Israeli-Syrian Peace Talks
by Michael Langmyer
Shepherdstown had the opportunity to add to its long list of history in January of 2000. President Bill Clinton brought two diplomates from two countries that had been waring and enemies for over 30 years. Israel and Syria have had issues with one another sense 1967 when Israel took a section of land to the north called the Golan Heights. This section of land was important for Israel because of its connection to the Sea of Galilee and fresh water supply. For Syria, the Golan Heights was important for strategic reasons. These two countries were open for debates over this area of land and other issues as well in 1996 for the Wye River peace accords. These talks were to be continued when President Bill Clinton had diplomates from the two countries in Washington in December of 1999. Israeli Prime-Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa (also spelled Shareh or Shara) meet to discuss peace between the two states. The date was set, January 3, 2000 was when the discussion would take place and would last until January 10. They arrived in Shepherdstown getting off of helicopters and going to the clarion hotel, where the conference would be held, along with it being at Shepherd University and at NCTC (National Conservation Training Center). The discussions lasted and came to an end on the 10th with no conclusion about peace between the two countries. Everyone went home after the meetings and the next discussion for January 19, 2000 was postponed.
The purpose of the peace talks was to bring peace to the two nations of Israel and Syria. The purpose of the talks being in Shepherdstown was because it was close enough to Washington D.C. but far enough away that it would be a more relaxed feeling to the situation. That being the location, the town’s people of that location where very excited about the event happening in their town. One lady from town, Roni La Vache said, “I think of all the places in the world Shepherdstown is probably the best place to have it. After the Battle of Antietam, this was a town of healing, all the wounded were taken here to be taken care of and healed, and I think that feeling of healing has permeated the floors, the streets, the ceilings, the air of the town and over 100 years later people are still feeling that. So I think Shepherdstown is the perfect place to have talks about peace.” This feeling ran high throughout the entire town and they were excited for the chance to be a part of history once more.
The Herald-Mail had a discussion with Shepherdstown Mayor Vince Parmesano. During their discussion, the mayor was expressing excitement for the event for the benefit of the town, both economically and politically. An economic importance because of the amount of people visiting the town for the actual event, close to 1,000 people visiting the town, which meant an influx in tourism and the power of purchase for the town for that week. It is also of economic importance in the long run. With extra profit for that month the town could continue to attract tourists from the surrounding area and bring in more profit for the town. For the political aspect of the event, the town would be put on the map as a town that held an important event that might change that part of the world. One thing that the mayor said was that “if they’re successful, the new talks could become the Shepherdstown Peace Accords.” Having a peace talk named after Shepherdstown would give the town another feather in the towns cap of historic events. The mayor along with the rest of the town was excited for the events coming on January 3 of 2000.[i]
The outcome of the talks ended with no real outcome between the two nations. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv said that the talks ended “without any resolution.” The two men from Israel and Syria argued and debated over the issues over the Golan Heights and the water supply. For much of the talk’s president Clinton had to intervene between the two during the talks. The people of Israel did not agree with the talks and the leaving of the Golan Heights. A large rally of over 100,000 Israeli’s gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest the possible loss of the Golan Heights. The people marched through the streets and waved flags as they protested.[ii]