Factors Prompting De-escalation in the Middle East
By Louis Kriesberg
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Louis Kriesberg, "Factors prompting De-escalation in the Middle East" International Conflict Resolution, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) 65-68.
Kriesberg argues that de-escalation initiatives are influenced by domestic circumstances, by the international context and by the relations between the protagonists. He examines all of these factors in relation to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Early Arab-Israeli relations were polarized. Arab nationalism opposed the formation of a Jewish state. Arab opposition contributed to Jewish militancy. The actual creation of Israel intensified the identity of non-Jews as Palestinians. The Islamic revival increased religious opposition to a Jewish state. Adopting Marxist and socialist perspectives, the Arab nations saw Israel as a creature of Western imperialism. This period was marked by wars.
In 1967 Israeli army seized new territories. In 1973 the Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel ended in stalemate. Egyptian honor was somewhat restored by their limited military success, and Egyptian-Israeli relations improved after the stalemate. Relations with the other Arab states, however, remained hostile.
Egyptian President Sadat acknowledges that his 1971 peace initiative was in response to public pressure. "I believed that as military action was ruled out at the time, a diplomatic offensive had to be launched: the broad masses wanted to see action being taken at the time."[p.65] The 1977 bread riots in Egypt also demanded action. As neither the Soviets nor the other Arab nations were reliable sources of support, Egypt had begun to cultivate American favor. Peace with Israel was necessary to gain the further goodwill and support of the U.S. Pressure from the masses of Palestinians living in Jordan prevented King Hussein from offering substantial accommodations to Israel. Yasir Arafat's leadership of the Palestinian people was contested by other, more extreme, Palestinian groups. Such competition for leadership inhibited Arafat's ability to negotiate. "As the moderate, he seemed reluctant to take any de-escalation initiative for fear of being outflanked by groups more extreme in their demands against Israel."[p. 67]
Israeli public opinion has long desired peace, but believed that the Arab states were uninterested in peace. Differences in opinion among various Israeli political parties were mooted by the perceived lack of any negotiating partner. When Sadat signaled Egyptian willingness to negotiate, domestic differences of opinion began to take on more significance.
Since then, Israeli peace initiatives have been inhibited by the domestic competition between the various political parties for strong public support. Public backlash to the violence under the Likud party government removed them from power in the early 1980s. However, public perception that a party is too accommodating of Arab demands equally threatens to undermine that party's support, and increase support for the domestic opposition party. Thus the Likud party regained power after Rabin's assassination.
The International Context
Starting in the 1950s, the Cold War became the dominant context for the Arab Israeli conflict. The influx of arms and support to their respective allies from the Cold War superpowers encouraged a general escalation of conflicts in the Middle East.
Regional rivalries were also a significant context for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Arab nations competed for influence in the Arab world, and influence over the Palestinians. Resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which appeared to favor an Arab nation would be opposed by other Arab states.
Kriesberg argues that the superimposition of global and regional conflicts onto the Arab- Israeli conflict served to inhibit de-escalation efforts. The immediate issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict became linked to broader issues. However, when these broader conflicts began to de-escalate, it correspondingly opened up the possibility of de-escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict.