late, or not at all” (Serfaty 1988, 14). The difficulties inherent in writing alternative or virtual histories are clear: Lebow admitted that the outcomes in counterfactual experimentation in history and political science are always uncertain as “we can neither predict the future nor rerun the tape of history” (2000, 551). I. William Zartman called counterfactual analysis “a minefield” (2005, 3). Maoz added, “We can tell what happened, but we cannot tell what would have transpired” (2004, 387). In this, Maoz—perhaps unwittingly—followed the assertion of the well-known historian Michael Oakeshott: “The question . . . is never what must, or what might have taken place, but solely what the evidence obliges us to conclude did take place” (1933, 139). In his opinion, the historian differs from the eyewitness or the participant in that “he is never called upon to consider what might have happened had circumstances been different” (1933, 140). No wonder that many historians have rejected all kinds of counterfactual inquiry. E. H. Carr, for example, who disagreed with Oakeshott on many historiographical issues, shared his view on this matter, dismissing the “might-have-been school of thought” as no more than “a parlour game” (1990, 95–96).

Yet not all historians reject counterfactual reasoning. In response to Carr’s dismissive view, Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote:

I suppose that no phrase was more of an affront to my own historical beliefs than the phrase about the might-have-beens of history. Of course I agree that some historical speculations are useless, and some may reflect personal nostalgia. But at any given moment of history there are real alternatives, and to dismiss them as unreal because they were not realized—because (in Mr. Carr’s phrase) they have been closed by the fait accompli—is to take the reality out of the situation. How can we “explain what happened and why” if we only look at what happened and never consider the alternatives, the total pattern of forces whose pressure created the event? (1981, 363)

Therefore, Trevor-Roper concluded, “History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened . . . it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens” (1981, 364). This alternative, in his words, is “a lost moment of history,” which “was not a historical necessity, a consequence hanging in the stars, but the result, at first, of particular human accidents or decisions or events that in themselves were not necessary; it could have been otherwise” (Trevor-Roper 1988). This view dovetails with Isaiah Berlin’s refusal to see history as inevitable, recommending the historian to mark the frontiers between reliable and unreliable history, that is, “the placing of what occurred (or might occur) in the context of what could have happened (or could happen)” (1955, 31). The reason for the refusal to contemplate the might-have-been, according to Jonathan Clark, is psychological: once a major decision has been taken, it has to be rationalized in retrospect as inevitable and rational in light of the prevailing circumstances (2004, 258). In contrast, however, the analysis of contingency shows the infinity of roads into the future that were open in the past.

In light of the apparent difficulties inherent in the construction of counterfactuals, the present work does not go so far as to develop an alternative historical narrative. My aim is more modest: to offer an educated assessment of whether certain episodes in the Arab-Israeli conflict can be defined as plausible missed opportunities. The book explores, on the basis of certain variables, whether other alternatives existed; these are choices that fall within “the horizon of the possibility” (quoted in Bunzl 2004, 857). This book is thus based on Max Weber’s premise that history does recognize possibilities. In his view, “In every line of every historical work, indeed in every selection of archival and source materials for publication, there are, or more correctly, must be, ‘judgments of possibility,’ if the publication is to have value for knowledge” (1949, 173). We are primarily concerned with possibilities that seemed probable in the past.

In order to miss an opportunity, an opportunity must first present itself. Opportunities are occasions to “do something” or favorable moments for achieving a certain purpose. The opportune moment, according to Zartman, “is not just ‘whenever’ but is contextually determined, in relation to the conflict” (2005, 10). The opportunity may come from a lull in the fighting, a temporary cease-fire, or from a meeting of the parties. Such an opportunity, he writes, “offers an opening for specific measures, for it is not self-perpetuating and will fall apart at the next incident if not seized and solidified” (2005,
12). In a similar way, Ilan Peleg and Paul Scham emphasize that most breakthroughs in the Middle East peace process occur following some momentous political or military event that significantly affects the status quo. They call this variable “the trauma effect” (2010, 220). The invitation to seize the moment usually comes from a third party but it can also be presented by one of the rival parties. In any case, the moment must be seized and developed, as the situation would not produce its own solution. Zartman emphasizes that opportunities “are not revolving doors, where entry appears at regular intervals”; they constitute a period of time in the life of the conflict when diplomacy is possible (2005, 17). Thus, when a chain of circumstances produces an opportunity, a liminal period is created; this makes possible a certain breakthrough in the deadlocked conflict. If this moment—or opportunity—is not seized, it is likely to disappear. A different view, however, holds that opportunities do not “knock,” but that political leaders and diplomats must create or develop them (Kurtzer et al. 2013, 269).

