Building Towards Peace

By Qifa Nabki & Alex

The Syria-Israel peace negotiations seem to have moved past their initial exploratory flirtation period and are now approaching a fifth round of indirect talks, with a sixth round planned for September. No doubt the Turkish housekeeping staff at the undisclosed hotel location have acquired enough pidgin Arabic and Hebrew to keep their guests well-stocked in midnight doner kebabs and bitter coffee, as they dutifully plod their way, if potentially only asymptotically, to an historic deal. At some point in the coming months, the two sides may leave their stuffy rooms and walk down the hall to an executive suite to face each other across a table.

The international press is all aflurry with the implications of a successful agreement: will Syria step back into the Arab fold? Will it drop Iran like a hot potato? Will it cut Hizbullah and Hamas loose? Will Israel actually relinquish the lovely and temperate Golan, with its wineries and ski resorts, in exchange for a solemn promise from the man who leads the nation that has — for the past half century — defined itself as the bastion of the struggle against its southern neighbor? Needless to say, amidst the optimism, there is no small measure of skepticism, paranoia, and mistrust.

Feeding the skepticism are many Arabic-language outlets — especially in the Saudi-funded media — which are engaged in a daily hack job on the Syrians to complement their diplomatic initiatives to convince the French and Americans to shun the Syrian talks as a bait-and-switch, i.e. typical Damascene politics as usual. Of course, this response is partly understandable: inquiring minds in Washington, Paris, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Riyadh, and Cairo would like to know what Bashar al-Assad can possibly deliver in exchange for the return of Syria's Golan Heights, after having built up a resistance infrastructure that will not easily dismantle itself. On the other hand, the criticism of the Syria-Israel talks in Saudi newspapers and satellite news networks is also strongly motivated by the bad blood between Damascus and Riyadh, which has built up over the past four years through their turf wars in Lebanon. Having seen Syria's allies emerge empowered after the Doha Accord, the Saudis remain furious and the mini regional Cold War shows no signs of thawing.Syria has largely ignored the provocations and outspoken indignance of the Saudi columnists, but this may not be the wisest strategy.

A barrage of negative publicity runs the risk of being taken seriously and undermining the peace negotiations, particularly if the Israeli public remains unconvinced of Syria's sincerity, and if the next American president declines to commit the United States to its essential role as a mediator of the deal. As such, al-Assad might do well to start trying to build more confidence in his intentions, and in his ability to make good on them. There are three clear ways to approach this challenge, each with a different audience in mind.

I. Damascus Spring, redux
For about a year following the death of President Hafiz al-Assad in June 2000, there were signs of a Syrian glasnost, as testified by the release of political prisoners, the permitting of assemblies of intellectuals and opposition members in political "salons", and a greater sense of openness and optimism in Syrian society. The government, however, brought the so-called Damascus Spring to an abrupt end in late 2001 by clamping down on opposition activities and jailing various intellectuals. This was a period of great optimism but also great risk for the young president, and it is likely that the regime (particularly its old guard members) became skittish at the pace of demanded reforms. The ensuing years, with all of the turmoil wrought by the Iraq war, the Lebanon fiasco, and the showdown with Bush and Chirac, made a return to the days of the Damascus Spring practically impossible.

Times have changed. Bashar al-Assad is popular in Syria and in the Arab world. His ability to ward off American pressure and to re-exert a measure of influence and power in Lebanon has earned him the reputation as a chip off the old block. Thanks to the perceived solidity of his position, Bashar is, today, much more able than ever to embark upon a program of reforms within Syria, reforms which would not only be in the best interests of ordinary Syrians themselves, but would also help to improve Syria's image in the United States, Europe, and yes, even Israel.

Why is this important? In politics, the tail may indeed often wag the dog, but grass-roots support never hurt a political cause. Syria's reputation in journalistic, academic, NGO, policy, and think tank circles is among the worst in the region, this despite the fact that her neighbors are hardly a confederation of Jeffersonian democracies. The extent to which this reputation is justified remains a hot topic, about which people can agree or disagree. However, there is no doubt about the fact that the Syrian government — historically — hasn't done itself any favors in the publicity department. By accelerating reforms in a visible fashion, Bashar al-Assad might begin to address this problem, anticipating a period in which Syria's image might be an important factor in the context of peace negotiations. Cultivating the reputation of a reformer who enjoys widespread popular support can only make it easier for figures such as Sarkozy, Obama or McCain to embrace the Syrian leader without worrying about how such a move will play among their constituents.

Potential reforms might include:

  • Beginning to release certain widely-respected political prisoners
  • Introducing more effective anti-corruption measures
  • Passing the much-anticipated New Parties Law, which would permit the participation of other political gatherings in national elections … to be followed two years later by free municipal elections.   
  • Liberalizing the press and easing restrictions on Internet sites.

II. A Simultaneous Lebanon-Israel Peace Track

Following the Doha Accord, there have been several historic pronouncements on the shape of future Syrian-Lebanese relations. There's been talk of exchanging embassies and demarcating political borders. There has also been talk of releasing Lebanese prisoners, now that there are no longer any left in Israeli jails. These developments have helped to foster a climate conducive to papering over past grievances at least for the time being, in the interests of establishing stability in Lebanon. As a result, much of the anti-Syrian rhetoric in the Lebanese media has noticeably abated.

This rapprochment could be enhanced further by overtly nudging the Lebanese towards the negotiating table with Israel. Parallel talks in Turkey with the Israelis would send a very positive signal about the seriousness of Bashar's initiative, because it would put an end to the speculation that he is merely playing the process and that Hizbullah and Iran are looking the other way. The presence of Lebanese negotiators would make the talks all the more urgent to millions of Lebanese who will be directly affected by the results. And while it would likely remain tacitly understood that the Lebanese deal could not be pursued separately from Syria's and would indeed have to temporally follow the return of the Golan, the participation of Lebanon in the negotations would demonstrate — if only symbolically — that Bashar has the full support of his Lebanese allies in pursuing peace. Israel could help this along by not sabotaging a future political role for Hizbollah in Lebanese politics.

