WITH the Mideast peace talks expected to resume at the end of
the month, Israel appears more interested in encouraging US shuttle
diplomacy in the region than in sending its delegation back to
Washington, some Israeli officials indicate.
US Secretary of State Warren Christopher's intervention in last
month's crisis between Israel and Syrian-backed guerrillas in
southern Lebanon gave a boost to the Israel-Syria track in the
peace talks, aides to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin say.
But tensions persist, underscoring the need for more such US
diplomacy, they say. The pro-Iranian Hizbullah (Party of God),
which has long vowed to sabotage the peace process, killed eight
Israeli soldiers and wounded four others yesterday in Israel's
self-proclaimed security zone in southern Lebanon.
The attack was the most lethal against Israeli troops there
since 1988, but it did not appear to violate tacit agreements
brokered last month by Mr. Christopher among Mr. Rabin, Syrian
President Hafez al-Assad, and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
It showed that the pro-Iranian Hizbullah was still able to strike
at patrols, and that Syria apparently is in no hurry to reduce
pressure on Israeli forces inside Lebanese territory.
Israeli officials express hope that talks scheduled to begin on
Aug. 31 will serve as a prelude for further efforts by Christopher
in the region, particularly on the Israeli-Syria track.
The Rabin government's advocacy of increased US shuttle
diplomacy apparently stems from simple calculation. With the US
deeply involved, Syria and the other Arab negotiating partners -
Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinians - will have to take into
account their vital relations with Washington when they consider
peace with Israel.
Since the process began in Madrid in 1991, Syria has made no
discernable gestures toward Israel's demand that it specify the
nature of peace arrangements before land transfers are discussed.
Israel wants Damascus to specify first whether it intends a full
peace, including exchange of ambassadors. Referring to Syria's
demand that Israel say whether it intends to withdraw fully from
the Golan Heights, annexed in the 1967 war, deputy foreign minister
Yossi Beilin said "the chicken and the egg problem should be solved
by the Americans."
Rabin said this week he believed opportunities for breaking the
impasse were increasing.
"I cannot prove it, I only hear it from the Americans who serve
as a go-between because the face-to-face negotiations with the
delegation are on too low a level to reach a conclusion." He said
further "deep involvement" by Washington was a prerequisite for
"It was not a coincidence that the first peace treaty between
Israel and an Arab state was not signed in the Middle East but on
the lawn of the White House," Rabin said, referring to the 1979
treaty signed by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. …