What turns a historical opportunity into a missed opportunity? The academic literature available on this issue is rather limited. The existing studies focus on two kinds of missed opportunities: for signing a peace treaty or advancing toward such an end (mainly with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict); and for avoiding global and regional wars or crises before they started or for terminating them before they had run their course (see, e.g., McNamara et al. 1999; George and Holl 2000; Zartman 2005). This study is concerned with the first type. Deborah Larson offers the following definition for a missed opportunity:

A missed opportunity for agreement is a situation where there was at least one alternative that the parties to a conflict preferred or would have preferred to nonagreement . . . Missed opportunities refer to what might have been, to possibilities that for one reason or another were never realized. Not all failures by states to reach agreements, therefore, qualify as missed opportunities. In the first place, both sides must have wanted an agreement. Second, one must show how changes in a set of historical conditions might have led to a different outcome. If structural constraints such as the balance of power, incompatible objectives, the deep-seated influence of the military-industrial complex, or strategic considerations prevented agreement, for example, then perhaps there were no lost possibilities. Finally, one should not have to rewrite too much history to achieve a different outcome: there must have been a plausible sequence of events that could have led to an accord. (Larson 1997, 702–703)

Larson suggested this definition within her analysis of the role of trust between the United States and the Soviet Union; specifically, she looked at the scope of missed opportunities to regulate the arms race and global competition during the Cold War years. Though useful and innovative, I find this definition too vague to apply to empirical cases. In addition, Larson’s definition and other similar scholarly statements create a binary dichotomy between missed and unmissed opportunities: they either exist or they do not. A binary dichotomy between missed and unmissed opportunities, however, is likely to exclude historical episodes that can be seen as plausible not only in retrospect but also at the time of their occurrence. Yet since we cannot determine with certainty that a particular opportunity has been missed or not, perhaps we should assess the degree of its plausibility. This can be determined by the existence of certain variables, as suggested below. Avoiding a binary dichotomy, this model—called by Weber in a different context the “calculus of probability” (1949, 182)—offers a scale or continuum of plausibility of missed opportunities (ranging from nonexistent to highly plausible).2 We therefore define the term plausible missed opportunity as a situation in which one party to the conflict or a third party offers a meaningful and attractive political alternative to the status quo, which embodies an option for resolving the conflict or moving toward that end, but this alternative is not pursued for various reasons. In order to identify more rigorously the set of plausible missed opportunities in the Arab-Israeli conflict, then, it is necessary to address three questions.

The first question we pose regarding each case is: To what extent does the analyzed case study constitute a historical opportunity? Evidently, not every historical moment or diplomatic initiative to solve the conflict constitutes a historical opportunity. To be determined as such, we should identify the existence of two elements:

1. A formal and/or informal initiative presented by one of the parties to the conflict, or a trustworthy mediator, that has an element of attractiveness for the offered party (or parties). Since “attractiveness” cannot be objectively measured—what is considered attractive and generous by the offering party may be considered otherwise by the offered party—it is thus necessary to assess the extent to which the offer is an innovative or radical departure from the status quo existing between the conflicting parties. If the offer includes a significant incentive, or “mega-incentive”—that is, an offer that cannot be refused in terms of security and peace (Goren 2009)—then it may be defined as highly attractive to the offered party (or parties). Also, the attractiveness of an offer is enhanced if the offer, in one way or another, is presented repeatedly, implying that the offering party is consistent and serious in its effort.

2. A significant historical process or event that creates a basis for the emergence of alternative conduct or reasoning about the conflict. In other words, the convergence of certain historical processes and events—what Rosenfeld termed “points of divergence” (2005, 4, 11)—may help induce a convenient moment or circumstances for pursuing peace. Such developments, in American parlance, create a “window of opportunity” for a change in the conflict. These may include wars, revolutions, disintegration of states or regimes, as well as changes of governments and leaders. Such meaningful events may create a “trauma effect” that increases the receptiveness of leaders and society to the option of peaceful negotiations.

