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The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace

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For nearly twenty years, Aaron David Miller has played a central role in U.S. efforts to broker Arab-Israeli peace. His position as an advisor to presidents, secretaries of state, and national security advisors has given him a unique perspective on a problem that American leaders have wrestled with for more than half a century. Why has the world’s greatest superpower failed to broker, or impose, a solution in the Middle East? If a solution is possible, what would it take? And why after so many years of struggle and failure, with the entire region even more unsettled than ever, should Americans even care? Is Israel/Palestine really the “much too promised land”?

As a historian, analyst, and negotiator, perhaps no one is more qualified to answer these questions than Aaron David Miller. Without partisanship or finger-pointing, Miller lucidly and honestly records what went right, what went wrong, and how we got where we are today. Here is an insider’s view of the peace process from a place at the negotiating table, filled with unforgettable stories and colorful behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Here, too, are new interviews with all the key players, including Presidents Carter, Ford, Bush forty-one, all nine U.S. secretaries of state, as well Arab and Israeli leaders, who disclose the inner thoughts and strategies that motivated them. The result is a book that shatters all preconceived notions to tackle the complicated issues of culture, religion, domestic politics, and national security that have defined—and often derailed—a half century of diplomacy.

Honest, critical, and certain to be controversial, this insightful first-person account offers a brilliant new analysis of the problem of Arab-Israeli peace and how, against all odds, it still might be solved.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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Aaron David Miller

37 books6 followers

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Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews
Profile Image for Alan.
90 reviews9 followers
July 16, 2008
Part memoir, part history, part journalism, this book by a veteran Arab-Israeli peace negotiator should appeal to Mideast junkies who still believe in the "peace process."
A disclaimer: I covered many of these same events as State Dept. correspondent for Reuters from 1989-94. I was present at some of the events Miller describes; I traveled with Secretaries Baker and Christopher. I even interviewed Miller himself on background a number of times. (He seemed to like chatting to reporters on background but he rarely revealed anything new or interesting). For more on me, go to www.alanelsner.com.
As stated, this book is an uncertain mix of different genres. The personal memoirs I found the most interesting. I wish there were more of these. I'm interested in the various characters Miller dealt with -- Rabin, Peres, Arafat, King Hussein, Presidents Mubarak and Assad. I'm interested in what went on behind the closed doors because I already know what emerged on the public record (I covered a lot of it). Unfortunately, Miller remains coy and discreet. He was never one to give much away and he apparently hasn't changed.
The history in which Miller analyzes the successful Middle East negotiations conducted by Kissinger and President Carter one can basically read elsewhere.
The journalism -- he interviewed many of the key players, is somewhat interesting. But all these actors have a deep interest in presenting events to their best advantage and Miller doesn't really challenge them.
His chapter of the power of the American-Jewish lobby and the fundamentalist Christian-Zionist lobby contained little new.
I picked up a couple of points I disagreed with: Miller claims the Madrid Peace Conference came as a big shock to the press. Not so. The only surprise was the venue. We'd all assumed the conference would be in Lausanne and had already booked hotel rooms.
Miller's account of Baker's trip to see the Kurdish refugees created after the first Gulf War conveniently leaves out the fact that these million plus refugees had fled their homes after the United States allowed Saddam Hussein to crush their revolt -- which they launched at the urging of President Bush.
The true hero of this book for Miller is Jim Baker who I agree was a successful Secretary of State who used the favorable circumstances he was presented with to achieve some modest progress on the Middle East. (Baker and Bush did less well on anticipating Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait or the war in former Yugoslavia).
Miller gives relatively low marks to Clinton who got too bogged down in the details of the negotiations, leaned too far toward Israel and committed to an ill-prepared summit at Camp David that was always destined to fail. Miller loved Rabin, had little time for Netanyahu and is scathing about Barak. He is harsh, but not sufficiently so, about Arafat.
After all the failures and frustrations, Miller is still a true believer. He still believes in the possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and lays out some conditions for that to happen. There may have been some hope in the 1990s (although I personally doubt that Arafat was ever ready to make peace with Israel) but it seems quixotic to hope for much today with Hamas ruling Gaza, the Iranian-backed Hizbollah controlling Lebanon and U.S. prestige so far eroded after eight years of Bush.
This book is recommended for those who already know a lot about the Middle East but would like to know a little about what it was like to be in the middle of those negotiations.
But it falls a little short in my view of what it could have been.
Profile Image for lp.
358 reviews66 followers
February 23, 2009
A wowably infomative and comprehensive look at the efforts to make peace between Israel and Palestine with a very personal flavor.But damn! Miller was dropping names like a shetetl pissing in high cotton (he also dropped COMPLICATED, NON-SENSICAL metaphors like a bullfrog scraping its balls on the ground) so sometimes I felt out of the loop, or that I should have read "The Dummies Guide to the Middle East" first. In fact, I went out right away and BOUGHT "The Dummies Guide to the Middle East." So I will be reading that soon, and hopefully lots of the people, places and dates will make more sense to me. Also, the Dummies guide has maps.

