Wars usually end with both sides sitting down at a table and signing a peace agreement. From this, some people seem to think that the way to get peace is to start sitting down at a table and beginning negotiations. In other words, start "the peace process" -- whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. If this were so, then why didn't we just sit down with representatives of Japan and Germany sooner during World War II and avoid all that bloodshed at Iwo Jima and Normandy?
Part of the problem is the confusion between a mechanism and a cause. Why did the Japanese representative finally sit down and sign a peace treaty on the battleship Missouri, ending World War II? It was not because of negotiations but because of what had already happened at Iwo Jima, at Normandy and -- above all -- at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
When people talk about a "peace process," they are usually talking about something that matches their preconception that negotiations end wars. But, if we are really interested in peace, then we have to look at the hard evidence of what has in fact led to peace. What ended the Cold War with the Soviet Union? Was it all the "summit meetings" that took place for decades on end, while the Soviets sponsored wars of aggression around the world? Or was it Ronald Reagan's much-lamented "arms race" of the 1980s that put the Soviet economy under more strain than it could handle?
Yes, Reagan ended up signing an agreement with Gorbachev, but was that the reason the Cold War ended? People who have been cured of some disease for which they have been hospitalized end up signing out of the hospital -- but signing out of the hospital is not what cured them.
If Middle East negotiations -- endlessly described as "the peace process" -- actually promoted peace, then the Middle East would be one of the most peaceful places on earth. Nowhere have there been more negotiations, more countries involved, more agreements made (and broken) or more photo ops.
When will peace come to the Middle East? When neither side has anything more to gain by war. That is when peace comes everywhere.
The Israelis have already reached that point, judging by their willingness to make large concessions to Yasser Arafat two years ago. But Arafat obviously has not, given his rejection of those concessions, which most observers considered extraordinary.