January 27, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 69

An Account of the Syrian-Israeli Negotiations

January 27, 2000
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 69

According to an Interview with the Syrian Foreign Minister and Syrian Leaks Part II: The American Role in the Negotiations

In his interview with the Lebanese newspaper, Al-Safir, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shara discusses the American role in the negotiations. Parts of the interview criticizing the American administration are attributed to an anonymous source, which, presumably, is also Al-Shara[1]:

"Question: Is it possible to conclude that the American President did not deliver what you expected to hear from him, ensuring that the withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line was determined?

Anonymous Source: ...We did not get a clear and decisive answer regarding the withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line. Our return to the US to resume the negotiations on nothing would be meaningless. We once again showed our good will by sending the experts with the maps, documents, and decisive proofs regarding the location [of our forces] when Israel attacked us and Egypt on June 5, 1967.

The decision is in the hands of the Americans, especially President Clinton, who has more than once - the last time being on October 12, 1999 - affirmed to us Barak's willingness to open negotiations regarding the withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line… This was the basis for Syria's decision to return to the negotiations from the point where they had left off...

Question: What about the American position in the negotiations...

Anonymous Source: President Clinton did whatever he could to affirm the 'ambiguous' commitment he received from Barak regarding the withdrawal. He devoted all his time to removing the obstacles... even if he did not succeed in achieving all that he wished - which would have fulfilled our demand - it does not mean he despaired or gave up. He is very interested in accomplishing what he refers to as 'a historic legacy.' I can testify that we sensed his will. The ability to accomplish it, however, is another thing..."

Al-Shara on the American Team

"Most of the members of the American delegation to the negotiations are, due to their loyalties and ties, closer to... how do you call it? The Likud? Possibly! [The positions] of some of them almost exceed [in their rigidity] those of the Israelis."

"What you do not hear from the 'seniors' you hear from the media people attached to the delegation. You heard an example of that from James Rubin [referring to Rubin's January 12, 2000 comment concerning the lack of democracy in Syria]; even the Israelis avoid saying such things... the positions of Dennis Ross are well known. If we had not been sworn to some caution, we could publicly declare that the entire American delegation consists of Jews. We do not object, of course, to any religion of the American delegation but the State Department executives create an atmosphere of rudeness, not to say hostility, against us. I do not exaggerate when I say that some of them were unofficial members of the Israeli delegation."

"In all sincerity, there is an atmosphere of contempt towards the Arabs. The past experience of negotiations between Arabs and Israelis under American auspices did not help either... Secretary Albright sensed that we focus on 'honor' and inquired about our special attitude towards this moral value while the issues being negotiated are political in nature."

"When I explained to her the importance of honor for the Arab man, throughout history, and how deeply honor is related to our sense of identity, she showed some understanding. Once she asked me to sum up our demands. I told her: 'land, honor, and rights.'"

"Of course, we had to present many historical explanations regarding Palestine and its position in Syria [Bilad Al-Sham is a historic term for a region including Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and Palestine]. More than once we had to refute the false Israeli claims regarding a Jewish state or states in Palestine. It was easy for us to prove, through documentation, that there was never a Jewish state on this land... Not on all of Palestine and especially not in Trans-Jordan. The Golan, also, was never part of these 'states' that were in fact a few city-states that did not last for more than 70 years."

"One day, after a long discussion, Albright told us: 'I started to understand what you mean in the word honor! I recalled, all of a sudden, that you have never asked for economic aid or even hinted to it. Most countries hint more than what is necessary in order to get some of our aid. Several heads of states approached us asking for aid as soon as they arrived in our country and even before the official talks began.'"

When asked, "When are you returning to Shepherdstown?" the anonymous source did not give a specific answer but implied that the talks would, at the latest, resume in the first week of February.

"Question: Then you expect Barak to agree to the principle of withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line?

Anonymous Source: We expect to hear from the Americans something affirming that Clinton received a written commitment that Barak could not renounce in the future.

Question: Assuming that you get what you ask for, how long will the talks continue after that? Will you finish by April?

Anonymous Source: How can one determine the end before we agree on the beginning?"

An Account of the Syrian-Israeli Negotiations Part I: Positions and Manuevers

[1] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 20, 2000.

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