My favorite parts of this book were probably in comparing American leader's successes and failures in facilitating peace -- from Kissinger and Carter to Clinton and Bush. Most of this stuff I did not know, and understanding America's exact role in everything kind of makes the whole-world make more sense to me.

I do not understand, however, why every political book I read is jammed with metaphorical Dr. Phil-isms, most of them so far removed from the context or what I think they are actually trying to say, that I would sometimes become more confused. I'm sure they make sense to politicians or people invoved, but to me, "dead cat diplomacy" means nothing. Below I have listed some more funny metaphors, that I found in literally 5 minutes scanning through the pages when I was done. (You may think that these would make sense to you if you were reading them in context, but trust me, you'd probably be wrong.):

-"If a bullfrog had wings, it wouldn't scrap its balls on the ground"
-The odds in America's Arab-Isreali diplomacy were not much better than batting a .400 in major-league season.
-The Saudis "could fuck up a two-car funeral"
-"Kissinger wandering around here like a rug merchant in order to bargain over a hundred or two hundred meters."
-"In the end we're really just a shetetl with nukes."
-"Using incentives or disincentives was like punching a bowl of Jell-O." (Punching Jell-O? Or the bowl?)
-"Shoot the dead dog and leave him on the front lawn and these guys are going to be saying 'that's going to happen to me too.' "
-"Pissing in high cotton"

?? Worrrrrrrd.
Profile Image for Jon.
75 reviews3 followers
August 3, 2008
Despite being excessively anecdotal and meandering at times, Miller's book is useful and interesting on several accounts. First, he provides one of the best available outlines of the history of America's role in Arab-Israeli peace processes, especially the Carter-Sadat-Begin Camp David negotiations, as well as the Baker-Arafat-Rabin Madrid and Oslo processes. Second, he details his personal role in the recent and ongoing roles in the frustrated Wye River and Camp David negotiations between Clinton, Assad, Arafat, and Barak in the late 1990s (as well as his role in the Bush administration's half-hearted peace process/road map efforts in 2002). Additionally, Miller gives a brief prescriptive outline for future US efforts at Arab-Israeli peace which provides surprisingly little insight given Miller's background. On a side note, Miller has been accused of being one of "Israel's lawyers", but if he is, this book certainly doesn't reflect any bias. In fact, The Much Too Promised Land is probably one of the most even-handed books on such a touchy and polarizing subject.
82 reviews
October 17, 2020
Aaron David Miller’s perspective in the trenches of Arab-Israeli negotiations on behalf of the US over the past several decades is illuminating of what it takes to achieve progress toward peace and the factors that stymie our efforts. Above all, it will take the sustained political will of the US, but principally of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, to move the ball forward. The split Palestinian authority between the West Bank and Gaza, continued Israeli settlements, and the US’ on-again, off-again focus on the issue complicate an already-difficult conflict. Miller’s advice ends with a measured optimism, a realistic appraisal of the significant challenges ahead but nonetheless, an acceptance of the importance of taking it on.
Profile Image for Brendan Keene .
27 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2019
Overall I think Miller provided a great non-biased outline of one of the most complicated and important issues the United States faces and has faced.

I initially was excited because having worked in multiple presidential administrations I thought Miller’s antidotes would be informative and interesting. They turn out to be few and far between and largely irrelevant.

Overall, this book is someone entertaining with low points, but if the reader is willing to stick it out they’ll learn a great deal about a great quagmire the United States has been attempting to juggle for decades...

Profile Image for Cheryl.
997 reviews97 followers
August 22, 2009
I have read a lot of books about this conflict as it has always fascinated me. I have an American friend who emigrated to Israel for personal reasons rather than political, but I think it might be impossible to do that without making the political statement also. My eyes were opened a long time ago to the reality of the Palestinian oppression and the apartheid situation being created there. President Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was another eye opener, although he is criticized for using that term.

