Destqns op ITaly
gcausive l'Cubun ImpoRCs
The Syrian Front
Peace was never just over the hill.
LARRY DERFNER ISRAEL CORRESPONDENT
cRANO opeNiNc sALc
Hafez el-Assad confers with Hosni Mubarak.
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with this ad
hile the prospect for
peace with the Pales-
tinians seems literally
to be blowing up, the
chance of peace with Syria ap-
pears to be fading quietly away,
with little notice.
During the second half of last
year, the near-unanimous as-
sumption in the Israeli media
was that a peace agreement with
Syria was due any time. The Ra-
bin government was signaling its
readiness to meet Syria's key de-
mand, the return of all of the
Golan Heights. "Secret Israeli of-
fers" to this effect were sighted
frequently. Syrian President
Hafez el-Assad said he'd made
a "strategic decision for peace."
Billboards advertising the ben-
efits of peace started appearing
In September, some 250,000
Israelis trekked up to the Golan
Heights for a three-week-long
demonstration against the gov-
Five Labor Party Knesset
members braved Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin's wrath by intro-
ducing a bill that would make it
extremely tough to part with the
Golan. The Likud lobbied Con-
gress against stationing U.S.
troops on the Heights as part of
an Israeli-Syrian treaty.
But with Secretary of State
Warren Christopher now saying
that Israel and Syria must soon
make "critical decisions" or lose
the chance for peace, where do
At last week's Cairo summit
between Egyptian President Hos-
ni Mubarak, Jordan's King Hus-
sein, Yassir Arafat and Mr.
Rabin, Mr. Assad wasn't even in-
vited. Moreover, Muhammad
Salman, Syria's minister of in-
formation, called the meeting "an-
other attempt to breathe life into
the Oslo accords, which were
doomed to failure from the start."
Despite protests from abroad,
Mr. Assad continues to let Dr.
Fathi Shkaki, whose Islamic Ji-
had terrorists killed 21 Israelis
at Beit Lid junction, operate
openly in Damascus.
What went wrong here? How
did the emerging Israeli-Syrian
relationship come apart so fast?
As a source close to Mr. Rabin
said, "I don't think we were ever
on the verge of an agreement.
Unfortunately we were never
that close." But didn't the prime
minister offer Syria all of the
Golan, which is Mr. Assad's stat-
ed condition for peace? "Never.
Absolutely never," said the
"Now I'm starting to believe
that Rabin did not really [offer
Syria the entire Golan] as an un-
conditional commitment, in a
way that left him no room to back
out of it," said Dr. Yossi Olmert,
a leading Israeli expert on Arab
Whatever Mr. Rabin did or did
not offer the Syrians, he is in no
position to be conciliatory today.
In the last few months, he's lost
the ability to ask Israelis to take
another risk for peace by sacri-
ficing the Golan.
Polls consistently show that
two-thirds of Israelis oppose a to-
tal withdrawal from the Golan.
For Rabin to try to turn that tide,
he would need something to show
for his gamble with the Pales-
tinians, plus great prestige. Right
now he has neither.
Then there is Mr. Assad. The
warnings from Israel and the