- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Returning to Israel

Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval, a statesman active in many of his country's historic developments, is ending what he calls his "second coming" to Washington.

He told reporters yesterday he is "closing a circle, finishing a chapter, though I have definitely no intention of closing the book yet."

Mr. Shoval, who returns to Israel on Saturday, is wrapping up his second tour as ambassador with another diplomatic landmark the resumption of talks with Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa have agreed to return to the United States for a second round of talks on Jan. 19.

The ambassador, a conservative who has served here under both conservative and liberal Israeli governments, said he would never criticize Mr. Barak, the Labor Party leader, for policies he represented in Washington.

"I don't think that is correct, ethical or even necessary," he said in his final press conference.

Mr. Shoval said he shared Mr. Barak's desire to reach some "sort of compromise" with Syria, which demands the return of the Golan Heights in return for peace. Israel insists on settling security and water issues before talking about returning the strategic plateau.

Mr. Shoval, whose first tour was from 1990 to 1993, was sent here by conservative Yitzhak Shamir and stayed for nine months under Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him back in 1998, and he was retained by Mr. Barak, who defeated Mr. Netanyahu in May.

"In ending my second coming as Israel's ambassador to Washington and looking back over almost 35 years of public activity, including 14 years in parliament, I had the good fortune, and a few frustrations as well, of participating sometimes more actively, sometimes less so, in almost every chapter of Israel's effort to achieve peace," he said.

Mr. Shoval recalled his involvement with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who commanded Israeli forces in the 1967 war that captured the Golan Heights, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who reached the Camp David peace accord with Egypt. He was involved in peace talks with Palestinians and Jordanians and with the Wye River agreement of 1998.

"I remember during my previous tenure there was an ongoing debate here, in Israel, in the media, whether our special relationship [with the United States] was based on common strategic interests or 'only' on shared moral and religious values," he said.

"And when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate and the Cold War came to an end, this debate intensified. There were those who claimed that in this supposedly perfect and harmonious post-historical new world order, there were no more strategic concerns anyway, certainly none which Israel and America might hold in common. Well, we know better now.

"I can say today without reservation, observing things from the vantage point of two nonconsecutive terms as Israel ambassador, plus many years of involvement in American-Israeli affairs, that the relationship between our two countries and they embrace almost any conceivable subject or activity have gone during the last 30 years or so from strength to strength."

As for the prospects of peace with Syria, he added a note of skepticism.

"I shall refrain from using terms 'optimism' or 'pessimism,' " he said. "I will just say that everything considered, there is hope. There is hope for an eventual agreement, though there are still plenty of bumps on the road. Israel, in the spirit of compromise, will certainly make a major effort to achieve peace, though there is a problem that in some of the cultures surrounding us, compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness, and to perceive it as a sign of weakness would be a terrible mistake."

Correction

Embassy Row yesterday reported that the Venezuelan Embassy and its consulates in the United States have collected $23 million in emergency aid. The money was donated by the U.S. government.

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