- Syria is Israel's neighbor to the northeast and has been a major antagonist since the Jewish state achieved its independence. The two countries have fought in the War of Independence (1948—49); the Six-Day War (1967), during which Israel captured the Golan Heights; the Yom Kippur War (1973), in which there were some additional Israeli territorial gains; and the War in Lebanon (2002) and the Second Lebanon War (2006). Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of the United States brokered the Israel-Syria Disengagement of Forces Agreement in the spring of 1974. No further progress toward peace between the two states was made until the fall of 1991, when Syria was among the Arab states that met with Israel at the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference. However, Syria (and Lebanon) chose to boycott meetings of the multilateral track of negotiations initiated at the Moscow Conference (January 1992).Under U.S. prodding, Israelis and Syrians met sporadically between 1993 and 1996 in Washington, DC, and at the nearby Wye River Plantation in Maryland. Yitzhak Rabin's terms of reference—that is, that the depth of Israeli withdrawal on or from the Golan Heights would be determined by the depth of peace and normalized relations offered by Syria in return—was apparently accepted by Syrian president Hafez al-Assad as the basis for more substantive negotiations about the future of the Golan Heights. There is evidence suggesting that Rabin had agreed in principle to the phased complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Golan Heights and had conveyed this decision to his Syrian counterpart via the Americans. After Rabin's assassination, interim prime minister Shimon Peres sought to resume negotiations with Syria on these same terms. However, in the final analysis, Assad drew back from the proposed deal.In 1996, the new government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu declared that while it sought to resume negotiations with Damascus, it would not necessarily be bound by the terms of reference agreed to in principle by the previous government. Labor leader Ehud Barak, who as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff in the mid-1990s had participated in security talks in the United States with his Syrian counterpart, declared his interest in resuming substantive talks with Damascus following his election as prime minister in May 1999. Reiterating a commitment first undertaken by Rabin, Barak pledged to hold a national referendum on a final peace agreement with Syria. Negotiations with Syria, involving Barak and Syria's foreign minister Farouk al-Sharra, were finally resumed in Washington on 15-16 December 1999 and continued at Shepherd-stown, West Virginia, in mid-January 2000. U.S. president William J. (Bill) Clinton, seeking to bring closure to the negotiations, met with Syrian president Assad in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 March 2000. However, the gap between Israeli and Syrian conceptions of a final peace agreement, specifically affecting the precise delineation of the international border relative to the Sea of Galilee, was found to be too great.The failure of the Clinton-Assad summit scuttled Barak's attempt to link the May 2000 IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon to a broader regional accord with Syria concerning the Golan Heights. Despite periodic efforts at "public diplomacy" by the government of Bashir Assad—who ascended to the Syrian presidency shortly after his father's death on 10 June 2000 — the prospect for positive change in the Israeli-Syrian relationship was tempered by Damascus's continued support for anti-Israel Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon as well as its open sponsorship of Palestinian terrorist groups operating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It remained to be seen whether the historic end to Syria's occupation of Lebanon in the spring of 2005 and the decision of U.S. president George W. Bush to include Syria among the invitees to the Annapolis Conference of 27 November 2007 would have a moderating effect on Syria's attitude toward relations with Israel.
Historical Dictionary of Israel. Bernard Reich David H. Goldberg. Edited by Jon Woronoff..
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