This book was the memoir of a man who spent 20 years in the State Department focused on Arab-Israeli negotiations through all the presidencies. He relates personal anecdotes, like his eternal strategy to prevent being kissed by Arafat or the little sayings the people involved might quip like, if you are trying to out swim a shark, you really only have to out swim your friend. The author seems to be honest about the failures and successes over time, and I read one review that said that since he is not a politician, nor seems to be planning to become one, he could be trusted more than say the Secretaries of State he advised who want to preserve their legacy. I guess.

I found it very hard to get into the book, and I know my stumbling block was his characterization of his final enlightenment regarding the Palestinian position as something he should be congratulated for. He thought they were “terrorists” and where was a great leader “who could champion their cause in a manner that would favorably dispose Americans towards them?” Arafat was a clown in his opinion, he couldn’t describe what he looked like any more times in the book than he did, it would have been too long. “Opinion was even less charitable among the Israelis who saw Palestinians both as a threat and as a painful reminder that their nation was founded, in part, on the displacement of another people.” IN PART? SO what should they do, kill them all so there is no reminder of this “in part” displacement? Palestinian losses are always, always disproportionately larger than Israeli.

The author writes this about Arafat: “above all, with every successive encounter, what struck me was his smallness and ordinariness against the backdrop of the very weighty cause he embodied. But whether he was ladling soup into my bowl in Tunis like some solicitous Jewish grandmother, or calling me in Cleveland to extend his condolences after my mother’s death, Arafat became all too human to me. In the end, a small man leading a big cause, he failed the expectations of Americans, Israelis, and his own people.” I think you could call Dubya a very small man leading our nation into the big Iraq war, but what does that prove? Guess what, politicians are human, and being too human is not an insult in my book. It would be great to have superheroes in positions of power, but I think that year Arafat was in power were preferable to say having Osama Bin Laden in power, but that’s just me. He also wrote that Arafat “reveled in his role as victim and struggler” and I believe this was because he rejected the hugely unrealistic 2000 Camp David accords that Clinton bitterly blamed him for; history has shown they would have just strengthened the apartheid situation. The author finally came around to believing in the Palestinian right to have a state of their own, but as the sentence above illustrates, the ordering of importance is always American, Israeli and Palestinian. Which offended me also: if the US is to be a broker, I do understand that our national security and interests are important, but the most important? How selfish and arrogant is that?

I think this sentence killed the book for me:
“To me they were cardboard characters more than anything else.” The Palestinians that is. I shouldn’t be, but I was shocked that our leaders could enter into negotiations and peace talks without even thinking of each side as a full representation of humanity and be treated with some dignity or respect. I like that I can still be shocked by incredibly nonsensical and ridiculous people.

However, I did read more and the author redeemed himself a tiny bit. After someone decided the Americans should get to know some Palestinians and hear their side (isn’t that common sense in any dispute ever?) he wrote: “… The great narrators of the Palestinian story… characterized it by exile, trauma, statelessness, military occupation, cruelty, and especially loss of identity. The nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, resulted in the permanent exile of almost 800,000 Palestinians. The nakba was not just a political and humanitarian disaster…it destroyed an identity that had been rooted for centuries in the history and memory of land, village, and city, without the creation of another.” The author also participated in Seeds of Peace, a non profit conflict resolution group that has young Arabs, Israelis, Indians, and Pakistanis join together to talk and brainstorm and live together for a while, which is fantastic group.

So the book has a lot of the behind the scenes anecdotes behind this conflict, and does show his evolution into a fairer, just diplomat; he writes a lot about politics and the character of each Administration. It is a good summary of the years if you don’t get stuck on the above like I did…

Profile Image for Andrew Fish.
Author 8 books10 followers
June 15, 2016
Having covered the history of the Middle East from Sykes-Picot until the formation of Israel in A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East, I was looking for a book to bring the story up to date. This book seemed to be the thing, but wasn't exactly what I had in mind. Sidestepping the history that would set it in context, Miller's book instead focuses purely on the decades of American involvement in the peace process. From Nixon to George W Bush, nearly every US president has had a hand in attempting to solve the world's trickiest political problem and Miller has been at the table with a number of them, making his account both informed and personal. It is also refreshingly honest, admitting that lobby groups and political biases in America have prevented administrations being as even-handed as they should. That said, Miller isn't totally self-aware and here and there his report shows inconsistencies or reflexive biases in its language, which may go some way to explaining why America's efforts haven't been entirely successful.