III. The Arab Peace Initiative

Relations with Saudi Arabia are at an all-time low, and this might not bode well for the future of the talks. In the Middle East, it does not take much to play a spoiler role, and if the Saudis in particular feel that Bashar is trying to steal the spotlight away from them by becoming the go-to guy for solving the conflict with Israel (particularly the Lebanese and Palestinian dimensions thereof), they will likely continue in their efforts to call his sincerity and goodwill into question. The sooner Bashar mends his fences with King Abdullah, the better, although this will be easier said than done. 

One way to do this is to deliberately and insistently situate these talks within the context of the Arab Peace Initiative. Syria holds the presidency of the Arab League this year. Bashar could take the opportunity to reinvigorate the offer of a regional solution by complimenting the Saudis on their vision for peace and subordinating the current talks to one piece of an agreement that has already been worked out. All of this depends, of course, on Saudi willingness to cooperate with the Syrians, which may not be forthcoming. When Sadat made peace with Israel in 1978, Hafiz al-Assad cut off relations with Egypt for ten years. One hopes that the current frostiness will not develop into such frigidity.

Comments (287)

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251. Alex said:


Syria is in a unique position to push the region away fro any potential Sunni/Shia conflict … it is not only about how some Syrian Sunnis like you feel about the “Rafida”! .. we have a region that needs to be steered away from potential disaster.

To play that role, Syria will benefit from its exceptional friendship with the Iranian leadership.

This is what counts … please tolerate “al-Rafida” for now and let the Syrians do what they have to do to take us out of the neocon mess in the Middle East.

And, yes .. in few years, Syria will be closer to Turkey, not Iran … and I will be very happy to see that too. Why? .. not because of Sunni/Shia nonsense but because Turkey is much more secular than Iran .. or Saudi Arabia.


My friend … I can speak for myself only.

Many Israelis are already convinced of land-for-peace with Syria and with the Palestinians … about 30% of Israelis fall in this group.

The other 70% of them are of two types

1) some are aggressive, selfish, greedy …proud of, and looking forward to enjoying more IDF battles with the Arabs where their army will surely be victorious and the evil Arabs will learn more lessons.

There is nothing we can do to convince this group to become nice and peaceful.

2) Most others are simply worried that the Arabs hate them and want to throw them in the sea … they will feel too naive if they give up the occupied territories only to find out that Syria, Hamas, and HA are still planning to use violence against them.

It is a perception that exists … this is what we need to deal with … regardless of what reality is … I know it is not fair, but this perception will not go away by itself.

One of the reasons this group does not like to sign peace with Syria, is that they genuinely believe that Assad is a dictator who can not be trusted ….etc.

Don’t blame them for this conclusion … the WSJ, London Times, Asharq alawsat, almustaqbal, “Syrian democratic opposition” supporters on blogs, AIG types, Lebanese M4 supporting journalists … have joined forces for the past few years to establish this image of an evil dictatorship that no one should trust!

I believe that Syria can convince 10 to 20% of the Israeli public to switch (to support land for peace) by starting more aggressive economic and political reforms … Israelis want to see Syria busy building its economy and its relations with the west and its political institutions …

They want to see Syria more compatible with what they believe Israel is like (democratic, civilized).. this is how they see Israel, and Syria seems to be too incompatible with them … according to their perception.

You are probably shaking your head … you are right … 40% of the 70% who reject a solution will still not be convinced … but if we convert 20%, then that will be enough I think to tip the scale.

And don’t forget the effect of such reforms on European and American journalists, NGO;s, human rights activists … all of them add up to a force that can not be ignored if we are serious about peace.

And finally, as Norman wrote above … Syria will NOT be another Jordan … worry about it if it happens… IT WILL NOT.

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August 5th, 2008, 6:46 pm


252. Karim said:

Jad,you are free to have another opinion than mine and it’s known that some minority communities in Syria don’t share our positive feeling for the Ottomans.It’s their problem …we respect them as they are.Syria in general is nostalgic of the Ottoman era.And Jad it’s never late for you to read some books on the Ottoman history from the most erudite western scholars.
And plz Jad,we can not avoid subject like religions and sects…there should be no taboos…there is a reality and we should speak on it as it is.
As for the arab nationalists who fought the Ottomans ,some of them were british puppets and others answered the turkish nationalism of the young turks party(turkization policy) by an arab nationalism .In my opinion both were wrong and betrayed the Ottoman ideal which was characterized by its religious tolerance and cultural pluralism.

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August 5th, 2008, 6:57 pm


253. Qifa Nabki said:


I don’t think that Sami believes that Syria CANNOT make peace with Israel because the Israelis will never do it…

I think that he believes that EVEN IF Syria does, it will be a colossal mistake, because Syria will simply be playing into the hands of the Israeli/American plan for the region.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Sami.

The regime should count on hearing these criticisms until they indicate what their plan for Palestine will be.

How will Syria convince Israel to dismantle the West Bank settlements? How will Syria convince Israel to even bother making peace with the Palestinians? As our long lost friend AIG has repeatedly said: Israel does not actually NEED to make peace with the Palestinians, under the current conditions; it can handle low intensity warfare for a very long time, all the while building up its facts on the ground in East Jerusalem and elsewhere…

Indeed, how will Syria remain relevant to the peace process? I’m not saying it can’t; I hope it can, somehow.

But how, exactly?

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August 5th, 2008, 7:07 pm


254. jad said:

Buddy (Karim)
I’m not talking about the Ottoman Turks in Istanbul; I’m talking about Ottoman Turks “occupation” in Damascus…

“Syria fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1516 and remained a part of their Ottoman Empire for four centuries. During this period, Syria witnessed great deterioration in economic, social, and political fields.”
Go back then and be happy and positive about it..for now Syria needs to deal with other issues than your “nostalgic of the Ottoman era”


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August 5th, 2008, 7:18 pm


255. Shai said:

Sami D.,

I also enjoy reading your comments, and I do very much understand this one. Here on SC, commentators have brought up the idea (quite a few times) that indeed no real peace can take place between Israelis and (any) Arabs, until the Palestinian issue is solved. In fact, that is precisely the condition which all the Arab nations placed upon Israel in their so-called “3 Yes’s” in Beirut and Riyadh.

