In This Review

The Israeli-Syrian Peace Talks: 1991-96 and Beyond
The Israeli-Syrian Peace Talks: 1991-96 and Beyond
By Helena Cobban
U. S. Institute of Peace Press, 2000, 235 pp

The 1991 Madrid conference set in motion such Arab-Israeli steps toward peace as the Oslo agreement, sealed with a handshake between Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in September 1993, and the Israeli-Jordanian treaty of October 1994. In contrast, Israel and Syria reached no settlement after negotiating for almost five years. Why this difference? Cobban offers a compelling narrative of these negotiations, which were suspended in spring 1996 when Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres put the talks on the back burner while campaigning (unsuccessfully) for reelection. She has sought out the written and broadcast record -- important for unearthing diplomatic signals -- and interviewed almost all the principal Israeli, Syrian, and American figures. Her findings offer a solid challenge to establishment American and Israeli thinking on the subject. As she argues, both sides seriously sought to settle and almost succeeded. What foiled the agreement was more the leaks, mistakes, and domestic resistance on the Israeli side than the faults on the Syrian side. And the Clinton administration, instead of nudging along both sides as an objective party, passively followed the Rabin-Peres tactics.