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Rabinovich, Itamar The Brink of Peace ISBN 13: 9780691010236

The Brink of Peace - Softcover

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9780691010236: The Brink of Peace
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A major casualty of the assassin's bullet that struck down Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a prospective peace accord between Syria and Israel. For the first time, a negotiator who had unique access to Rabin, as well as detailed knowledge of Syrian history and politics, tells the inside story of the failed negotiations. His account provides a key to understanding not only U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East but also the larger Arab-Israeli peace process.


During the period from 1992 to 1996, Itamar Rabinovich was Israel's ambassador to Washington, and the chief negotiator with Syria. In this book, he looks back at the course of negotiations, terms of which were known to a surprisingly small group of American, Israeli, and Syrian officials. After Benjamin Netanyahu's election as Israel's prime minister in May 1996, a controversy developed. Even with Netanyahu's change of policy and harder line toward Damascus, Syria began claiming that both Rabin and his successor Peres had pledged full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Rabinovich takes the reader through the maze of diplomatic subtleties to explain the differences between hypothetical discussion and actual commitment.


"To the students of past history and contemporary politics," he writes, "nothing is more beguiling than the myriad threads that run across the invisible line which separates the two." The threads of this story include details of Rabin's negotiations and their impact through two subsequent Israeli administrations in less than a year, the American and Egyptian roles, and the ongoing debate between Syria and Israel on the factual and legal bases for resuming talks.


The author portrays all sides and participants with remarkable flair and empathy, as only a privileged player in the events could do. In any assessment of future negotiations in the Middle East, Itamar Rabinovich's book will prove indispensable.

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The Brink of Peace does an excellent job of placing the reader at the negotiating table between Israel and Syria, but in some ways this may not be good. Since the talks were so maddeningly intricate, the players so difficult to read, and the final results so minimal, this record is a complicated autopsy indeed. Still, there is much to learn here, and few were as close to the action as Itamar Rabinovich. As Israel's ambassador to the United States and the chief negotiator with Syria from 1992 to 1996, Rabinovich sat through countless hours of teeth clenching and fist pounding that, despite the book's title, came nowhere near resolution on the main issues at hand. "At no time during this period ... were Israel and Syria on the verge of a breakthrough," he writes, and he then proceeds to present an incredibly detailed version of why things went awry.

Much of the reason for the impasse is placed at the feet of Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad. By insisting that a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights be a precondition for peace, Assad was essentially making Israel an offer they could easily refuse unless Syria made some major concessions of their own, particularly regarding full diplomatic recognition and security guarantees. Though Syria surprised nearly everyone by even agreeing to discuss peace, Rabinovich faults Assad for not following through with the sentiment when negotiations were closest to success. In the end, Assad seemed to feel that a stalemate was good enough. Rabinovich does not always heap praise on Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, either, making his book a balanced assessment of a seemingly impossible situation, especially since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister. Perhaps nowhere else on earth are the brink of war and of peace so closely aligned. --Shawn Carkonen

From the Back Cover:

"The Brink of Peace is essential reading for anyone wanting to grasp the realities of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations that were the focus of U.S. Middle Eastern policy during President Clinton's first term. A brilliant diplomat with a broad knowledge of Syrian diplomatic history, former Israeli Ambassador Rabinovich guides us through the twists, turns, and ultimate frustration of his dogged efforts on behalf of peace. Written with gusto and clarity, his book combines scholarly depth with the unique perspective of a direct, key participant in the negotiations. My State Department colleagues and I felt privileged to work with the author on a regular basis for four years, and his graphic account is an important contribution to the scholarship on the vital issue of peace in the Middle East."--Warren Christopher, former U.S. Secretary of State

"A book for multiple audiences: scholars of diplomacy, the constituency of Arab and Israeli affairs, students of American diplomacy of the Clinton years, and literate people who want a narrative that goes behind the scenes of diplomacy. It is a flawless work.... Professor Rabinovich, after a distinguished career, has written his best work so far."--Fouad Ajami, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University

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  • PublisherPrinceton University Press
  • Publication date1999
  • ISBN 10 0691010234
  • ISBN 13 9780691010236
  • BindingPaperback
  • Number of pages304
  • Rating
    4.33 avg rating
    ( 6 ratings by Goodreads )

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