I don’t think the “peace process” that we’re witnessing at the moment is much more than a step towards the end of the state-of-war between Syria and Israel, and the creation of a superficial-peace, similar to what we have with Egypt and Jordan. The Palestinians will not be sold away, because Assad is not going to be telling his people that Israelis are wonderful, warm human beings, while the Occupation is still going on. And the Syrians are no fools, they know the situation, and it is they who will dictate what peace will or won’t exist between our two peoples. However, the situation right now, with what seems to be a certain historic opportunity, begs the following questions:

1. If the Israeli-Palestinian track is standing-still, with no hope in sight, should any other track be explored?

2. If an end to the state-of-war between Israel and Syria (and possibly Lebanon) can be reached, through a peace agreement, should it not be sought while the Occupation is still in place?

3. Is it not conceivable (in fact, quite logical) that if Israel and Syria reach an agreement, Syria can begin to assist both the Israelis and the Palestinians overcome their differences? This is especially relevant due to Syria’s close relationship with Hamas.

4. If an Israeli leader is able to convince 50.1% of Israelis to give back the Golan now in return for peace with Syria, should Syria reject this offer, until a just solution is found to the Palestinian problem (no matter how long that may take)? In other words, should both sides miss this opportunity?

5. Why are Abu Mazen, Hamas, Hezbollah, and even Iran, not putting up a fight in attempt to dissuade Syria from signing an agreement with Israel? Is it because they do understand that the Palestinians will not be “sold out”?

As for the various rhetoric that comes up in the media (such as Alon Liel’s interviews, for instance), stating that Syria “has changed”, I think this should both be expected, and should not bother “your side” too much. It is obviously targeting “my side” much more, because it has to. Syria cannot normalize relations with Israel, before it convinces its public that Israel has changed. Israel cannot return the Golan, before it convinces our public that Syria has changed. You cannot realistically expect people on each side to suddenly become enlightened, and come to recognize and accept their own share in the conflict. It is far too early for that to happen – though it does need to happen at some point in the future, for reconciliation to ever occur. I hope to see the day when an Israeli Prime Minister, on behalf of the entire nation of Israel, apologizes to the entire Palestinian people. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow, nor the day after.

You are of course absolutely justified to fear the effects of this so-called “peace” upon the Palestinian people. I don’t sense that fear, but I certainly understand it. But the entire Arab world has essentially said to Israel that peace will only occur when we withdraw to the 1967 lines, and a just solution is found for the Palestinian people. That will not happen immediately when Livni or Bibi shake Assad’s hand. So it’ll be a superficial peace, and Syria will help us work with the Palestinians until we solve all the problems. We in Israel desperately need this peace, because it’ll give hope once more to all those who are simply numb to what is going on, and apathetic about the future. They’ve lost hope in their leaders, in politicians, in any processes that took place the past 2 decades, and in peace. To do what is necessary, Israelis must have a “rude awakening”. It can come either as a large-scale regional war (like 1973), or peace. I prefer the latter, and I think you should too.

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August 5th, 2008, 7:19 pm


256. Sami D said:

Qifa Nabki wrote:

Are you of the same opinion as Joe M.? One state solution? Or would you accept something along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative?

I think the fairest solution in the long run would indeed be the one-state one. You have close to half a million Israelis living inside illegally-occupied territories, with built-up cities, colleges and established infrastructure. Will they just pack-up and relinquish it all to the Palestinians? On the other hand, the one-state solution ensures that both people can live anywhere they wish on the holly land, AND both would have equal rights. On the Israeli side of the border, Israel has a fifth of its citizens Palestinians (the ones who were spared the 1948 ethnic cleansing) told they are a fifth column on their own land, can be shot at and killed if they demonstrated, watched their land disappear crops poisoned, discriminated against, treated as second class citizens, etc.

Only a one-state, which would necessarily involve a major scaling down of the racist component of Zionism, can be the minimally fair solution. And what about the fundamental rights refugees? Will they be told they can “return” to al-Khalil, instead of their beloved Yafa? (I wouldn’t consider “returning” to al-Hasakeh as in anyway fair, if I am from Damascus, if the same fate as the Palestinians’ befell me) And why would anyway someone from India be allowed to “return” to live on Palestinian land if he can demonstrate “Jewishness”, but a Palestinian who has lived and tilled the land there for generations can’t, simply because the rabbi says he doesn’t qualify? For these major humanitarian issues the one-state is a much better solution.

In the short run, the two-state solution along 1967 lines, IF (a big one) Israel accepts it, might be ok as a stepping-stone treaty. But Israel is not a stupid conqueror to accept this as a hudna and will seeks assurances that Arab leaders will be on its side ensuring their populace remain in line, as Joe mentioned. The two-state solution, which assumes (note!) that the conflict started in 1967 ignoring, for one, the refugee rights and 1948 ethnic cleansing, would also produce a one state –Israel- anyway dominating the other, with Palestinians providing cheap labor for Israelis and a market for their goods. (That’s why Israel/US will insist that the Palestinians accept free market policies ensuring Israeli domination of the Palestinian economy, replacing, as in South Africa, political apartheid with economic one .. but that’s another subject). Israel will not abandon its 80%-theft of water from the West Bank aquifer, as you’ve heard the “dove” Mr. Allon asking that Israel’s theft of Syrian water should continue after Golan return, (albeit couched in the proper Orwellian language of security and peace).

If our goal is minimal justice and minimal fairness, the one-state solution is it. So far, the two state solution, or the separation of the Syrian from the Lebanese from the Palestinian from the Egyptian tracks, all imply that the coming “solution” is really one not of minimal fairness, but one that reflects a bowing to US-Israeli power in the region.

PS. Dear Alex/Norman/Shai, will comment as soon as I get a chance.)

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August 5th, 2008, 7:55 pm


257. Sami D said:

How will Syria convince Israel to dismantle the West Bank settlements? … Indeed, how will Syria remain relevant to the peace process? I’m not saying it can’t; I hope it can, somehow. But how, exactly?

