Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

News Analysis: Christopher Expected to Focus on Israeli-syrian Negotiations

July 21, 1993
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

When U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher arrives in the Middle East next week, he may turn his attention first to the Israeli-Syrian talks rather than the troubled Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Christopher is said to be more optimistic about making progress on the Syrian front than on the Palestinian front, which has become mired in so far futile efforts to produce a joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles.

The secretary’s opening assessment, on the eve of what may be the first in a series of Middle East shuttles, appears to be based on the outcome of talks held in the region earlier this month by a group of his key Middle East aides, led by Dennis Ross, the U.S. coordinator for the peace talks.

The team led by Ross is said to have been impressed by the depth and intensity of the Syrian regime’s commitment to making peace with Israel.

Despite that optimism, though, Ross was unable to announce any new Syrian position defining the nature of the peace it is willing to establish with Israel or clarifying how an Israeli-Syrian agreement would relate to progress on other tracks of the peace process.

The Israeli-Syrian relationship, which has been more or less “on hold” during the course of the peace negotiations themselves, faces a delicate and possibly dangerous challenge in view of the escalating border tension in southern Lebanon.


Syria has warned Israel that an attack on Lebanon would be seen in Damascus as an attack on Syria, and top Syrian officials have held pointedly public consultations with Lebanon’s President Elias Hrawi.

By the same token, successful containment and eventual reduction of the recent flare-up in southern Lebanon could provide an atmosphere conducive to new progress in the Israeli-Syrian negotiations — an atmosphere that the U.S. secretary of state could nurture during his trip here.

Some Middle East observers feel that the very imminence of Christopher’s visit itself is serving as a restraining factor on military action in Lebanon.

While Israel has not kept as a secret its military buildup in southern Lebanon — a response to attacks that claimed five Israeli soldiers’ lives earlier this month — Jerusalem is plainly reluctant to order the forces into action.

With regard to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin repeated his assertions, during an address to the Labor Knesset caucus Tuesday, that there had not been and would be no direct negotiation between the government and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Rabin described as “nonsense” reports in the Hadashot newspaper that he had appointed a mediator to carry messages back and forth between Jerusalem and PLO headquarters in Tunis.

The prime minister also said he stood firmly against any discussion on the status of Jerusalem in the negotiations with the Palestinians on a transitional period of self-rule.

Recommended from JTA