The Middle East Peace Process
-Its Development and Future-

Chie Ezaki


On October 7, 2023, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement, which effectively controls the Gaza Strip) and its allies unleashed a military attack against Israel. This attack (referred here to as the "10.7 incident") attracted broad attention because it took place to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the "October 1973 Yom Kippur War," in which Israel was put at a disadvantage in the early stages of the war due to surprise attacks from Egypt and Syria. Many point out that, as in the Yom Kippur War, Israeli military intelligence has again misunderstood Hamas' designs.1 Reportedly, Hamas first planned an attack in April 2023 but abandoned the idea because Israel became cautious of Hamas' move.2

In response to the 10.7 incident, US President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken issued statements to the effect that the Hamas attack was motivated by efforts to disrupt Saudi-Israel normalization.3 Many consider that the 10.7 incident is possibly associated with moves for or against the Middle East peace process.

September 2023 fell on the 30th anniversary of the first peace agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, or the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (referred here to as the Oslo Accords). When we consider the 10.7 incident as resulting from the Oslo Accords, we are seized with a dismal thought that the peace process to date has failed to improve the situation in the Middle East, but nonetheless, we feel obliged to consider its prospects.

This paper is intended to discuss the development of the Middle East peace process and its future. First, it begins with a historical review of the Middle East peace process. Next, we will summarize how the parties concerned recognize the situation 30 years after the conclusion of the Oslo Accords and will discuss the Middle East peace framework and its challenges currently debated in response to the 10.7 incident.

1. Development of the Middle East Peace Process

The origins of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations can go back to the Madrid Conference held at the end of October 1991, co-chaired by the United States and the Soviet Union. At that time, the Palestinian side was represented by residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, who were allowed participation as members of a joint delegation with Jordan. The PLO, which operated outside the Israeli-occupied areas and had UN observer status as the "sole and legitimate representative of all Palestinians" since 1974, remained excluded―Israel stubbornly refused its participation. The United States, eager for Israel to attend the conference, had no choice but to accept the exclusion of the PLO. Ironically, however, it was this irregular mode of participation of Palestinians that made the new Israeli government, which took office in May 1992, realize the importance of direct negotiations with the PLO because the Palestinian delegation was not granted final decision-making authority.

Thus, in January 1993, the Israeli-PLO peace negotiations began covertly under the mediation of Norway, which maintained friendly relations with both sides. Following intensive talks between the two sides, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords at the White House in September of that year. The signing ceremony occurred in the United States, irrespective of Norwegian mediation, because the parties concerned attached great importance to US engagement. Ultimately, the United States became the guarantor, and the Oslo Accords were rated as an outcome of the Madrid Conference.

Afterward, Israel and the PLO reached multiple peace agreements. However, it is undeniable that on both sides, there was opposition to the peace negotiations, as evidenced by the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a young Jew in 1995. In September 2000, a visit by the then-leader of the Israeli opposition party to the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem triggered a clash between Palestinians and Israeli police officers. As a result, Israeli-Palestine peace negotiations came to a standstill following the last round of negotiations in January 2001. The exchange of violence continued, and in December 2001, the Israeli cabinet decided that it would no longer consider Arafat a partner in any future negotiations. The series of peace processes following the Oslo Accords came to a complete deadlock because the Israeli-PLO mutual recognition, one of the pillars of the Oslo Accords, collapsed.

Later on, the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations attempted to resume Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Yet, no negotiation has occurred to date since the end of April 2014. In contrast, regional peace efforts made progress. Specifically, the Trump-driven Abraham Accords, concluded in September 2020 between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, are the most remarkable outcome. The Biden administration also brokered the Israel-Saudi normalization as part of ongoing regional peace efforts.

2. Thirty Years after the Oslo Accords: The Present Situation as Seen in Public Opinion Polls

How do the Israeli and Palestinian people assess these developments during the 30 years since the conclusion of the Oslo Accords? Tables 1 and 2 summarize the results of the Israeli and Palestinian public opinion polls released on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords in terms of similar questions and answers.

Table 1. Poll Survey by the Israel Democracy Institute
Question Answer Total Jews Arabs
Was it correct or incorrect for Israel to enter the current peace process? Correct 36% 35.5% 39%
Incorrect 39% 42% 28%
Who do you think is more responsible for the fact that the process did not result in a peace agreement? Israel 8% 4% 30%
Palestine 43% 51% 6%
How will an agreement with Saudi Arabia affect the political standing of Prime Minister Netanyahu? Strengthen Netanyahu's standing 41% 43% 33%

Prepared by the author based on: Tamar Herman and Or Anabi, "30 years after the Oslo Accords: A large share of Israelis think it was wrong for Israel to enter the process," Israeli Voice Index September 2023, October 2, 2023,

Table 2. Poll Survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research
Question Answer Total W. Bank Gaza
Is the PA implementing the Oslo Accords? No 49% 50% 48%
Is the current Israeli government implementing the Oslo Accords? No 76% 83% 65%
Have the conditions after the signing of the Accords worsened in comparison to those before? Worsened 64% 77% 45%
Do you support or oppose the PA's abandonment of the Oslo Accords? Support 63% 67% 56%
Will Saudi-Israeli normalization be harmful to the Palestine-Israel peace process? Harmful 56% 69% 38%

Prepared by the author based on: Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Public Opinion Polls No (89), September 6-9, 2023,

A comparison of the two tables will identify some specific trends. First, both Israelis and Palestinians share a negative assessment of the peace negotiations, starting with the conclusion of the Oslo Accords. The questions asked to Israeli and Palestinian respondents are not necessarily identical. However, Israelis think that their government's choice to implement peace negotiations was not in their favor, while Palestinians hold a negative sentiment toward the current situation with the conclusion of the Oslo Accords as a sort of watershed in history. The negative evaluation is, therefore, shared by respondents on both sides. Noteworthy in this context is that according to the Israeli poll survey, there is only a slim margin between respondents who think it is correct for Israel to implement the current peace process (36%) and those who consider it incorrect (39%).