Dear Qifa, The question is basically, how to “convince” a conqueror to end his conquest, no? And is the implication that if we can’t convince him, then maybe we can settle for something just a tad better than total subordination, like land-return for Syria (obtained through resistance and struggle, not through negotiations), something that can be face-savingly sold to the people as “peace”?

And who is it anyway that determines whether Syria is “relevant” to “the peace process”? Bodies that are independent from the powerful emperors? The fact that we’re using rhetoric like “the peace process” says we’re slowly accepting the design of the powerful. What is needed, is not a process but a real peace that is based on basic rights enshrined in international law. The “peace process” entails just endless negotiations and photo ops, until the weak accept domination. Fifteen years of Palestinian “peace” process produced less Palestinian-Israeli peace and more Israeli conquest, doubling of settlers, etc. Isn’t it clear already what Israeli-American peace entail for the region, in addition to the Mubarak-izations of Arab Nassers?

The question atop should be not how will Syria convince Israel, but what price is Syria willing to pay for that. Lebanon paid a dear price, but did something immensely important: It got the powerful to cry uncle; it showed the oppressed masses that the powerful are not that powerful — if people are willing to pay the price. While the end goal might be far and bloody, bowing down to Israel’s demand is certainly not the way to reach that goal. How much success did Egypt have in convincing Israelis to relinquish Palestinian land after Camp David? In fact it did the opposite; it cleared the way for Israeli aggression by removing the strongest Arab country from Israel’s face.

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August 5th, 2008, 8:29 pm


258. Jad said:

Dear Sami
Your analyse and projection on the peace issue is very interesting and it seems that you have a very clear vision of what should happen or will happen taking one of the solutions you gave, “resistance” or “peace process”, as an average Syrian looking at the two choices I have, I do prefer the resistance solution that doesn’t end up giving more power to the already powerful conqueror and have my land back in pride, yet I’m sure that the price we will pay is dearly of our people’s bloods and souls if not loosing part or all our land, can’t anything be done taking the “peace process” choice without bowing? Isn’t there any lesson from the history that can be learned instead of repeating the same mistakes our ancestor did before us?

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August 5th, 2008, 8:56 pm


259. Karim said:

Jad ,i invite you to read what the french poet Lamartine wrote on the beauty of Ottoman Damascus.Ask yourself ,do we have anything beautiful which is not from the pre Nasserian era ?
Damascus was by far more sophisticated in 1905 untill 1950’s than in 2008.The same for the other great cities of the Levant,like Aleppo,Cairo,Alexandria…..

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August 5th, 2008, 9:09 pm


260. Jad said:

I will wait on your invitation Karim for another 400-500 years, so we can both read some poetry about Damascus in the 2008 then we can compare and judge!

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August 5th, 2008, 9:35 pm


261. Jad said:

There are lots of real photographic pictures not a dreamy poetic of Damascus on ( during the Ottoman Turks period “which was characterized by its religious tolerance and cultural pluralism”!!!! will reflect a better view of what Damascus was during that period, check them out especially the 1860’s, and then look at pictures of Damascus now and judge. Personaly, I like it better now.

By the way, a huge part of the restoration and conservation of the beautiful historic building happened during this regime. Don’t they deserve any credits for that?

I don’t belong to any political party and I do hate politics because it segregate people like religions but we have to be fair and give credits to whoever does something right and not always see things in white or black…

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August 5th, 2008, 10:35 pm


262. Qifa Nabki said:

The fact that we’re using rhetoric like “the peace process” says we’re slowly accepting the design of the powerful. What is needed, is not a process but a real peace that is based on basic rights enshrined in international law… Isn’t it clear already what Israeli-American peace entail for the region, in addition to the Mubarak-izations of Arab Nassers?


It may be satisfying to deconstruct the rhetoric from time to time and remind ourselves of how low we’ve sunk. But in my opinion this is a useless exercise if we can’t generate concrete alternatives to the strategies that we malign.

It’s not enough to say, “What is needed is not a process but a real peace based on basic rights, etc.” So, what are you proposing? More resistance? Of what kind? Embargoes? Kidnapping Israeli soldiers? Or would you like to see Syria, Hizbullah, and Iran launch a full-scale war on Israel? Because you say, below:

The question atop should be not how will Syria convince Israel, but what price is Syria willing to pay for that. Lebanon paid a dear price, but did something immensely important…

Does this mean that you think that Syria should be arming and funding more not fewer resistance groups? I guess I’m not getting what the game plan is.

I think you’re right about the failure of the peace process. But I don’t discount the possibility that it failed for context-based reasons (historical circumstances, personalities involved, etc). Demanding a radical change in strategy is defensible only if you can articulate what shape it must take. Otherwise we’re just devoting lives and years to further misery.

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August 5th, 2008, 11:50 pm


263. Qifa Nabki said:

Political suicide, Palestinian style
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It is painful watching events in Gaza and the West Bank unfold, as Fatah and Hamas battle it out like a bunch of armed neighborhood gangs. The mood among Palestinians throughout the world is one of despair and gloom, tinged with embarrassment and occasional shame.

Arab and others supporters of the Palestinian cause throw their hands up in the air in bewilderment. It will not be surprising to see some friends of Palestine quietly walk away, mumbling that if the Palestinians wish to kill each other and destroy their own society, they are free to do so. The world will easily forget about them.

These are grim days for the Palestinians, but not unusual ones for the Arab world as a whole. The sight of clan-based political groups in Gaza killing each other is familiar in many parts of the Middle East, sadly. That does not make it any better. It simply is a sign that national dysfunctionality expressed in internecine political violence is a regional Arab ailment, not a peculiarly Palestinian one.

The Palestinians, especially their political leaders, must assume most of the blame for this round of fighting, which is absolutely incomprehensible at a time when economic pressures and sanctions have reduced Gaza not just to a prison-like encampment, but to a ward of paupers. Israel and other enemies of the Palestinians will be pleased to see them fighting each other. We will hear another chorus from the skinheads and racists in the world who will point to this round of fighting as proof that Israel withdrew from Gaza and all it got in return were rockets fired at it and hooligans running the show inside. They will be right, but superficially.

