The Brink of Peace
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A major casualty of the assassin's bullet that struck down Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a prospective peace accord between Syria and Israel. For the first time, a negotiator who had unique access to Rabin, as well as detailed knowledge of Syrian history and politics, tells the inside story of the failed negotiations. His account provides a key to understanding not only U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East but also the larger Arab-Israeli peace process.
During the period from 1992 to 1996, Itamar Rabinovich was Israel's ambassador to Washington, and the chief negotiator with Syria. In this book, he looks back at the course of negotiations, terms of which were known to a surprisingly small group of American, Israeli, and Syrian officials. After Benjamin Netanyahu's election as Israel's prime minister in May 1996, a controversy developed. Even with Netanyahu's change of policy and harder line toward Damascus, Syria began claiming that both Rabin and his successor Peres had pledged full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Rabinovich takes the reader through the maze of diplomatic subtleties to explain the differences between hypothetical discussion and actual commitment.
"To the students of past history and contemporary politics," he writes, "nothing is more beguiling than the myriad threads that run across the invisible line which separates the two." The threads of this story include details of Rabin's negotiations and their impact through two subsequent Israeli administrations in less than a year, the American and Egyptian roles, and the ongoing debate between Syria and Israel on the factual and legal bases for resuming talks.
The author portrays all sides and participants with remarkable flair and empathy, as only a privileged player in the events could do. In any assessment of future negotiations in the Middle East, Itamar Rabinovich's book will prove indispensable.
media in their evening news to announce that, indeed, a crisis had broken out. The stakeouts reinforced the feeling (on the Israeli side) that the format of the Washington talks was ill suited for effecting a breakthrough with Syria. We were scrutinized on an almost daily basis, and were under pressure to offer either a progress report or a satisfactory explanation for lack of progress. If a “walk in the woods” was a technique for helping the parties to overcome the difﬁculties inherent in a
on September 8 the Japanese foreign minister, Yukihiko To Recapture Yesterday’s Shadow 9 Ikada, visited Damascus and was told by his Syrian hosts that they had an agreement with the previous Israeli government about withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines.10 What the Syrians were doing was a clear symptom of their predicament in the aftermath of the Israeli elections. During the previous three and a half years, Asad had conducted himself as if time were no constraint. Many foreign visitors
segment relating to the peace process, and was devoted to a criticism of Israel’s refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to put her nuclear installations under the inspection of the Atomic Energy Agency. The issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities and policies was raised in the context of the debate on the indeﬁnite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that was to become a major bone of contention in Washington’s relations with Cairo during the next few months.7 Syria allied herself
achievement of the ﬁrst term’s Middle Eastern policy. Given the American and Israeli elections in the fall of 1996, the White House and the State Department regarded late 1995 or early 1996 as the latest point for achieving the breakthrough. Without advertising the fact, they prepared time on President Clinton’s schedule in November 1995 for a possible meeting with Rabin and Asad, but their efforts to build the critical mass that would warrant such a meeting were to no avail. And although all the
eliminate the motivation to wage wars, and Syria’s record of keeping its commitments was excellent, as evidenced in the Golan since 1974. A second Syrian tactic was to lay out a series of “general principles” from which the speciﬁc security arrangements should emanate, or on the basis of which they should be precluded— equality and equal footing, mutuality, reciprocity, protection of sovereignty, symmetry, and “on both sides.” When it came to a more concrete discussion, once the initial