Diplomatic histories of disputes between two sides usually concern the gradual narrowing of broad differences through negotiation. But in the nearly four years (1992-1996) of Israeli-Syrian negotiations chronicled here, readers delve instead into the nature of a protracted stalemate. Despite the book's title, Rabinovich (History/Tel Aviv Univ.), Jerusalem's chief negotiator with Damascus, acknowledges that ""at no point . . . were Israel and Syria on the verge of a breakthrough."" The primary reason was the lack of what diplomats call ""ripeness,"" i.e., each side's readiness, ideologically and strategically, to come to terms with the primary concerns of the other. This was particularly the case with Syrian president Assad, who was and remains far more hard-line in his approach to Israel than were his Jordanian, Palestinian, and Egyptian counterparts. At one point, he commented to US Secretary of State Warren Christopher that his side felt uncomfortable with the term ""normalization."" Thus, he adopted a diplomatic stance that was a ""non-starter"": he made full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights a precondition for any peace with Israel, while remaining maddeningly vague about what he meant by the term ""peace."" Unlike the late Egyptian president Sadat, and also unlike Jordan's King Hussein and even Yassir Arafat, Assad engaged only in sporadic, limited, and often clumsy ""public diplomacy"" in trying to influence the Israeli public. Rabinovich writes clearly and fair-mindedly about the views of both sides; his readers gain a ringside seat at Arab-Israeli diplomacy at its most difficult. But he relates a story of such long and intricate diplomatic pettiness, frustrations, and disappointments that it will interest academic mavens of recent Mideast affairs, yet hold only limited appeal for the general reader.