Latest News Syria: A Future Israeli-Syrian-American Peace Negotiation…


‘Assessing the Obstacles and Opportunities in a Future Israeli-Syrian-American Peace Negotiation’

May 2010

By: Itamar Rabinovich

In the ebb and flow of Middle East diplomacy, the two interrelated issues of an Israeli-Syrian peace settlement and Washington’s bilateral relationship with Damascus have gone up and down on Washington’s scale of importance. The election of Barack Obama raised expectations that the United States would give the two issues the priority they had not received during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. Candidate Obama promised to assign a high priority to the resuscitation of the Arab-Israeli peace process, and separately to “engage” with Iran and Syria (as recommended by the Iraq Study Group in 2006).

In May 2009, shortly after assuming office, President Obama sent the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, and the senior director for the Middle East in the National Security Council, Daniel Shapiro, to Damascus to open a dialogue with Bashar al-Asad’s regime. Several members of Congress also travelled to Syria early in Obama’s first year, including the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, John Kerry, and the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Howard Berman. In addition, when the president appointed George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East, Mitchell named as his deputy Fred Hof, a respected expert on Syria and the Israeli-Syrian dispute. Last summer, both Mitchell and Hof visited Damascus and began their give and take with Syria.

And yet, after this apparent auspicious beginning, neither the bilateral relationship between the United States and Syria, nor the effort to revive the Israeli-Syrian negotiation has gained much traction. Damascus must be chagrined by the fact that when the Arab-Israeli peace process is discussed now, it is practically equated with the Israeli-Palestinian track. This paper analyzes the difficulties confronting Washington’s and Jerusalem’s respective Syria policies and offers an approach for dealing with Syria. Many of the recommendations stem from lessons resulting from the past rounds of negotiations, so it is important to understand what occurred.

Photo: On the Syrian outpost at the Syria-Israel armistice line in the Golan Heights, it reads: “Peace is our target; the peace which retrieves our Occupied Syrian Golan.”


About kruitvat

I am working for the Belgian human rights association 'Werkgroep Morkhoven' which revealed the Zandvoort childporn case (88.539 victims). The case was covered up by the authorities. During the past years I have been really shocked by the way the rich countries of the western empire want to rule the world. One of my blogs: «Latest News Syria» (WordPress)/ Je travaille pour le 'Werkgroep Morkhoven', un groupe d'action qui a révélé le réseau pornographique d'enfants 'Zandvoort' (88.539 victims). Cette affaire a été couverte par les autorités. Au cours des dernières années, j'ai été vraiment choqué par la façon dont l'Occident et les pays riches veulent gouverner le monde. Un de mes blogs: «Latest News Syria» (WordPress)/ Ik werk voor de Werkgroep Morkhoven die destijds de kinderpornozaak Zandvoort onthulde (88.539 slachtoffers). Deze zaak werd door de overheid op een misdadige manier toegedekt. Gedurende de voorbije jaren was ik werkelijke geschokt door de manier waarop het rijke westen de wereld wil overheersen. Bezoek onze blog «Latest News Syria» (WordPress) ------- Photo: victims of the NATO-bombings on the Chinese embassy in Yougoslavia
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One Response to Latest News Syria: A Future Israeli-Syrian-American Peace Negotiation…

  1. kruitvat says:

    ‘Annals of National Security’
    Syria Calling
    The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace
    by Seymour M. Hersh April 6, 2009

    When the Israelis’ controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been “a lot closer than you might think.”

    At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only “the language of blood.” He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all “direct or indirect ties with Israel.” Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.

    Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal. “We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,” Assad said. “We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.”

    American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America’s willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first—and perhaps best—chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

    A senior Syrian official explained that Israel’s failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world. Assad also has the support of Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,* the ruler of Qatar, said last month when I saw him in Doha that Assad must take any reasonable steps he can to keep the talks going. “Syria is eager to engage with the West,” he said, “an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued.”

    A major change in American policy toward Syria is clearly under way. “The return of the Golan Heights is part of a broader strategy for peace in the Middle East that includes countering Iran’s influence,” Martin Indyk, a former American Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, said. “Syria is a strategic linchpin for dealing with Iran and the Palestinian issue. Don’t forget, everything in the Middle East is connected, as Obama once said.”