The convergence of these two elements may produce an “ideal” opportunity. Yet in the absence of the coalescence of certain historical processes or the “trauma effect,” the mere existence of an attractive offer by the third party or one of the rivals may be sufficient for an opportunity to exist. Such an offer might be the result of a deliberate, proactive policy on the part of the third party to create an opportunity (Kurtzer and Lasensky 2008, 34) or a grand gesture of conciliation offered by one of the warring parties, such as Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 (Mitchell 2000).

According to this analysis, the existence of a historical opportunity is a product of an objective assessment of the processes, facts, and circumstances prevailing at any given moment. Yet the opportunity also includes a subjective element, which relates to the ability of the leader(ship) to identify the elements that create the opportunity and act to exploit it (Biran 2008, 39). Clearly, the inability of the leader(ship) to recognize the existence of a historical opportunity would result in its loss. It is possible that a seemingly attractive offer will not be pursued because its timing is not considered propitious by one party, but this will not detract from its being an opportune moment.

The second question is: If a historical opportunity has been identified, how plausible or feasible was it to seize the opportunity and realize the potential it embodied? Opportunity, wrote the American diplomat Richard Haass, “represents possibility; not inevitability” (2005, 4). Therefore, the seizing of the opportunity depends on the historical circumstances and the leaders involved. A historical opportunity is more likely to bear fruit if the time is ripe to solve the related conflict. A ripe moment, according to Zartman, is when the conflicting parties share two perceptual elements: a “mutually hurting stalemate” and a sense of a subjective “way out” (2000, 228–231; 2005, 10–11). Yet since it is difficult to weigh ripeness, particularly while the events are still taking place, it is suggested that the potentiality of the opportunity be examined. We therefore propose to assess the plausibility of a missed opportunity as a function of the following four variables:

1. The degree of legitimacy that the political leadership enjoys, allowing it to promote new (and occasionally unpopular) initiatives. Clearly, a leader enjoying legitimacy, respect, and seniority is in a better position to seize a historical opportunity than a counterpart who does not. Following this line of thought, when such a leader fails to seize the opportunity, the loss is that much greater. In contrast to the Israeli case studies where measurement of leadership’s legitimacy is relatively feasible, the legitimacy of Arab leaders is more difficult to determine due to the lack of democratic institutions and reliable polls. In case such information is missing, this variable will be measured by the public image of the leader as a strong and legitimate leader. This variable posits that there must be strong, authoritative, and legitimate leadership on both sides that can negotiate an agreement, “sell” it to the people, and implement it (Peleg and Scham 2010, 218–219). When legitimate leadership fails to seize a historical opportunity, it enhances the plausibility of a missed opportunity.

2. The degree of the willingness, motivation, and determination of the leaders on both sides to take a bold step to change the course of events. Such willingness, which reflects a change in the leadership’s state of mind, may be the result of a conviction that a peaceful solution is necessary because the continuation of the status quo (what Zartman termed “hurting stalemate”) is detrimental to their state’s interests. This position may be due to a change in the leader’s belief system and/or pressure exerted by civil society elements. In such a case, the leader might even be willing to contemplate going the “extra mile” to achieve what he or she believes is essential for the state. One reliable indication of this willingness is the leader’s persistence in proposing a peaceful solution. Another is the leader’s perseverance in the negotiations despite gaps in the parties’ positions. Plausibility is thus also a function of leadership’s response to the offer.

3. The level of trust (or mistrust) existing between them, which may also be based on the history of past interactions. Ignorance or superficial acquaintance of the other party may lead to negative stereotypes and impede the potential for a positive development. In contrast, past interactions may reduce barriers and produce building blocks toward a certain trust between the conflicting parties. Mutual trust, built along a significant period of time, helps leaders ensure that they will not miss opportunities. Examples of constructive trustbuilding were Egyptian-Israeli relations following the Yom Kippur War and the concluding of two disengagement agreements between those two countries in the 1970s that culminated in the signing of the 1979 peace treaty, and Jordanian-Israeli relations that culminated in the 1994 peace treaty. However, past interactions may result in mistrust, as reflected in the case of PalestinianIsraeli relations since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. The existence of trust when an opportunity is not seized enhances the plausibility of a missed opportunity.

