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New revelations about Netanyahu, Clinton and Syria's Assad New Revelations About Netanyahu, Clinton and Syria's Assad

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Summertime, and the living is easy. Israel’s new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, goes to Washington for his first meeting with President Bill Clinton. Born in the mid-1940’s, three years apart, both still under 50, educated in elite East Coast universities, they seemed to share a common generational and cultural background, regardless of Clinton’s bond with the martyred Yitzhak Rabin.

Israel's State Archive has just released the notes of that first Bill-and-Bibi chat, which took place on June 9th, 1996. They reveal a swathe of intriguing comments by Netanyahu, especially regarding the peace-for-territory formula with Syria, a possible IDF withdrawal from Lebanon, a willingness to refrain from building new settlements east of the Green Line and his dim view of Jews in Hebron.

Netanyahu went on, in his first and second terms in office, through American private individuals and through official U.S. channels, to negotiate with both ruling members of the Assad dynasty, but the launch can be traced to this initial conversation, in which he chose not to reject what preceded him – just not to admit it in so many words.

The archive file was listed under Danny Naveh, Netanyahu's Cabinet Secretary, later a Likud MK and for three years a minister in Ariel Sharon’s government. Naveh is not mentioned in the notes. The only Netanyahu aide contributing to the exchange is Dore Gold, the PM’s policy advisor. Gold’s task was to produce, for Clinton’s attention, a 1975 commitment by President Gerald Ford to Rabin on the issue of land-for-peace with Syria.

However, in that letter, sought by Rabin to distinguish a possible Israeli-Syrian peace process and the step-by-step process with Egypt which culminated in a complete withdrawal from Sinai, Ford, or was it Henry Kissinger, stopped short of an American promise that Israel would not have to retreat from all the Golan Heights, back to the disputed 1967 line.

Ford merely promised that, in the event of a "just and lasting peace…acceptable to both sides" between Israel and Syria, the U.S. "will support the position" that it "must assure Israel's security from attack from the Golan Heights." Ford's letter went on: "The U.S. has not developed a final position on the borders. Should it do so it will give great weight to Israel's position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights."

Great weight, indeed. When negotiations reach their "take it or leave it" endgames, politicians, not to mention presidents and prime ministers, have been known to rationalize the revocation of far more unequivocal pledges.

When Netanyahu met Clinton, the president was on a roll in the Arab-Israeli political process, having played a part in the Oslo Accords and the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. But a Syrian breakthrough seemed elusive, despite meetings between the military chiefs of Israel and Syria........

© Haaretz

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