Cultural Revolutions

Territorial Compromise

President George Bush has encouraged Arabs and Israelis to “lay down the past.”  “Territorial compromise is essential for peace,” he said.  “We seek peace, real peace.  And by real peace I mean treaties.”  Israelis praised President Bush for promising not to railroad them into any agreements, while the Palestinians believed he showed support for their hopes for some form of self-government.  The aim of the talks was for all sides to resolve their rival territorial claims.

The president in question was George H.W. Bush.  The above news item, from the BBC archives (October 30, 1991), described an early round of talks in Madrid “to resolve rival territorial claims.”  A very similar news item could have referred to Oslo in 1993; or to Camp David and Taba in 2000-01; or to Aqaba in 2003.  Most recently, President George W. Bush echoed his father’s words of 14 years ago when he declared on his European tour in February that “peace is now within reach” after decades of false starts, and that “our greatest opportunity, and our immediate goal, is peace in the Middle East.”

The magnitude of that opportunity, as measured in the balance of favorable and detrimental elements in the political equation, theoretically looks encouraging.  The received wisdom claims that four factors favor peace now more than at any...

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