The rockets fired at Gaza are to be seen in the context of a war that still rages between Israelis and Palestinians, now more or less quiet due to a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. The fighting among the Palestinians is not so easy to understand. It is also not the first time that Palestinians have quarreled or fought each other. They did it in the 1940s, in the 1980s in refugee camps in Lebanon, and now they are doing it again in their squeezed little landscape in Gaza.

This is the latest and most troubling example of how a once grand and noble Palestinian national liberation movement has allowed itself to degenerate into ineptitude. The consequences of the fighting are unlikely to increase the chance of liberating Palestine, forcing Israel to negotiate an honorable and fair peace, or providing Palestinians opportunities to live more secure, stable and prosperous lives. All that will emerge from this is the functional equivalent of a child taking over a tree house, and claiming that as a great victory.

Fatah and Hamas are both slowly relinquishing their once respectable standing among their fellow Palestinians. As they fight it out in village streets and refugee camp alleyways, they make it ever more difficult to wage a principled and credible struggle against Israeli colonialism, brutality and expansionism. At a global level, the Palestinian cause is the longest running anti-colonial movement of its kind, which is one reason it generates so much support around the world. Ordinary people everywhere understand that the Palestinians are fighting against a Zionist foe whose predatory territorial aims are anchored in the ugly soil of 19th century European imperialism and colonialism – when it was permissible to conquer, kill and dispossess other people and send them into exile.

The Palestinians have continued to struggle for the integrity of their community and their national rights for over a century, but they have lost at every decisive moment. Poor quality leadership has always been one reason. Political immaturity reflected in fighting within the community is another constant problem. Massive and brutal use of force by Israel has helped fracture Palestinian society and turn some of its groups into desperados who will even fight themselves to maintain a modicum of control over their increasingly restricted and empty lives. Disarray and weakness among their Arab supporters have also been problems at times. The international community’s virtual indifference to the consequences of Israel’s harsh policies makes the entire regional context more conducive to such irrational and self-destructive Arab behavior.

This is a dark day for the Palestinians, but not the end of the line. When they hit bottom – and they are almost there – the Palestinians will find better leadership that can regain their cohesion and credibility, and their self-respect. From the rubble of their political organizations’ criminal attacks against their own people, the Palestinians will recognize soon that living in a tree house is exciting for a nine-year-old child but is very unbecoming for a national political movement, and is a recipe for oblivion if it is not stopped and reversed soon.

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August 5th, 2008, 11:58 pm


264. Alex said:


I agree with QN … we learned lessons from past failures of the peace process. This time Syria will give the process all its attention. If it does nto work out, then we will not sign a Camp David II … but we will not do much “resistance” … we will wait again… terrible things will happen all over the Middle East, and Israelis and Americans will realize they have to try harder to appreciate the need to finally settle the remaining conflicts.

But there IS a chance for a comprehensive settlement. It would be a mistake to not try.

You have high expectations (one state solution), and I think you totally lost hope in Arab leaders, which is understandable.

But really, I don’t think Bashar will disappoint you too much …

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August 6th, 2008, 12:13 am


265. alle said:

Is it just me, or is the next thread (about Suleiman, Fisk etc) closed for comments? I was about to ask J. Landis if he would care to expand on his Jpost quote: “Landis said that Suleiman had played an important role the first two years of Bashar Assad’s regime, serving ‘as a sort of chief of staff’ but had played a less prominent role since then.” … but I couldn’t open comments.

Anyway: from where does the whole sniper-with-a-silencer-on-a-yacht story come originally? Not saying it isn’t true, just saying it’s pretty extravagant, and it surprises me that it is already considered an established fact…

And contrary to Alex, I think it would be nice to see some uncontrolled speculation and rumor-mongering on gen. Suleiman’s role & supposed importance. If we can’t make sense of it, we might as well enjoy ourselves.

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August 6th, 2008, 1:53 am


266. Alex said:

You are right ALLE

Now comments will be enabled.

And have fun speculating if you want : )

Here, I’ll summarize for you all the hypotheses we heard so far:

1) Some Israelis are reporting that Israel killed him because he was liaison officer between Syria and Hizbollah
2) Some in the “Syrian opposition” are saying that the regime killed him, because Syria is a mafia state and this proves it.
3) Trustquest thinks he was a mole.
4) Those who do not like Iran much claimed Iran killed him to revenge the killing of Mughnyieh and to warn Syria to not go too far in the peace process.

Anyone for Junblatt? … Prince Bandar? … Dick Cheney? … UFOs?

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August 6th, 2008, 1:58 am


267. Qifa Nabki said:


Not only was it a sniper-with-a-silencer-on-a-yacht, but the assassin had a frosty martini glass in his left hand as he aimed his high-powered rifle at the secluded beach. Meanwhile, a sultry Scandinavian blonde nuclear scientist was massaging his shoulders, and Burt Bacharach was playing in the background…

When the deed was done, the yacht transformed into a submarine and nary a trace of the diabolical due was left behind…

[cue music]

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August 6th, 2008, 2:01 am


268. Sami D said:

Dear Shai,

Thanks for your sincere message. I think you raise important points that must be addressed. But we have disagreements. In short, any argument for real peace must face the reality that the conflict is largely one of conquered (Palestinians) and conqueror (Israel), victim and victimizer, powerless and powerful. And that the conquerors will not relinquish conquest simply because they can be convinced through negotiations; only demonstration of serious resistance can do that, as Hezbulla and 1973 Egypt have demonstrated.

Shai wrote:

1. If the Israeli-Palestinian track is standing-still, with no hope in sight, should any other track be explored?
2. If an end to the state-of-war between Israel and Syria (and possibly Lebanon) can be reached, through a peace agreement, should it not be sought while the Occupation is still in place?

The reason the Palestinian track has no hope in sight is precisely because Israel has not accepted stopping its conquest, not because there are some outside circumstances or conditions beyond the controls of anybody (least of all the powerful Israel). The Palestinians are so weak and isolated that whatever they did has proven limited or containable/sustainable by Israel, which is able to control it through walls, economic and food suffocation, one-sided treaties and agreements, meetings and negotiations, and other tools used by conquerors to subdue the conquered. Seeking a separate peace between Syria and Israel means weakening the Palestinians even further, and making peace with them beyond “no hope in sight”. Israeli repression and colonization after Camp David “peace” has only increased, afterall.