For such a weighty subject, Miller's tone is light, more anecdotal than historical and this makes the book an easy, if somewhat insubstantial read. We get a hint of the discussions, but for the most part Miller is standing outside of the debate and looking at the politics of what it all meant, rather than a blow-by-blow account of what actually happened. It struck me that the two presidents who tried hardest to solve the problem, Carter and George Bush Sr, both ended up serving only a single term, and it would have been interesting to know more about whether this was cause and effect or coincidence. Miller talks about the political pressures administrations have to overcome to deal with the Middle East, but he never explicitly talks about the consequences for those who have nonetheless striven to tackle the issue head-on.

Miller's conclusions are also frank and honest, even if - written as they were in the pre-ISIS, pre-Arab Spring days of 2008 - they are now completely out of date. It's hard to believe that the current ferment in Syria and the eight years of more-or-less disengagement under President Obama won't have had an impact on the potential for peace, and an updated analysis is clearly needed. But we can't expect diplomats or historians to be prescient and there are analyses aplenty of the Arab Spring and its fallout to be explored. Ultimately, for anyone looking for a modern history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, this isn't it, but it does give an interesting insight into the diplomatic mind and a suprisingly positive reappraisal of at least one element of George W Bush's tenure in the White House.
Profile Image for Clif.
450 reviews123 followers
July 23, 2009
I've read many books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This one offers a more personal account than any other I've come across.

Miller was directly involved for twenty years on behalf of the United States in Middle Eastern affairs. His account of what has happened since the 1973 war is quite readable and much easier to follow than the more detailed accounts of specific negotiations available elsewhere.

I believe most readers will finish the book with a good outline of what happened and why from the U.S. point of view.

Miller doesn't hesitate to take on the influence of the American Jewish lobby on United States policy toward Israel. His very extensive interviewing in preparation for the book combines with his personal experience to offer the reader valuable insight on the strengths and failings of the leaders representing all sides from the intensity of Carter, Sadat and Begin at Camp David to the hands off policy of George W. Bush.

Miller is at his best discussing the intricacy of the relationship between the United States and Israel and the difficulties the U.S. faces in attempting to bridge the Arab and the Jewish positions when there is virtually no Arab voice in the State Department or the White House.

We follow his own change in outlook from idealism to pragmatism under a succession of Presidents who try their hand (or not) at an area that has stubbornly resisted solution for over 60 years.

Read this book to discover why it seems that nothing works. Miller's conclusion is that only "tough love" will move things in a positive direction under a President that is willing to take risks to see meaningful progress. Ignoring the situation and hoping the two antagonists will solve their problems alone has proven of no value.

President Obama has taken a definite stand on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. There have been efforts at this before without success. Having read Miller's book, I will be watching closely to see if Obama backs down, as have all Presidents before, from insistence on putting a stop to a practice the whole world except Israel agrees is wrong.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
202 reviews6 followers
November 15, 2012
This is a fabulous book by one of the great insiders in US middle eastern diplomacy. Worthwhile for the anecdotes alone. What is Arafat really like? This book does better than some biographies I've read about the man. And that's only one of the thumbnail sketches of the great and influential.
The larger picture is also worth evaluating. This is a stunning portrait of 25 years of US diplomacy trying to bring about Israel-Palestine peace. Why did so much fail? Why wasn't the US more influential? At some points, partisans of all views will be cheered or disheartened by the tough truths that Miller dishes out. Could the US have delivered Israel by simply cutting off all aid? Not likely. Did the US, though, do best under James Baker's leadership, when it did talk tough to Israel? Arguably yes. But on the other hand, the portrait of Palestinian diplomacy is predictably negative. And the Baker approach didn't work in the end, if by work we mean bring a stable peace. What is worth taking stock of are Miller's broader explanations for America's failure. First, he wants his readers to remember that America isn't all powerful, particularly when dealing with small nations with existence on their minds. Yet he also reminds us that without constant attention from the US, peace is almost impossible to imagine. Finally, he wants us to understand why in so many moments, we have wanted peace more than the leaders of either warring group. The mindsets of Israelis and Arabs are radically different from that of US diplomats and leaders. And perhaps always will be. What makes this book worth reading is the kind of wisdom that comes from tiny successes and massive failures, of managing chaos...and the great stories.
87 reviews
October 25, 2010
This is probably closer to a 3.5.

