Ehud Barak enjoys the support of the dove public for resuming peace talks with Syria. That support is especially justified considering the difficult battle facing him to have an agreement ratified by a general referendum. Even so, it does not necessary follow that those supporting peace with Syria must or should embrace Barak’s tactics in the negotiations. In particular, one must question the refusal to announce Israel’s readiness in principle to retreat to the June 4th border. The Syrians might not be the most pleasant partners in negotiations. However, they did make it clear in all contacts – open and secret – that concessions on their part regarding the various elements of an agreement are conditional on Israeli readiness to retreat to the June 4th border.
Netanyahu has claimed in a recent letter to Ha’aretz that he refused to agree to a return to the June 4th border. He also asserts that he refused to renew the negotiations at the point that they were broken off so as to evade a valid Syrian claim to the effect Rabin had indeed agreed, in principle, to such a retreat. Barak’s associates claim that Netanyahu did agree in principle to return to the June 4th border. All agree that Rabin had agreed, in principle, to the 4th June withdrawal. Why then should Barak block the path to peace with the Syrians by backtracking on an obligation that seems to have been clear to all concerned.
Everybody wants to show that she (or he) is a tough negotiator and that he (or she) are nobody’s easy mark. However, Israeli agreement to renew the negotiations with Syria is not a step towards peace without the readiness to withdraw to the June 4th border. Barak’s inflexibility on this cardinal issue is rather mysterious since it is clear that the negotiations take place on the “everything is agreed or nothing is agreed” principal. Israel can announce its readiness to accept the June 4th border without in any way weakening its demands regarding security arrangements, water rights and normalization between the two countries, and any other matter that it considers important. It is very convenient for us to ascribe the present crisis in the talks to Syrian obstinacy, but we should not ignore the severe contradiction in the government position. Israeli recognition of the June 4th border can be a catalyst for achieving a peace agreement that will insure Israel’s vital interests.
Wednesday, January 19, 2000