The Madrid Peace Conference convened two decades ago in a spirit of great optimism. However it was Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, dragged to the meeting by President George H.W. Bush, who offered the most prescient commentary on Madrid’s troubled legacy. “I would have carried out autonomy talks for ten years,” he remarked in June 1992, “and meanwhile we would have reached one half a million people in Judea and Samaria.”
After twenty years of negotiations the occupation is as firmly entrenched as ever. Settlements have always been a key barometer of Israel’s intentions. According to this standard, Israel’s commanding presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has only gone from strength to strength as the settler population exploded from 231,000 when Madrid convened to more than half a million today. Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only highlighted the critical role of complete settlement evacuation as a key element signaling a change in Israeli policy.