Hmm...what do I say about this book? Dr. Miller spent a long time from (as I recall) some of the 70s through the early years of G.W. Bush as part of the U.S. diplomatic team dealing with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In this book, he shares some of his experiences and perspective on the Arab/Israeli peace process, though, strangely, he doesn't seem to go much into recounting his own tales from the front.

My main impression, after reading this, was ambivalence regarding his take on things. I learned a lot, but I'm not sure I entirely trust or buy into his theories as to what he considers successful, or how success is or has been achieved, or what it will take to secure Arab/Israeli peace. He sets forth some of the obvious answers, but I got the impressions (maybe correctly, maybe not) that he really didn't "get" the difficulty or even insanity of expecting Israel to make concrete, tangible concessions in terms of land and such on the basis of only ephemeral and arguably unenforceable guarantees of peace and security from the other side. He's an academic working in a very specialized context whose experiences are not of the realities on the ground, but dealing with negotiators on both sides with a vested interested in putting on a good front.

I did learn a lot I didn't know before about the history of the conflict and some of the factors at play in it, and for that I was glad to have listened to this book.
67 reviews
July 28, 2011
A very good book on American diplomacy around the Israeli-Palestanian issue. Miller not only worked with American Presidents from Reagan to Bush 2 but he also arranged for a series of interviews with the most important Americans involved before he wrote this book. He feels only three Americans: James Baker; Henry Kissinger; and Jimmy Carter succeeded in their objectives, Kissinger set up the international situation to make the Israeli-Egyptian Treaty possible; Carter got the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty; and Baker got Israeli-Jordan treaty and the creation of a Palestinian state.He compares why these three succeeded and others before and after did not. You may not agree but his ideas and model is thoughtprovoking and interesting. The book is also full of interesting anecdotes from his own experiences as well as from the leaders he interviewed.
Profile Image for Ray.
1,053 reviews48 followers
November 10, 2008
The Author, Aaron David Miller, has extensive experience with Mid-East peace negotiations over the years with various U.S. administrations. He describes the atitudes and approaches of past Presidents and Secretaries of State, Arafat, and various Israeli leaders in peace negotiations over the years. He also discusses some of the more subtle influences on U.S. policy, including the effectiveness and significant impact of the Israel Lobby influencing congressional lawmakers, and the lack of an effective spokesgroup represting a Palestinian perspective, and offers thoughts on what might be necessary if the U.S. is to successfully broker a peace arrangement in the region.
1,417 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2011
Written at the end of 2008, this is an excellent history of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by a high level US government insider during the 1980s and 1990s. The perspective is "how can America help the parties resolve their main issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees, Palestinian statehood)" and "why should it matter to America" - both very well addressed. Recommended reading for those interested in the history of current events. He quotes Faulkner, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
37 reviews
January 1, 2008
This is what I am currently reading. I could never make it in the diplomatic corps of ANY country. Personally, I have a great difficulty in rewarding peoples peace and appeasement for bad behavior. That pretty much was the message coming from Aaron David Miller. Stay tuned, I will have a full book review in the near future.
181 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2012
Couldn't quite make it through. In theory it's easy to read: conversational and casual, but it's not organized into a story, which makes it hard to follow and care about the players in the book -- even though this is a book you read because you care or are interested in the issue. Kind of disappointing.
Profile Image for Esther.
33 reviews4 followers
August 26, 2008
Very good history of American's involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Includes interviews with Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, James Baker, Bill Clinton. Miller also offers prescriptions for what a new President and administration should be focused on.
Profile Image for John.
50 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2010
Probably tied with Thomas Friedman's book as my favorite book on the Middle East. Great overview of the last 20 years of American diplomatic involvement by one of the actors. Balanced and self-critical. Made me want to read more about it - what more can you ask for?
Profile Image for Raphael Cohen-Almagor.
Author 23 books5 followers
September 12, 2015
Thoughtful, honest, critical, and well argued, this insightful first-person account offers a brilliant new analysis of the problem of Arab-Israeli peace and how, against all odds, it still might be solved.
Profile Image for Al.
160 reviews6 followers
January 26, 2009
If I had to pick one guy to explain the historical American point of view regarding this topic, this would be the guy.
Profile Image for Andrew Griffith.
Author 6 books9 followers
October 9, 2012
For those interested in the Mid-East, one of the better books of various US peace and diplomatic initiatives from an insider.
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