The multilateral peace process was born at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, as a parallel track to the bilateral negotiations. While the bilateral track is meant to solve the conflicts of the past, the multilateral track focuses on the future shape of the Middle East, addressing problems on a regional level in a variety of areas which transcend boundaries, so as to promote long-term regional development and security.
The goal of the multilateral framework is twofold -- to find solutions for key regional problems, while serving as a confidence building measure (CBM) to promote the development of normalized relations among the nations of the Middle East. Issues of regional concern are discussed in a forum which can foster cooperation and build confidence between the parties. Shared infrastructure such as highways and water pipelines, shared development bringing about growth in tourism and trade, and cooperation in preserving the quality of natural resources and environment are among the realities envisioned for the region. Open borders and economic partnership will bring about prosperity, which will, in turn, produce a peace that constitutes more than merely an end to war.
The multilateral negotiations commenced on January 28-29, 1992 at the Moscow Multilateral Middle-East Conference. Opening presentations were made by the co-sponsors and the participants -- thirty-six parties in all -- with former Foreign Minister David Levy representing Israel.
The Steering Committee, comprised of representatives of the key delegations, coordinates the multilateral talks and sets dates and venues for the various working groups. The committee hears reports of the working groups, confirms their decisions and sets priorities for the allocation of resources. The Steering Committee also discusses such broader issues as the overall vision of the future of the Middle East, integrating the work of the individual working groups.
The five working groups deal with different areas of common regional concern:
Except for a round of talks in early 2000, formal talks in the multilateral track have not been held in recent years. Regional projects continue to develop, particularly in the areas of water and environmental protection.