The latest session of Arab-Israeli bilateral peace negotiations took place in Washington between April 27 and May 13, 1993.

Separate talks were held between Israeli delegations and delegations from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians. The negotiations with the three Arab states focused on efforts to achieve peace agreements while talks with the Palestinians are aimed at achieving an agreement on a five year period of interim self-government arrangements. Negotiations on the permanent status to follow are to commence during the third year of self-government.

Overall, Israel finishes this session of talks with mixed feelings. Alongside frustration for not being able to show significant results, such as a joint document with the Palestinians, there is some satisfaction for the modest progress which was nevertheless achieved. The following is a brief summary of the session for each track of negotiations.

Jordan: Talks this session focused on the establishment of negotiating groups to deal with the various issues on the common working agenda, representing components of the future peace agreement. Three official working groups were established to deal with baskets of related issues one for economic issues, one for natural resources (water, energy and environment), and one for security and border issues. Israel, however, is still waiting for final approval of the agenda.

Palestinians: Prior to and during this session, Israel took a number of confidence building steps in order to facilitate the negotiations. These included approving the return of 30 Palestinians expelled in the past, and showing flexibility regarding the participation of Faisal Husseini and Palestinian experts from outside the territories in the negotiations. The talks, however, produced mixed results. More could have been achieved, and Israel’s hope of arriving at a joint declaration of principles or a joint statement was not realized. Such a document could have communicated a clear message of progress, especially to the Palestinian population which has been exposed mostly to gloomy assessments of the talks. Nevertheless, some progress was made three formal working groups were established and substantive negotiations were held. Unfortunately, before full engagement was achieved, the Palestinians chose to suspend the work in committees and reduce their delegation, for reasons which were unrelated to the negotiations themselves.

Syria: Here too, the results are mixed. On the positive side, three encouraging developments took place in this session. First, negotiations with the Syrians resumed much from the same point at which they were interrupted five months ago, despite the long lack of contact between the sides. Second, in this session Israel and Syria agreed on the identification of peace, security and withdrawal as the core issues which must be addressed. Third, significant statements by both sides lent support to the peace-making in the important realm of public diplomacy. In an unprecedented interview released during the last week of talks, Syrian President Assad commented positively and in detail on the peace process. Israel’s Prime Minister Rabin also made public statements on the talks with Syria, which were carefully worded in a way unoffensive to Syrian sensitivities.

Unfortunately, however, the gap between the sides on the core issues still exists. Syria remains adamant that Israel commit itself to full withdrawal before it gives details on the nature of peace it is willing to offer in return. It has simplified this policy with the catch-phrase: ‘Full peace for full withdrawal’. Israel, on her part, has accepted withdrawal as an element in the peace-making, yet has stated that the extent of the withdrawal cannot be addressed until Syria elaborates upon what is meant by the term ‘full peace’. Israel feels that the peace should include genuine normalization and reconciliation, while Syria fails to indicate whether it is willing to go beyond simple non-belligerancy.

Lebanon: In order to advance the peace negotiations with Lebanon, at the start of this session Israel presented the Lebanese with an innovative proposal to establish a joint military working group within a balanced political framework. Such a group would address the acute security problems on the their mutual border, as part of the negotiations. The Lebanese response, however, was less than encouraging. They presented a declarative document, which offers no solution for Israeli concerns and makes progress difficult. These difficulties notwithstanding, Israel is determined to make every effort to achieve a breakthrough, and has undertaken a study of the document in the hope of finding a way to enable some progress.

Israel hopes to renew negotiations as soon as possible, and has suggested that talks reconvene in early June. We do not view the present break as the end of a ’round’, but rather as a short recess in a continuous negotiating process. We hope that our Arab counterparts will return to the talks as a matter of course, thus avoiding the need to fruitlessly ‘negotiate the negotiations’ as has been done in the past. These peace negotations are the only logical option available to resolve the conflict between the Arabs and Israel, and they carry with them the promise of creating a new reality for this ancient region.