Shai wrote:

3. Is it not conceivable (in fact, quite logical) that if Israel and Syria reach an agreement, Syria can begin to assist both the Israelis and the Palestinians overcome their differences? This is especially relevant due to Syria’s close relationship with Hamas.

Syria “assisting” “both sides” to overcome their “differences”, makes it sound like the issue is one of two friends having a little disagreement, and now a third, a totally made-over Syria, can serve as mediator. “Come on now guys”, Bashar, now a “statesman” and “moderate” leader, will tell the sides: “you’re good friends; stop fighting and shake hands; remember the good’ol days of friendship …”.. (and maybe like Rabin on the White House lawn, Olmert-Netanyahu will again pretend to reluctantly extend a handshake to their former foes in perfect theatre, for another 15 years of “process”, now aimed at cementing Israeli conquest and Palestinian destitution for good). The issue is conquest, conqueror and conquered, domination and dominated, rights and wrongs, not two semi-equal side having “differences” about minor real estate issues. The issue is, again, when will Israel accept to stop its conquest.

Shai wrote:

4. If an Israeli leader is able to convince 50.1% of Israelis to give back the Golan now in return for peace with Syria, should Syria reject this offer, until a just solution is found to the Palestinian problem (no matter how long that may take)? In other words, should both sides miss this opportunity?

This assumes that the problem is about a peace-loving Israeli leader trying to convince his public, who for some reason does not support peace, to accept the treaties, to accept that the bad Arabs have finally seen the wrong of their ways and are repenting. In reality, Israeli leaders should simply be telling their public that conquest is wrong, that domination is evil, that stealing is bad – and that Israel has been engaging in all of these, and must now repent and begin reparation. But they won’t of course. Conquest are not reversed based on the conquerors suddenly undergoing a born-again experience, but through resistance.

As for convincing the Israeli public, if that’s really the issue, then it is not hard to do, especially in military democracies such as the US and Israel. Propaganda will smoothly do the trick, as Herman Goering once explained. For example, “Saddam will in no time produce a mushroom cloud over New York, or the PLO continue to rain bombs on Israel unprovoked pre-June 1982 ..” and the fearful people will immediately rally behind the venerable leader who will soon slaughter the beast and emerge victorious.

Using language of self-defense, fear, defending the right of the weak, people can be convinced of almost anything, (unless things are glaringly in the opposite direction). When the leaders of democracies need to attack a weaker nation, they can sell it as defense, or pre-emption, or as humanitarian, or to spread freedom and democracy, etc. Anything the enemy does to mitigate the situation is just a bluff (like Israel rebuffing all the Syria and Arab overtures for peace or Saddam re-allowing inspectors and handing inventories of his weapons); that “we must respond” otherwise fear sending the wrong message that we’re weak, or we must pre-empt the enemy before he builds WMD, etc, etc.

On the other hand, when Arab leaders have demonstrated ample subservience to US-Israeli interest, and/or that they could be a real nuisance if not dealt with quick, the leaders of democracies can easily convince their people that Arab leaders want peace. Suddenly after 1973 war, Sadat can be trusted and peace can be signed, and with the help of Sadat jumping hoops and doing what the Israelis ask for theatrical effects like visiting Jerusalem (implicitly accepting it as Israel’s capital), then the trick is complete. Suddenly after the Palestinians erupted in 1987 intifada, proving a very bad PR for Israel, Arafat can now be trusted for a handshake with the master as a worthy statesman (then alternating between “statesman” and “terrorist”, depending on his acquiescence/lack of to further demands by Israel).

Shai wrote:

5. Why are Abu Mazen, Hamas, Hezbollah, and even Iran, not putting up a fight in attempt to dissuade Syria from signing an agreement with Israel? Is it because they do understand that the Palestinians will not be “sold out”?

Good question. To one level or another, each party finds that its power is limited compared to Israel’s. Each party is, more or less, tempted at to sell out the other, especially when the price exacted by Israel could be quite high. And each party is afraid the others will sell them out. Abu Mazen’s opinion, I am afraid, has no value whatsoever, since he agrees with everybody who’s more powerful than him. Hamas is too weak to alienate any Arab power, and knows has no leverage over Syria. Hezbollah’s power is tied with Syria and Iran, and can’t really push either of them much. As for Iran, how do we know it is not attempting to dissuade Syria from signing a peace treaty with Israel? How much power does Iran really have over Syria to convince it anyway? Anyway Iran agreed to the international consensus of 1967 borders. But the question also assumes Iran is deeply troubled by loss of Palestinian right to the degree it is willing to accept being destroyed by Israel and the US. For Iran, Palestine is less of a nationalistic issue for it as for Arabs; it is more immediately concerned with trying to control Israeli-US hegemony of the region, than work for Palestinian rights.

If one must solve the problem track-by-track, (and I don’t see why, if Israel cares about real peace that is) one should at least start at the core, not at the periphery: First, the Palestinian, then everything else. Unless the issue for Israel is getting rid of the periphery, to make the core easier to devour? More accurately, first Israel must accept international law, must accept that it ethnically cleansed Palestine, not merely occupied the 22% that remained of their land in 1967. Israel then must move to implement international decrees, must give Palestinians restitution, recognize their rights to their land, water, not just the West Bank. Only if real peace is of interest.

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August 6th, 2008, 2:58 am


269. Sami D said:

Qifa wrote:

It may be satisfying to deconstruct the rhetoric from time to time and remind ourselves of how low we’ve sunk. But in my opinion this is a useless exercise if we can’t generate concrete alternatives to the strategies that we malign.