4. The level of constructive involvement of a third party that exploits a historical opportunity to promote a dialogue. This is particularly relevant when the conflicting parties are unaware of the historical opportunity or feel insecure to move forward because of mistrust or uncertainty. When the third party is the initiator of the peace offer, it is expected to lead a balanced mediation process. If the offer has been presented by one of the conflicting parties, the third party is expected to fill the role of facilitator. Third-party involvement is not, in itself, a condition of a missed opportunity, but if a third party is involved, it is critical that such involvement is constructive. Thus, high-level involvement may contribute to a missed opportunity as a result of unbalanced mediation, mistakes, and insufficient preparedness on the part of the mediating party.

Finally, an analysis of the plausibility of a relevant case study is not complete without an assessment of the legacy effect of the event, which can only be evaluated in retrospect. It is therefore proposed to assess the degree to which some change or progress has been made in the conflict as a result of the offer. An offer may not necessarily result in the signing of a peace agreement but may trigger a paradigmatic change or the breaking of a certain taboo in the internal political debate that, in the long run, can bring peace. Thus, for example, if the failed negotiations between Egypt and Israel in 1971 ultimately contributed to the signing of the peace agreement in 1979, we may conclude that the opportunity in 1971 was not completely lost. Similarly, if the failed Camp David II negotiations in July 2000 did shatter the taboo in Israeli society regarding the negotiability of Jerusalem, then the opportunity was not completely missed. Observing such a long-term change—which may be a result of a deeper historical perspective that allows a better appreciation of a possible change—may reduce the perceived loss caused by the missed opportunity.

In sum, what is suggested is a three-tiered analysis for evaluating the plausibility of a given missed opportunity:

  1. Identification of a historical opportunity
  2. Assessing the plausibility of the missed opportunity
  3. Evaluating the legacy effect of the missed opportunity

The continuum of plausibility of missed opportunities is divided into four levels for the sake of convenience: high, medium, low, and nonexistent, as shown in table 1.

Most of the case studies analyzed in this book unfortunately represent plausible missed opportunities. This finding highlights the importance of analyzing the few plausible opportunities that were not missed, such as the signing of peace treaties between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. A greater understanding of such cases may contribute to a better understanding of the opportunities that were indeed missed.

To be qualified as a missed opportunity, should the alternative path be seen as possible at the time or only in retrospect? Niall Ferguson, in his collected volume on virtual history, included only plausible or probable alternatives “which we can show on the basis of contemporary evidence that contemporaries actually considered” (1997, 86; Weinryb 2003, 393). Likewise, Simon Serfaty argued that “hindsight, which shapes our memories of the past, permits the belated discovery of the missed opportunities that haunt our perception of the present” (1988, 13). A somewhat less compelling premise was offered by George and Holl, who argued that “missed opportunities that rest too heavily on hindsight carry less plausibility.” Yet in their opinion, “An afterthe-fact identification of an action or strategy not known or considered at the time can still be useful in drawing lessons” (2000, 35).3 There can be no denying that a historical perspective allows us to reassess events with the benefits it affords; thus, for example, the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979 cast new light on President Sadat’s sincerity in offering his peace initiative in February 1971 and the degree of Israel’s missing an opportunity then. However, if there were other alternatives examined on the Israeli side at the time of the 1971 episode, their existence enhances our assessment that the event was indeed a missed opportunity.

Michael Greig’s research on “moments of opportunity” offers several perspectives on the question of whether there are moments that can be identified as more likely to develop into missed opportunities and refers specifically to the mediator’s role. First, mediation can be successful early in a conflict, before the disputants have built up high levels of hostility that make compromise difficult. Second, and in some contradiction to the first conclusion, mediation can become successful late in the conflict, after disputants have expended significant resources in conflict with one another and eventually become more willing to improve their relationship (Greig 2001, 715). Such an option is not surprising, taking into account the possibility that the rivals may have reached the point of a mutually hurting stalemate, according to ripeness theory. Third, when mediation was initiated by one of the rivals, the likelihood of achieving a mediated agreement significantly increased (Greig 2001, 716). As the ArabIsraeli conflict has been studded with many third-party interventions, it will be interesting to see whether local initiatives constitute missed opportunities more often than external ones.

