In This Review

Constructive Ambiguity in Middle East Peace-Making
Constructive Ambiguity in Middle East Peace-Making
By Aharon Klieman
Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 1999, 156 pp

Efforts to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace have a long history and are still with us. A special shorthand has emerged illustrating the chronological milestones, from half-century-old agreements such as the Rhodes armistices to the more recent Oslo and Wye accords. The underlying pattern entails slight progress, then stalemate, and then yet another mediated agreement that is imprecise by design but sufficient to get the "peace process" back on track. Klieman asks whether these many ambiguous agreements simply postpone the hard issues. He compares this to the more traditional (and perhaps idealized) concept of diplomacy, in which precision, not ambiguity, was valued -- and agreements offered more than guidelines. Much of what he dubs Middle East "word politics" goes back to the "step-by-step" approach ushered in by Henry Kissinger following the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Klieman's argument has the advantage of highlighting the distinctive negotiating pattern of this Arab-Israeli "peace process." But since he does not demonstrate that the parties might have been prepared to sign more precise agreements earlier, one might conclude that "step-by-step" is the best (or the only) approach available.