    A former American diplomat who has been involved in the Middle East peace process said, “There are a lot of people going back and forth to Damascus from Washington saying there is low-hanging fruit waiting for someone to harvest.” A treaty between Syria and Israel “would be the start of a wide-reaching peace-implementation process that will unfold over time.” He added, “The Syrians have been ready since the 1993 Oslo Accords to do a separate deal.” The new Administration now has to conduct “due diligence”: “Get an ambassador there, or a Presidential envoy. Talk to Bashar, and speak in specifics so you’ll know whether or not you’ve actually got what you’ve asked for. If you’re vague, don’t be surprised if it comes back to bite you.”

    Many Israelis and Americans involved in the process believe that a deal on the Golan Heights could be a way to isolate Iran, one of Syria’s closest allies, and to moderate Syria’s support for Hamas and for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. There is a competing view: that Assad’s ultimate goal is not to marginalize Iran but to bring it, too, into regional talks that involve America—and perhaps Israel. In either scenario, Iran is a crucial factor motivating each side.

    These diplomatic possibilities were suggested by Senator John Kerry, of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Assad in Damascus in February—his third visit since Assad took office, in 2000. “He wants to engage with the West,” Kerry said in an interview in his Senate office. “Our latest conversation gave me a much greater sense that Assad is willing to do the things that he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States. He told me he’s willing to engage positively with Iraq, and have direct discussions with Israel over the Golan Heights—with Americans at the table. I will encourage the Administration to take him up on it.

    “Of course, Syria will not suddenly move against Iran,” Kerry said. “But the Syrians will act in their best interest, as they did in their indirect negotiations with Israel with Turkey’s assistance—and over the objections of Iran.”

    President Assad was full of confidence and was impatiently anticipating the new Administration in Washington when I spoke to him late last year in Damascus. Trained as an ophthalmologist, partly in London, he took over the Presidency in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez Assad, who amassed enormous personal power in thirty years of brutal rule. Bashar had not expected a life as the Syrian leader—his older brother, Basil, who was killed in an accident in 1994, had been groomed to replace their father. Bashar, thirty-four when he became President, was said to be a lesser figure than either of them. He has since consolidated his position—both by modernizing the economy and by suppressing domestic opposition—and, when we spoke, it was clear that he had come to relish the exercise of power.

    Assad said that if America’s leaders “are seeking peace they have to deal with Syria and they have to deal with our rights, which is the Golan Heights.” In the Six-Day War, in 1967, Israel seized the Golan Heights, about four hundred and fifty square miles of territory that is rich in Biblical history and, crucially, in water. It includes part of the Jordan River Valley and a plateau overlooking the river which extends to Mt. Hermon, in the north. Syria was left with no access to the Sea of Galilee and the upper Jordan River. Roughly twenty thousand Israeli settlers live there, and they have built towns, vineyards, and boutique hotels in its valleys and strategic heights.

    Assad said, “The land is not negotiable, and the Israelis know that we are not going to negotiate the line of 1967.” But he suggested that compromises were possible. “We only demarcate the line,” he said. “We negotiate the relations, the water, and everything else.” Many who are close to the process assume that an Israeli-Syrian settlement would include reparations for the Israelis in the Golan Heights, and, for a time, the right of access to the land. Assad said, “You discuss everything after the peace and getting your land. Not before.”

    If Israel wants a settlement that goes beyond the Golan Heights, Assad said, it will have to “deal with the core issue”—the situation in the West Bank and Gaza—“and not waste time talking about who is going to send arms to Hezbollah or Hamas. Wherever you have resistance in the region, they will have armaments somehow. It is very simple.” He added, “Hezbollah is in Lebanon and Hamas is in Palestine. . . . If they want to solve the problem of Hezbollah, they have to deal with Lebanon. For Hamas, they have to deal with Gaza. For Iran, it is not part of the peace process anyway.” Assad went on, “This peace is about peace between Syria and Israel.”

    In his e-mail after the Gaza war, Assad emphasized that it was more than ever “essential that the United States play a prominent and active role in the peace process.” What he needed, Assad said, was direct contact with Obama. A conference would not be enough: “It is most natural to want a meeting with President Obama.”

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