Jerusalem, 18 October 1992

Press Briefing with Professor Itamar Rabinovich, 15.10.92

(Communicated by the Government Press Office)

Rabinovich: The sixth round of the negotiations I think was the most fruitful and the most successful round of negotiations on all negotiating tracks – with particular regard to the Syrian track. I think we can regard the previous five rounds as "pre-negotiations" as preparation for the negotiations, in which some important accomplishments had been achieved.

Much of the attrition that needs to take place in such negotiations did take place in the first five rounds, much of what had to be said in terms of legal interpretations of Security Council resolution 242 and the diverging versions of the two countries with regard to the past record of the conflict between them. All this is a necessary process that the negotiations had to go through which had already been accomplished at the earlier rounds.

An agreement on one major point and a few secondary points had also been agreed during these rounds, but real negotiations, I think, began during the sixth round. In the sixth round the two countries engaged in negotiations, addressed the main issues of conflict between Syria and Israel, identified each others’ point of view and points of departure, came to some agreements, and came to some significant disagreements which I would not attempt to belittle in any way. We also dealt with more marginal issues – both core and more peripheral issues. Naturally, it was easier to come to an agreement on peripheral issues rather than the core issues.

The initial understanding that we reached at the outset of the round prompted the Syrian delegation to table a paper which it must have had for some time but which it was encouraged to submit at the end of the first week of negotiations. We then began working on that paper with a view to emerge at some point with a joint statement. Some progress was made in that respect, but we then hit a hard rock over the differences regarding the three pillars of negotiation – security, peace and territory – and progress was arrested.

In addition to these accomplishments, there was quite a change – even a transformation – in the tone of the negotiations and the atmosphere surrounding the negotiations, and likewise the scope of the negotiations was expanded during this round. The two delegations have begun to address several other issues in addition to the core issues and to the principles at stake. So, for one round of negotiation which had been bogged down in the pre-negotiating stage, it was not bad. But, clearly in order to reach a settlement it was not sufficient and it is this area that we would like to move forward during this round and the rounds that follow.

Naturally, we do not expect to conclude during the next round. What we will be doing is to take some of the papers that had been tabled by the Syrians and ourselves during the previous round, reformulate some of the papers hoping that new formulations will enable the Syrians to engage again in an effort to come to an agreement on a statement of principles. I regard the outlook with which we depart as "prudent expectations". We do hope to make progress but hope and expectation are tempered by experience and by the realization that there still are important differences separating our respective positions.

I think that Israeli government policy and, for what I know, Syrian government policy and the policies of the co-sponsors, is that the chief channel and avenue of negotiations are the deliberations of the two delegations. I would be the first to say that this needs, in the right way to be augmented by other contacts between the two countries, it would then help us make qualitative leaps that the delegations may not be able to reach and then feed it back into the work of the delegations. So, to sum up the negotiation between the two delegations remain the principle channel and so far the exclusive channel. It is our view that it would be reinforced at the right time and by the right channels or negotiating persons, but the time for this apparently has not arrived yet.

The Israeli delegation will be bringing "new paperwork", rather than "new ideas" to the next round.

Q: Are there things that you found in the Syrian papers that will lead to new ideas.?

A: Of course if we adopt new Syrian ideas they become new Israeli ideas and vise versa, but I don’t think that was what you had in mind. If we are aiming at a joint statement of principle which I think is a helpful – though not indispensable – step in moving towards an agreement, there are various ways of doing that when two parties that have been negotiating technically for a year, genuinely for a few weeks now, after forty some years of conflict. This would lay the first step for progress, both as a real mechanism for progress and a symbolic manifestation that both sides would like to indicate that the two countries realize and would like to indicate that they had made progress and would like the world and their respective populations to realize that.

Clearly it is best to reach a full agreement but realistically, it is not always that easy. You can juxtapose differences in some points and also present joint formulations where this would be feasible. The Syrians are not amenable to doing this. The way we had proceeded in previous rounds has been that the Syrians presented a paper, we presented criticism of the paper and so forth, but at some point the Syrians were not responding effectively to our suggestions, reservations and the like. What we may want to do is take the onus on ourselves and reformulate a paper and say: here is a draft, why don’t you criticize what we have presented, which might prove technically easier for the Syrians to do. Which is a way of reengaging without budging necessarily from one’s position.

Q: Has Syria’s fundamental attitude to Israel changed?

A: Syria’s position has undergone an important transformation when Syria decided to come to Madrid. This reflected a decision to give preference to a political approach – the peace process – over what used to be known in Syrian parlance as a quest for strategic parity. Secondly, when Syria came to Madrid it came to Madrid on Madrid terms, the Madrid conference and the Madrid process are based on terms drafted by the co-sponsors and very well known to the other parties. So that when Syria came to Madrid it had engaged seriously in a peace process that should lead to a full peace between the two parties which in itself is a very significant change. What we have yet to see, to become persuaded of is that Syria is willing to make that peace on the basis of a compromise, realizing that one makes peace on the basis of a certain compromise over the initial position. One does not conclude the negotiations with precisely the same position that one began with. We have seen very little evidence of this during the negotiations and this is what we would very much like to see during the forthcoming rounds.

Q: Interim solution?

A: We have not been averse to an interim solution from the very outset. We have the very beneficial experience of peace making with Egypt that developed gradually, culminating over a few years in a peace process. The first interim agreement was signed in February 1974 and the peace treaty was signed in March 1979. We are very much in favor of trying to replicate the same approach with Syria. The Syrians however are totally averse to that and have made it very clear that they have not come to Washington to negotiate any interim arrangement. We do not wish to impose anything that is unacceptable to our negotiating partners. We would be willing to explore the possibility of an interim agreement as part of an overall settlement if the opportunity arises.

Farouk A-Shara actually said "total peace" for "total withdrawal" from all Arab lands, he did not speak only about the Golan Heights, thereby tying the peace negotiations with Syria to other tracks. The Madrid terms specify an interim arrangement for the Palestinians and by tying full peace with Israel on the Syrian track to the Palestinian arrangement one is jeopardizing the Madrid terms. I would just like to add that the A-Shara statement is ambiguous in that it can be read as an indication of policy and conditions or, another major pronouncement on peace. Furthermore, I must add that there is a discrepancy between the Arabic and English meaning of "full" and "total" peace.

Two areas where we have made headway are: We have agreed with the Syrians that the issue of security is mutual – as part and parcel of the peacemaking there will have to be a security regime governing the security dimension of the relationship between Syria and Israel and that that regime will have to rest on mutuality.

The second area of agreement is that we are seeking a comprehensive peace in the region. Israel is not seeking a separate peace with Syria, but it respects Syria’s desire that it be part of a state of comprehensive peace. The notion as such is acceptable to both of us.

We have discovered that it is more convenient for us to engage in negotiations for a period of nine or ten days, returning to Israel for a period of consultation and paperwork. We reconvene on the 9th of November until the 19th of the month. We are conducting these negotiations without any reference to the U.S. presidential elections.

The U.S. has played a key role in the negotiations and I think is destined to continue to play a serious role in the negotiations. The U.S. has been careful not to become a negotiating partner and maintain the bi-lateral quality of the negotiations.

A powerful explicit statement that indicates Syria’s intentions and willingness for peace would affect the two most important factors in the equation – the Syrian and Israeli publics. President Assad is a seasoned and impressive political leader who understands his public very well and does not need to be prodded in the right direction. He is well aware of what needs to be done.