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So Close and Yet So Far
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Nonfiction; Peace; Palestinians; War; Books-titles -- Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace
Author: Reviewed by Glenn Frankel
Date: Aug 22, 2004
Start Page: T.06
Section: BOOK WORLD

The Missing Peace tells an epic and tragic tale. [Dennis Ross] recounts how, in the aftermath of the Cold War and the first Gulf War triumph over Iraq, his first boss, then-Secretary of State James A. Baker, cajoled, teased and bludgeoned Arab and Israeli leaders into attending a Middle East peace conference in Madrid in the fall of 1991. The book goes on to record Yitzhak Shamir's political demise; the return to power of Yitzhak Rabin; the extraordinary backroom maneuverings that resulted in the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians; Rabin's assassination by a Jewish extremist; and the brief promise of a breakthrough under his even more dovish successor, Shimon Peres. Ross chronicles the years of halting progress and stalemate under Peres's right-wing successor, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the near-breakthrough and ultimate failure of [Ehud Barak]'s meteoric premiership. Ross also provides a painstaking account of the failed attempts of Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak to reach agreement with Syrian strongman Hafez Asad.

Along the way, Ross offers revealing and, occasionally, surprising portraits of various Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He depicts Netanyahu, a relative novice in the treacherous world of Israeli politics, as weak, hesitant and mistrustful, always looking over his shoulder to see what his right-wing critics back home were thinking and plotting. Yet at times Netanyahu showed a surprising willingness to go the extra mile, make a small but meaningful concession and pull an all-nighter to try to make progress. Barak, by contrast, comes across as childish, petulant and arrogant, a leader in love with his own immaculate conceptions and unwilling to listen to others. His penchant for grandiose, dramatic gestures, coupled with an almost crippling hesitation at critical moments, in Ross's view, probably cost Israel a chance to get a peace deal with Syria's Asad, who concluded that Barak wasn't serious or reliable.

Then there is [Yasser Arafat], the wily, stubborn, recalcitrant, supremely self-serving leader of the Palestinians, who eagerly pocketed every Israeli concession while consistently failing to offer any of his own. As with many tribal chieftains, Arafat's main concerns were maintaining unity among the various Palestinian factions and preserving his own power. Still, Ross points out, no other Palestinian wielded the moral authority to compromise on issues such as the fate of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees. Arafat may have been crude and dishonest, Ross concludes, but he was the only game in town.

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