What was the Shultz Plan in 1988?
In the 1980s, US policy in the Middle East was cautious. Failure in Lebanon during the period of the Israeli operations there starting in 1982, led to a policy of staying out of the area unless and until the local parties to the conflict were ready to negotiate. Negative experiences with the Marines in Lebanon and with the peace process in particular, including the failure of the 1982 Reagan Plan made the White House consider the area very unpromising. And US efforts to bring the PLO into a diplomatic process, directly or through Jordan, were frustrated by the PLO’s continued policy of terrorism and its policy that the only end-result that they would accept was the destruction of Israel. In October 1987, Secretary of State Shultz said:
- The Palestinians must be involved in the peace process if it is to mean anything. There isn’t any question about that. [But] it’s also true there isn’t a role in the peace process for people whose tactics are violent and refuse to renounce violence, who refuse to recognize that Israel is there as a state[. Instead they must be] ready to talk and try to make peace.
The outbreak of Arab violence during the first intifada in December of 1987 brought new urgency to US efforts to broker some kind of solution. To respond to the situation and show US engagement, Shultz produced a new plan, presented in January 1988, which combined elements of the Camp David accords, the Reagan plan, King Hussein’s proposals, and Israeli Foreign Minister Peres’ ideas for an international conference. Between February and June 1988, Shultz used the Kissinger technique of “shuttle diplomacy” to promote his plan by travelling three times to the Middle East in the five months.
The basic elements of the Shultz plan called for:
- Begin negotiations hosted by the five permanent UN Security Council members, attended by all parties accepting UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and renouncing violence and terrorism.
- The Palestinians would be represented by a joint Jordan-Palestinian delegation who
would negotiate the terms of a three-year transitional period for the territories
- The international meetings would facilitate separate bi-lateral negotiations for a final settlement, but have no veto or enforcement power.
Egypt, Jordan, and Foreign Minister Peres supported the plan. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir questioned the timetable, international forum, and territory-for-peace formula. the PLO and Syria were very critical and West Bank/Gaza Palestinians refused to meet with Shultz, apparently on orders from the PLO. Shultz was able to maintain that no party had said “no” to his proposal but, by the same token, none took it up enthusiastically.
The election of George H.W. Bush in November 1988 was the end of the Reagan Administration and any remaining momentum on the Schultz Plan was lost. But, by stating the conditions under which the US would begin to deal directly with the PLO, Schultz had caused a debate within the PLO. In November 1988 the PLO announced publically (the Algiers Declaration) that they would take the minimal steps needed to fulfill US preconditions for holding meetings with it. Arafat finally recognized the importance of the US as a regional power broker, but he also overestimated the ability of the US to bring Israel to the table to impose a settlement.