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Part of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict
and Arab–Israeli conflict series
Peace Process
Israel with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights
      West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights a
Negotiating Parties
Palestinian territories
Camp David Accords · Madrid Conference
Oslo Accords / Oslo II · Hebron Protocol
Wye River / Sharm el-Sheikh Memoranda
2000 Camp David Summit · Taba Summit
Road Map · Annapolis Conference
Primary Negotiation Concerns
Final borders  · Israeli settlements
Palestinian refugees  · Security concerns
Status of Jerusalem  · Water
Secondary Negotiation Concerns
Antisemitic incitements
Israeli West Bank barrier · Jewish state
Palestinian political violence
Places of worship
Palestinian territories  Current Leaders  Israel
Mahmoud Abbas
Salam Fayyad
Benjamin Netanyahu
Shimon Peres
International Brokers
Diplomatic Quartet · Arab League · Egypt
United Nations European Union Russia United States Arab League Egypt
Other Proposals
Arab Peace Initiative · Elon Peace Plan
Lieberman Plan · Geneva Accord · Hudna
Israel's unilateral disengagement plan
Israel's realignment plan
Peace-orientated projects · Peace Valley · Isratin · One-state solution · Two-state solution · Three-state solution

a The Golan Heights are not part of the Israeli-Palestinian process.

The Madrid Conference was hosted by the government of Spain and co-sponsored by the USA and the USSR. It convened on October 30, 1991 and lasted for three days. It was an early attempt by the international community to start a peace process through negotiations involving Israel and the Palestinians as well as Arab countries including Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, US President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker formulated the framework of objectives, and together with the Soviet Union extended a letter of invitation, dated October 30, 1991 to Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians.


The conference

The Palestinian team, because of Israeli objections, was initially formally a part of a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation and consisted of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza without open PLO associations like Saeb Erekat and Haidar Abdel-Shafi, the head of the delegation. However, the delegation was in constant communication with the PLO leadership in Tunis. Over Israeli objections, the PLO dispatched an unofficial "advisory delegation," headed by Faisal Husseini to act as a liaison.[1]

The purpose of the conference was to serve as an opening forum for the participants and had no power to impose solutions or veto agreements. It inaugurated negotiations on both bilateral and multilateral tracks that also involved the international community. The Syrian and Lebanese negotiators agreed on a common strategy.

The first-ever public bilateral talks between Israel and its neighbors (except Egypt) were aimed at achieving peace treaties between the 3 Arab states and Israel, while the talks with the Palestinians were based on a 2-stage formula, the first consisting of negotiating interim self-government arrangements, to be followed by permanent status negotiations. (This formula was essentially followed in the later Oslo Accords.) They opened immediately following the conference on November 3, 1991 in Madrid, and were followed by over a dozen formal rounds in Washington, DC from December 9, 1991 to January 24, 1994[2][3]

The multilateral negotiations, which opened in Moscow on January 28, 1992, were held in 5 separate forums each focused on a major issue - water, environment, arms control, refugees and economic development, and were later held, until November 1993 throughout the world including European capitals and the Middle East. At first, Israel refused to take part in the refugee and economic meetings as Palestinians from outside the West Bank and Gaza were present. Syria and Lebanon refused to take part in multilateral meetings as long as there was no concrete progress on the bilateral level.

Formal talks in the multilateral track, which had been frozen for several years, resumed on January 31, 2000 with a meeting of the Steering Committee in Moscow, to be followed by meetings of the working groups.[4]

The Israeli-Jordan negotiations eventually led to a peace treaty signed in 1994, while the Israeli-Syrian ones led to several series of negotiations, which came quite close on some reports, but did not result in a peace treaty.

The bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were upstaged and eventually replaced by initially secret and illegal (according to Israeli law at the time) negotiations that finally led to the exchange of letters of 9 and 10 September 1993 and the subsequent 13 September 1993 signing on the lawn of the White House of the Declaration of Principles, which however were essentially based on terms which the Madrid round Palestinian negotiators had earlier rejected.