Dear Qifa, Deconstructing the propaganda of the aggressor might indeed be satisfying, but more fundamentally it is an important part of understanding the situation and what treaties we are agreeing to. Most people I run into, even from our region, seem to have been caught in the web of propaganda. It is important they understand what they are repeating. Hence, shaking the rhetoric of the conqueror out of our vocabulary is important. And is our willingness, wittingly or otherwise, to engage in that propaganda, implied in the admission “how low we’ve sunk” intended as an opiate to help us swallow our surrender, which we’re molding as an alternative strategy for ending this conflict? I will not propose strategies, nor do I know what people at the resistance front should do. Neither will I tell defenseless civilians how much sacrifice they should accept, or pretend that there’s a magic formula outside of resistance and loss of life/property. So, granted, “concrete alternative strategies” are limited (but not totally zero as Hezbulla have demonstrated) in the face of a formidable enemy, which displayed utter barbarism and in the face of absolute Arab division and impotence. But just because I don’t have exact concrete alternatives, I will not pretend that all Israel seeks is honest negotiations, that surrender is a strategy for liberation, however cushioned in the language of peace that surrender is.

Jad Wrote:

can’t anything be done taking the “peace process” choice without bowing?

Only if you think that a conqueror can be convinced to end his conquest through meetings and joint dinners with the conquerors. I regret dear Jad that I don’t have a magic pill or an easy solution, outside of what conquered people throughout history have done: Resistance and massive sacrifice.

Dear Alex, We certainly all hope you are right but doubt that conquerors can be convinced through negotiations. I understand the price is high, and people don’t want to die. But, conquerors are not naïve to be satisfied without anything less surrender, semi- or full. I will try to respond to your points in more detail, tomorrow maybe. Good night for now.

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August 6th, 2008, 3:25 am


270. Zenobia said:

many good points. But sometimes, it seems that you are reifying the concept of “conqueror” a bit much. You are treating it as a static thing with no nuances, that is perfectly knowable and consistent.

The conqueror does this; the conqueror does that, thinks this way and reacts only in one way. This too concrete conceptualization shuts down or certainly narrows considerably the perception of other possibilities for outcomes or predictions. The “conqueror” is in fact made up of individuals who are humans. And as such – have some capacity to surprise, however remote that possibility may appear in the short span of our current times.

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August 6th, 2008, 7:18 am


271. Shai said:

Dear Sami,

Thank you for the (very) detailed response. I wish the two sides of the conflict were represented by people like yourself and myself, because we do see things very similarly. However (there had to be a “however”, right?), please do not find offense at my suggestion, but I think you are not being realistic in your expectation from leaders and from people. I completely agree that this is a case of a powerful conqueror and a powerless conquered. I think much more should be expected of the first, and little if anything from the latter. It is the Palestinians, first and foremost, that have been wronged, that have suffered terribly, in ways incomparable to Israel and Israelis. This is indeed a reality of two very unequal parties.

But, so far you and I are talking facts. We haven’t discussed the emotional realms at play which, I believe, you are seriously underestimating. Yes, most Israelis act as conquerors do, feeling some innate superiority-complex over their fellow Arabs, both at home and outside it. Yes, most Israelis are still treating the Golan (not the West Bank) as a territory that “belongs” to them now, and not to its rightful owners, the Syrian people. There is nothing about this feeling and behavior that attests to weakness on behalf of Israelis. Yet, most if not all of these Israelis, feel the threatened side. You see, as racist as it may sound (and is, in fact), to the majority of Israelis, a Palestinian is the same as a Syrian, a Jordanian, a Lebanese, or a Kuwaiti. They are all Arab, they all want us dead or gone, and they’re all ready to mobilize against us at any moment, should their leaders call upon them to do so (not only heads of state, but also spiritual leaders). Most Israelis still feel great fear towards Arabs, and it makes no difference if it is a wealthy Saudi with F-15’s parked in his garage, or a poor Palestinian father of 5, with barely enough income to feed his children one good meal a day.

It is on this emotional realm, as irrational as it may be, that we must traverse. We cannot avoid it. We can let 50 years go by, and hope that no war will occur to again awaken this innate fear and distrust towards Arabs, but we know it won’t happen. Israelis must be changed. They must go through a psychological “therpay”, which treats their skewed conception of reality, gets rid of their irrational fear, and brings them to a place from which they can begin to feel safe, and to finally contribute to the construction of a safer Middle East, rather than the opposite. A courageous leader in Israel is not enough. We’ve already seen Rabin, Sharon, and Olmert, tell Israelis that we cannot rule over another people, that it is wrong. And yet, the Occupation goes on. Telling Israelis the “hard truth” is not enough. It is barely the beginning. Israelis must experience reality, and they can only do that through interaction with “the other side”. It is rare that Israelis and Arabs sit across the table, and discuss their differences. As you suggested, Israelis and Palestinians can’t really engage in such “discussions”, because they are very unequal parties. But this is precisely why Israel and Syria can, and should, talk about peace. Syria has proven itself much more formidable an enemy than the Palestinians have (even though I believe you underestimate the success Palestinians have had in resisting Israel since the first Intifada), and therefore Israel does look at Syria at eye-level. The only reason Israelis snice Rabin’s days are willing to give up on the Golan (and in his years it was the majority of Israelis), is because of the resistance, and Syria’s participation in funding and supporting groups such as HA and Hamas. So I agree with you, Israelis haven’t suddenly become peace-loving philanthropists. They had to first see and feel the alternative.

There are but very few opportunities in history to make peace between bitter enemies, and I believe we seem to be going thruogh such a period once again (last time was a decade ago). We are not close to ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, as we both agree that can only be achieved by resolving the Palestinian problem (probably through a two-state solution). But if we come to accept that in order to begin chipping away at Israel’s innate fear (again, irrational as it may be), we may need to bring it a step closer to other Arabs in the region, and to its own dream of living securely in its own borders. Egypt and Jordan have long stopped being efficient in having any kind of influence over Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. Perhaps it is time for Syria to try. If there is peace between Israel and Syria, the latter will finally be in a position to do that. Khadaffi once joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke to him) that the Arab League should invite Israel to become a member state, and that this way, it might fear the Arabs less. The closer Israel gets to other Arab nations, the closer, I believe, we’ll be to ending our Occupation of Palestine, and the suffering of the Palestinian people. Again, you need to trust me when I talk about the emotional issues that deeply influence the rationality of most Israelis. You needn’t agree with it, but you should at least accept it as reality.

