A quarter of a century ago, the Palestinians gained acceptance as an independent negotiating partner with Israel. The Oslo process, which secured that acceptance, did not bring about a permanent settlement of the Israeli– Palestinian conflict. It was followed by numerous further attempts, including the Camp David negotiations in 2000, the Abbas–Olmert talks of 2007–08 and the Kerry initiative of 2013–14. These efforts have employed several different approaches and have involved varying degrees of engagement on the part of the international community.

The purpose of this paper is to examine these endeavours and identify lessons that would be useful for those intending to try again. Some of these lessons concern leadership. For peace efforts to have a chance of succeeding, the experience of the past 25 years suggests that leaders on both sides must not only engage directly with one another but also show a combination of boldness, commitment to peace and fine political judgment. For their part, Israeli leaders must recognize that the conflict with the Palestinians cannot be wished away.

Other lessons concern the way in which a peace process is structured, in particular the vulnerability of an incremental approach. Trying to resolve the conflict in one go could be more productive.

An examination of past endeavours also clearly shows that the involvement of the international community is a necessary (albeit insufficient) condition for success in any peace process. The Arab states have a particular role to play in this regard: the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 retains its potential but requires more energetic promotion if this potential is to be realized.

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About the Authors 

Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is the head of the International Relations, Social Sciences and Law Programme. He has been teaching at Regent’s University since 1996, and before that at King’s College, London. Yossi has been with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Programme at Chatham House since 2002, first as an associate fellow and more recently as a senior consulting research fellow. His fields of expertise include the politics of the Middle East, Israeli politics, the Middle East peace process, and US foreign policy towards the region. For four years he wrote a weekly column for the Al Arabiya network before moving to write twice a week for Arab News. He is also a member of the Human Rights Watch London Committee and of the Seeds of Peace Global Advisory Board. In addition, Yossi is a regular contributor to international media on a variety of international affairs issues.

Greg Shapland is an independent researcher and writer on politics, security, resources and the environment (including water) in the MENA region. He has been an associate fellow at Chatham House since September 2015. Greg’s entire career has been focused on the MENA region, whether as a commercial representative, university lecturer, or British government official in the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). From 1979 until 2015, he served in the MENA Research Group in the FCO. He was also head of Research Analysts in the FCO from July 2010 to July 2013. During his time with the FCO, Greg served in British embassies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Tel Aviv, and in the consulate general in Jerusalem.