The Impact of the Madrid Peace Conference

Israel cites as a major benefit of the conference and the process, the greatly increased number of countries which recognize and have some degree of diplomatic relations with it - nearly doubling - in particular citing the major powers of China and India and some even in the Arab world, like Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, along with the decline of the Arab boycott and economic relations with some of the Arab countries.[5]

In The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction, Gregory Harms and Todd Ferry argue that ‘the symbolic significance of the Madrid conference far outweighed its accomplishments, which were thin indeed.’ [6] Nevertheless, an example had been made and a future model had been laid down. Moreover, the Madrid conference represents the first time all these countries had been gathered “face-to-face”. [6] Indeed, ‘from Rhodes in 1949 to Madrid in 1991’[7] attempts to bring about peace in the region had failed. However, although the conference led to few practical and legal solutions, the Madrid peace conference of 1991 still signifies a remarkable “twist in events”[8] as the Palestine question was at long last dealt with. Yet because the Madrid Conference was based on the idea of ‘abandoning the dynamics of confrontation’[9], but more importantly because what ensued, through the Oslo Accords were isolated arrangements on disorganised technicalities such as crossings, borders, security, prisoners and so on, numerous of people are nowadays still ‘opposed to that ground- breaking leap’[9] which the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 represents to many. On the other hand, in 2002 the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, while voicing his opinion on a proposed future action of Israeli withdrawal from recently occupied towns followed by a declaration of a Palestinian state, argued:

"The idea is not to go backwards but to return to the basic formula that was established in Madrid: the exchange of land for peace,"[10]

At the end of the Madrid conference all participating countries appeared hopeful that the conference had resulted in a future road-map for reconciliation. The closing remarks presented below illustrate this hopeful sentiment:

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir , 1 November 1991
“With an open heart, we call on the Arab leaders to take the courageous step and respond to our outstretched hand in peace” [11]

Head of the Palestinian Delegation, Haydar Abd al-Shafi, 1 November 1991
“To the cosponsors and to the international community that seeks the achievement of a just peace in the Middle East, you have given us a fair hearing. You cared enough to listen and for that we thank you. Thank you.” [12]

American Secretary of State, James Baker seemed to have accomplished what he had initially wished for: peace negotiations which would lead to closer cooperation and reconciliation between the countries of the Middle East. However, Middle East scholar Louise Fawcett argues that by 1993 when Clinton came to office ‘the initial momentum of Madrid had flagged, and the subsequent bilateral talks in Washington between Israel and its neighbours had got bogged down.'[13] Thus, the Madrid conference was not to be the conference which would create peace in the Middle East, albeit the first step towards greater understanding and better communication among Middle Eastern countries.

Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy and treaties

External links


  • Eisenberg, Laura Zittrain; Caplan, Neil (1998). Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: Patterns, Problems,Possibilities. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21159-X.  
  • Shlaim, Avi (2001). The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-32112-6.  


  1. ^
  2. ^ Israeli Government Guide
  3. ^ Palestinian peace files
  4. ^ Israeli Govet Guide to the negotiations
  5. ^ Israeli Government Guide to the Peace Process
  6. ^ a b Harms, G, Ferry, T(2005) The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction Canada: Pluto Press p 153
  7. ^ Gelvin, J, L (2005) The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War United States of America: Cambridge University Press p 228 ISBN 978-0-521-85289-0
  8. ^ Pappé, I (2004) A History of Modern Palestine: one land, two people United States of America: Cambridge University Press p 241 ISBN 0 521 55406 3
  9. ^ a b Moratinos, M, A (Nov 13, 2004)”Arafat's legacy is negotiation as the path to peace ; I knew him well, and from the heart can bear witness to his brave, honourable struggle; [First Edition]” The Independent. London (UK) p 41
  10. ^ Roula, K (Apr 16, 2002 ) “Sharon opens political front to augment Israel's tanks: Arabs will not be easily persuaded to attend the prime minister's proposed international peace forum”[London edition] Financial Times. London (UK): Apr 16, 2002. pg. 08
  11. ^ The Madrid Peace Conference Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2.(winter 1992) p 144
  12. ^ The Madrid Peace Conference Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2.(winter 1992) p146
  13. ^ Fawcett, L (2005) International Relations of the Middle East Great Britain: Oxford University Press p 295


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