Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian, director of the Baker Institute, received The Award for Humanitarian Diplomacy at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Studies at Netanya College on June 8 in Israel. The award recognized the Ambassador’s career achievements in promoting conflict resolution in the Middle East, and specifically his work to secure increased travel rights for Syrian Jews during his time as U.S. Ambassador to Syria from 1988-1991.
At the time of his appointment to Damascus, tensions in Syria were high and Syria’s Jewish community faced severe travel and property restrictions. Previous US attempts to ease the restrictions had failed. During his speech, Ambassador Djerejian noted that on raising the issue directly with Syrian President Hafez Assad, he finally indicated that he had no problem with Syrian Jews going to ‘this place you call Brooklyn,’ but Assad would reverse his decision if he saw that Syrian Jews were leaving for Israel.”
In 1989, after sustained negotiations, Assad agreed to grant 500 exit visas to Syrian Jews on the condition they not go to Israel. “While I was there, I do know that at least a few ended up in that ‘place called Brooklyn,’ and some finally ended up here in Israel,” Ambassador Djerejian said.
The awards ceremony took place during a conference commemorating the career of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir, who Djerejian noted for his pragmatism in pursuing Israel’s policy goals: “He did a number of things that he, personally, did not want to do, but did so because it was in Israel’s longer-term interest. Today, that kind of approach seems an increasingly rare trait.”
Prime Minister Shamir was a key interlocutor during the 1991 Gulf War and 1993 Madrid Peace Conference, which Ambassador Djerejian was involved in under the leadership of President George Herbert Walker Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III. At the request of the United States Shamir acted with great restraint in not retaliating militarily when Saddam Hussein launched scud missile attacks over Israel, lest such action break up the Arab coalition the US had successfully put together. And at Madrid Shamir had many reservations about negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbors, but he accepted United States assurances and went. “Many say that we exerted hard pressure on either side to get them to come to the table, but it wasn’t so much pressure as it was assertive diplomacy with a coherent strategy behind it,” Djerejian said. “We crafted the peace conference by creating a diplomatic and political landscape where it was difficult for both the Arabs and Israelis to say no. That is something I feel is largely missing from the US approach to the complex issues of the Middle East today.”
“As a new administration takes over in Washington in January 2017, we need an effective strategy that focuses on how to marginalize the forces of extremism and terrorism, pursues conflict resolution – especially concerning the Palestinian issue – and addresses the fundamental causes of instability in the region as a whole,” the Ambassador concluded.
To read the Ambassador's full acceptance speech, click here: Ambassador_Djerejian_Netanya_Full_Speech.pdf.