What happened at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference?
The Madrid Invitation, inviting Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians to an opening conference jointly sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union on October 30, 1991, represented the result of US Secretary of State James Baker’s shuttle diplomacy in the eight months following the Gulf War. The Madrid peace conference was a watershed event. For the first time, Israel entered into direct, face-to-face negotiations with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians. In order to make this possible, since Israel would not negotiate with the terrorist PLO, the Palestinians were represented by individuals from the West Bank and Gaza who were not associated with the PLO. This was a sham, as everyone knew, and PLO figures were in the hotels guiding the Palestinian delegation throughout the proceedings.
An intricate framework was structured for the three day Madrid Conference, followed by the start of negotiations. Two parallel negotiating tracks were established by Madrid: the bilateral track and the multilateral track. Four separate sets of bilateral negotiations put Israel together with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian delegation, intended to resolve past conflicts and sign peace treaties. The first bilateral meetings took place in Madrid, on November 3 right after the formal conference ended. Over a dozen rounds of bilateral talks were subsequently hosted by the US Department of State in Washington. The multilateral negotiations targeted issues that concern the entire Middle East, such as water, environment, arms control, refugees and economic development. The talks opened in Moscow in January 1992 and working groups met periodically in venues throughout the world, including the Middle East. The talks between Israel and Jordan continued for almost two years following the Madrid conference, culminating in the signing of a peace treaty on October 26, 1994. Madrid was also the catalyst for the 1993 series of non-public talks in Norway between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs that launched what became known as the Oslo peace process. Once the Oslo process began, the Madrid structure of talks faded away.