Elliott Abrams. Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 347 pp. $29.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-03119-7; ISBN 978-1-107-69690-7.
Reviewed by Christopher J. Dolan (Lebanon Valley College)
Published on H-Diplo (May, 2013)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Elliot Abrams provides a comprehensive and exhaustive explanation of the George W. Bush administration’s approach to the Mideast peace process. It supplies the reader with a meticulous account of the political struggles and consequences of balancing the various peace proposals put forward with America’s overall foreign policy interests in the Middle East. Abrams, who served as assistant national security adviser to President Bush, played a vital role in developing peace proposals among the Palestinians and Israelis. On the whole, Abrams does a fine job highlighting the challenges, blunders, conflicts, and deep political divisions between the Bush White House team and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. Many of the references to historical works, political memoirs, and diplomatic sources will appeal to more narrow audiences of academics and graduate students in international relations, foreign policy analysis, political science, and history. Abrams’s contribution to understanding the difficult road to peace will become part of the historical record for those interested in examining the complexities and dynamism of the peace negotiations.
Yet there are the obvious criticisms one could level at this work. The relative accuracy of the historical account comes to mind. Abrams does not shy away from his openly neoconservative ideology that placed the United States squarely into Israel’s corner throughout the course of the peace negotiations. However, Abrams should be commended for balancing his political motivations and the Bush administration’s sternly pro-Israel positions with secondary sources that questioned and challenged these propensities and inclinations. Also, Abrams does not shy away from criticizing several decisions which he claims contributed to the breakdown of the talks. The administration’s failure to anticipate the 2006 legislative victories by Hamas in the Palestinian elections leading to its takeover of the Gaza Strip following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal led to deep divisions within the Palestinian Authority and hampered President Mahmoud Abbas’s efforts in seeking a lasting peace with Israel. Abrams is also quite dismissive of the 2002 Saudi Plan, developed and advanced by then Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, referring to it as a “take it or leave it” peace overture that did little to advance the peace process (p. 29).
In approximately the first fifty pages, Abrams argues that the primary goal of the Bush administration in the peace process was promoting stability and security in Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as throughout the entire Middle East. Many of the foreign policy decisions made by the administration, most of which Abrams himself helped shape, contributed to the further deterioration of the process and set peacemaking efforts back. For example, the administration viewed the process through an ideological lens that depicted all Palestinians as either moderates or extremists. Moreover, the Bush administration’s ultimate goal was diminishing the significance of Iran in the region. However, Abrams pays very little attention to the role of Iran as a key player in the region when in fact discussions between then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas were essential to Bush’s strategy of ultimately confronting Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.
Moreover, when the 2006 war erupted between Israel and Hezbollah, the United States hesitated and then endorsed Israel’s prosecution of military action with Condoleezza Rice’s statement that the U.S. did not favor returning to “the status quo ante” (p. 185). Abrams fails to recognize the extent to which America’s pro-Israeli position set the peace process back, enhanced the role of Iran in the region, and empowered radicals on each side of the negotiating table. He also underplays how the lack of progress created a vacuum of political opportunity for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to assert a role in the process and contributed to the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations. Regional stability became virtually impossible to obtain and, as a result, Abrams seems to downplay some of the seemingly disastrous decisions emanating from the very process he led. Abrams does not acknowledge how Bush’s goal of confronting Iran and isolating Palestinian radicals destroyed the peace process.
While this work represents a contribution to the literature on the politics of Middle East peace, it risks dismissal as just another historical account of the failures and dysfunctions of a process that has produced little in the way of real and lasting peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. Drawbacks aside, many will find Abrams’s pointed criticisms and historical descriptions to be a refreshing departure from some of the more political and popular accounts of the peacemaking process, which tend to be more overtly political and pro-Israel.
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Christopher J. Dolan. Review of Abrams, Elliott, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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