When a certain episode in the conflict is defined as a plausible missed opportunity, it is important to explain why this alternative was not pursued. Tuchman usually attributes folly to mistakes made by decision makers (1984, 3–4). Zartman, on the other hand, gives leaders more credit, asserting that “Neglect, obliviousness, and stupidity always take their toll, but generally it can be assumed that policy-makers thought they knew what they were doing and why” (2005, 5). Indeed, the reasons for choosing a certain policy should be given due respect but evaluated critically all the same. This study does not claim that the proposed but unchosen course of action, on certain occasions, would have definitively ended in a peaceful agreement, but rather that an opportunity “to do something” to promote peace was missed. While it is possible that the other option could have negatively affected the course of events, it is generally believed that it offered a preferable policy choice. In this respect, the study of missed opportunities entails a value judgment on the part of the writer.

It is agreed that analyzing certain episodes in the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of missed opportunities may be merely “an academic exercise,” to use George and Holl’s term, or, as Michael Heim posited, the engagement in virtual history may be “real in effect but not in fact” (quoted in Weinryb 2003, 408). Nonetheless, it is my belief that the kind of intellectual experiment suggested in these pages has its benefits, as policymakers and the public in general may find in these missed opportunities educated lessons for future negotiations. This line of thought is succinctly argued by Niall Ferguson:

Because decisions about the future are—usually—based on weighing up the potential consequences of alternative courses of action, it makes sense to compare the actual outcomes of what we did in the past with the conceivable outcomes of what we might have done. (Ferguson 1997, 2)

Seen in another context, veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross, who was involved in many American mediation attempts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, might have added that one requirement of statecraft is recognizing a strategic opening. In his opinion, “Being able to marshal the wherewithal to act on an opening and exploit it, in the final analysis, is one of the better measures of effective statecraft. By the same token, missing opportunities or squandering them may be one of the better measures of statecraft poorly executed” (2007, 22).

This kind of thinking is based on the assumption that history may offer us not only interesting stories but also lessons for the future. The eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm asserted, “Unfortunately, one thing historical experience has also taught historians is that nobody ever seems to learn from it.” Perhaps so, but nevertheless he concluded, “We must go on trying” (1997, 35). Moreover, the lessons of history remind us of the choices that decision makers confronted, as well as the role of chance and accident in human affairs. The lessons of imaginary history, wrote Roberts, “make us eschew hubris, by reminding us what so easily might have been—and what still might be—around only the next corner” (2004, 6).

Many good historians have attempted to understand why we do not learn from history or, conversely, why we do not draw lessons from their studies (e.g., Liddell-Hart 1971; May 1973; McNamara et al. 1999; Shamir and MaddyWeitzman 2005, 13; Cordesman 2007). This book is indeed an attempt to draw some lessons from the opportunities existing in the history of Israeli-Arab peaceful negotiations. Zeev Maoz once sarcastically noted that the Israeli way of learning is to study history and learn the lessons of its mistakes, only to repeat them the next time (2004, 208). On a more positive note, it is my hope that decision makers on both sides of the conflict will draw on the lessons of missed opportunities for peace, and, armed with this knowledge, will be in a better position not to miss opportunities once they appear; or, better still, that decision makers will propose attractive initiatives of their own that, in turn, will develop into new opportunities.


“...Podeh makes a valuable contribution to the literature on con ict resolution.”

“An ambitious and original work. This is the first attempt to investigate systematically missed opportunities in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Our ability to analyze or measure historical events that have not happened is obviously limited; this study is a brave attempt at overcoming this deficiency. This pioneering work offers a new theoretical framework that can be applied to other conflicts around the globe. Undoubtedly, it will lead readers to question the wisdom of policymakers, who have continuously missed opportunities for peace.”
Daniel Bar-Tal, Branco Weiss Professor of Research in Child Development and Education, Tel Aviv University, author of Intractable Conflicts: Socio-Psychological Foundations and Dynamics, past president of the International Society of Political Psychology, and recipient of the Klineberg, Lasswell, Sanford, and Deutsch awards