Second, the negative assessment of the current situation 30 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords is common to respondents on both sides; also common is their attitude to blame the other side for being responsible for not implementing the Oslo Accords. In other words, the Israeli side believes that Palestine is at fault, whereas the Palestinian side thinks that Israel is at fault. The Palestinian poll survey shows that about half of all respondents have a negative evaluation of the implementation of the Oslo Accords by the Palestinian Authority (abbreviated as PA). This means that discontent with the PA's governance is simmering within the autonomous territories of Palestine―a point that cannot be overlooked when considering the future Middle East peace process.

Third, concerning the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the two poll surveys are in stark contrast regarding the contexts in which they posed relevant questions. While the Israeli poll survey associates the Israel-Saudi normalization with the domestic politics related to Prime Minister Netanyahu's political standing, the Palestinian poll survey as ever links the topic to the diplomatic peace process with Israel. It seems that with the elapse of 30 years since the Oslo Accords, Israel has excluded the word "peace" from the Palestine issue.4

How do Israel and Palestine entertain such a recognition? The following section will constitute an examination of its background.

3. Change and Continuity as Background

First, there is an unequivocal structural inequality between Israel and Palestine. As is articulated in the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dated July 2004, which ruled that Israel's construction of the separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territory is a violation of international law, Israel is the "occupying Power," while Palestine is the "Occupied Palestinian Territory."5 This constitutes the primary reason why Palestine views the status quo in a negative light―Palestine remains occupied by Israel. In recent years, not only the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank but also violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians are problematic.6

Second, the position of the Palestine issue in the political landscape in the Middle East has significantly changed because its priority has changed in the politics of the Arab countries and Israel. The Arab countries prioritized safeguarding their regime's security, facing the "Arab Spring," a youth-led movement claiming democracy, which erupted in Tunisia and then spread to neighboring Arab countries toward the end of 2010. As a result, the governments of these countries preferentially addressed domestic political issues rather than foreign policy. On the other hand, Israel faced the emerging threat of Iranian nuclear development, which diverted the Israeli government from the Palestinian issue. Since some Gulf Arab states shared this threat perception, the Trump administration adopted an approach prioritizing regional peacebuilding. It would be no wonder if Palestinians had felt the fear of being abandoned.

Third, we must take up Israel's policy toward Palestine. As partially mentioned earlier, Israel carries on settlement activities in the West Bank, disclosing its intention to annex the Palestinian territory.7 For the Israeli government, which deems the West Bank to be the land of Israel, its possession is a naturally endowed right of the country. The PA opposes Israel's designs, but the Israeli government exploits the confrontation between the PA and Hamas, thereby attempting to make the peace framework dysfunctional. The territory of an independent Palestinian state that the PA seeks includes the West Bank, containing East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which has been under the effective control of Hamas since June 2007. In this situation Israel had found some value in Hamas. Israel opposes Palestinian efforts to promote internal reconciliation toward peace, trying to make the two-state solution unsubstantial. Israel has come to regard Hamas as its "proxy" to prevent the emergence of more radical organizations in Gaza.

4. Moves toward Restructuring the Middle East Peace Framework

Following the 10.7 incident, the Biden administration reportedly came to consider that it could not fulfill its strategic goals in the Middle East without working out a sustainable approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.8 Therefore, the United States is under pressure to review its Middle East policy.9 Without some groundbreaking shift, Iran will ultimately grow stronger, Israel will face isolation, and US influence in regional affairs will suffer damage. The Biden administration will continue to maintain a hard-line stance toward Iran while seeking to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing an independent Palestinian state that will neighbor Israel permanently and peacefully.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, is opposed to a two-state solution. His position is that Israel will supervise security in the entire West Bank.10 Some ministers in the Netanyahu-led right-wing Israeli government support the resettlement of Gaza, from which Israeli troops withdrew and all Israeli settlers evacuated in September 2005.11 Since the realization of the two-state solution is premised on an independent Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, persisting opposition to a two-state solution is an outright denial of the establishment of an independent Palestine.

Undeniably, the realization of a two-state solution depends on whether or not the United States can persuade Israel. The United States is said to have in mind the establishment of a security alliance with Saudi Arabia, including the Israel-Saudi normalization, in addition to a hard-line stance toward Iran and the realization of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.12 In its Foreign Ministry statement, Saudi Arabia insists on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as a condition for normalizing relations with Israel.13


The 10.7 incident made the countries concerned aware of the need to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. However, the current Middle East peace framework, which entails a hard-line stance toward Iran, is an inheritance from the Trump administration; no substantial change is foreseeable now. Although the framework aims at a two-state solution, a clear picture of the independent Palestinian state is not visible.

Furthermore, it is unclear how Palestine could engage in this Middle East peace framework. The Biden administration envisions the PA's return to Gaza, but Fatah, dominant in the PA, remains at odds with Hamas, which has effectively controlled Gaza since June 2007. How to resolve this internal split and rally forces toward the integration of the West Bank and Gaza is indubitably an overriding challenge for Palestine.

(Associate Professor, National Defense Academy of Japan)

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