The Madrid Conference

The process and product of meetings between Israel and her Arab neighbors from 1991 to 1993.


The following article is reprinted from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times published by Alfred A. Knopf.
In the late winter of 1991, it was [United States] Secretary of State James Baker’s idée fixe to -sustain the diplomatic momentum that had produced the recent Gulf military victory. His intention was to exploit Arab and Israeli gratitude by maneuvering both sides into negotiations that would resolve their own historic impasse. Beginning in March 1991,therefore, Baker launched a series of whirlwind visits to the Middle East.
Remarkably, under his courteous persistence, the Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian governments all agreed to participate in an international conference. So, in principle, did the Israelis. Shamir had anticipated that the Syrians would torpedo the conference proposal, thereby letting him off the hook. But if Hafez al Assad had unexpectedly accepted the American offer, Shamir for his part dared not risk open confrontation with Washington, and a possibly indefinite postponement of loan guarantees.
Nevertheless, procedural issues remained to be “clarified” between Shamir and Baker. Some were disposed of early on. Both men swiftly agreed that the conclave would be held under Soviet American co-chairmanship, rather than that of the United Nations. Even this narrowly circumscribed format would serve essentially as an umbrella for direct negotiations between “regional committees. ” The latter would consist of Israel and each separate Arab delegation. The single exception would be the Palestinian delegation; it would be subsumed in that of the Jordanians, and, at that, would not include PLO members.
Nevertheless, throughout the spring and summer of 1991, Shamir continued to place his own interpretation on both the “atmospherics” and the details of the conference. He rejected Baker’s persistent appeal for a moratorium on Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Under no circumstances, either, could Arabs from East Jerusalem participate as members of the Palestinian delegation. The prime minister had never budged on these issues, and was not about to now. Finally, in August, Baker conceded both points. Shamir then won cabinet approval for participation.

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Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.

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