When you speak of the conqueror that has to change, rather than the conquered, you are talking rationally, and you are talking about justice (what is right). But as we were taught when we were little children, so much of life is not about being right, but about being smart. In other words, in order to get somewhere, you may have to put away the principles just long enough, and to act differently. Clearly, no Palestinian will ever forgive Israel for what it has done, until a just solution is found. I am not suggesting that if only we can get to that lawn on the White House, everything will be “Ham-di-la”, and all will be forgiven. Of course not. But in order for my people to change, to have the courage to look inward and see reality as it really is, and not as we’d like it to be, or as we’ve been taught over the past 60 years, then we need to be closer to any Arab nation that is still considered an enemy. If Kuwait offered to make peace with Israel, we have to jump on it. If Syria offers it, then of course we have to take it. Mind you, I’m talking as if al we have to do is say “yes”, and tomorrow morning the Golan becomes Syrian, and Israelis are travelling to Damascus in their hords. We are still far away from that, but as long as Israelis are not ending the Occupation, and Hamas and Fatah are still fighting, and the Israeli puppet Abu Mazen cannot deliver, then we must at least try other paths, which in any case (sooner or later) we must traverse. If we made peace tomorrow morning with the Palestinians, by leaving the entire West Bank, and by finding an acceptable solution to the refugees, we’d still be at war with Syria, because of the Golan. With all due respect to the Palestinians, I’m sure Assad, and probably the majority of the Syrian people, care more about getting back the Golan, than about the Palestinians getting back every last inch of the West Bank.

It is of course easy for me to sit here, in my nice airconditioned home, on my fancy laptop, and talk of acting “smartly”, rather than “justly”, and preaching endlessly about Israeli fear that has to be addressed, no matter how ridiculous a notion that may be or not. And in a way, because I do know that my nation and my people are the conqueror, and because I am able to look myself in the mirror each morning and feel a terrible shame for what we have done, and are still doing, to make another people suffer, it is not easy for me to ask you to undestand me – it should be the other way around. But I honestly think, Sami, that there is no alternative. If the Arab world was united like it was in the 1960’s and early 70’s, and could truly pose an existential threat to Israel (and prove it by going to war, like in 73), then perhaps that would be a faster and more efficient way of changing Israel. But since this is not the case, and as effective as the various resistance movements have been, still Israelis are living in the West Bank, and on the Golan, we must consider alternatives, even if they seem farthest from just.

I believe peace with Syria, will help more Israelis find the courage to look inward, and to see what they’ve been doing to the Palestinians, far better than any Israeli leader could, by giving this speech or another. Plus, unlike in the 1990’s, when Madrid and Oslo had brought upon us a new spirit of hope and courage, today Israelis are numb, and apathetic to their surrounding. They distrust and suspect not only their neighbors, but even their own leaders. They fear Arabs much more than before (because of the resistance), and the most that has achieved are unilateral withdraws from Lebanon and Gaza. And we’ve seen what that has done. We need bilateral and multilateral agreements now, we need to have Israelis feeling more secure, and we need Syria’s help in reducing Israeli fears of the Palestinians’ “real” intentions. If Syria is the only nation on earth that can bring Israelis and Hamas and Hezbollah to the table, we must allow them to do so. They don’t need to be equal parties. It is enough that they are bitter enemies, that fear one another, and have to one day make peace with each other. Without this, there can be no peace, of that I am absolutely sure.

Sami, we both think the same. It’s now not about the “what”, but about the “how”. You know how critical I am of my own country. If I thought there was another way to make us change, I wouldn’t be afraid to put it on the table (even going as far as suggesting that maybe Israelis must experience another terrible war, for instance). But I don’t think this will bring us closer to our destination, if anything, under the current psyche (of Israelis at least), it’ll only serve the opposite purpose. I want the suffering of the Palestinians to end no less than many here. My hope, is that peace with Syria will bring us closer to that goal, than farther away. Israel, and Israelis, will not feel more comfortable with the Occupation, the day afer they sign an agreement with Syria. If I’m reading things correctly, they will feel the opposite, and the long overdue process will begin at last.

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August 6th, 2008, 10:17 am


272. why-discuss said:

Every time I see an Israeli interviewed on Al Jazira he is fulminating and repeating until he looses his breath like AIG: we dont torture children, we are a democracy, we have laws, arabs in Israel have same rights as non arabs, we don’t desecrate moslem cemeteries etc.. The word democracy seems to be the mantra many isrealis used to try to forget that Israel is before everything a colonial power illegally occupying lands and abusing its inhabitants.

Mohmmad Sleiman killing
There are a lot of yatch owners , arabs or Israelis, who hate the negotiations going on between Syria and Israel. It could well be some of them.

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August 6th, 2008, 11:33 am


273. Sami D said:


“it seems that you are reifying the concept of “conqueror” a bit much. You are treating it as a static thing with no nuances, that is perfectly knowable and consistent… The “conqueror” is in fact made up of individuals who are humans. And as such – have some capacity to surprise, however remote that possibility may appear in the short span of our current times.”

Dear Zenobia, I will agree with you that I rely on the “conqueror” conception too much. My reason is that many people (including myself sometimes!) often forget that this is the case, and let optimism delude us into believing that conquerors can change due to self reflection. We can wait for surprises, but let’s not forget the reality of what history has shown. Namely, that while all conquerors are made up of humans, conquests never stopped and seldom ended due to that, or due to sudden shift-to-conscientiousness of conquerors. They ended only when the price of conquest was raised too high for the conqueror. Israel returned rights ONLY when the Arabs rebelled; if Syria gets its land and water back, it would be because of Hezbulla and Iran, and that the reason the Palestinians will get the shaft is because they haven’t been able to make the price for Israel high enough (and the rights they demand are more dear to Israel than Sinai or the Golan). Conquerors don’t usually surprise their subjects with sudden shifts to benevolence. Rights are taken back, unfortunately, only by force.

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August 6th, 2008, 1:15 pm


274. Qifa Nabki said:

Sami habibi,

When you say…

But just because I don’t have exact concrete alternatives, I will not pretend that all Israel seeks is honest negotiations, that surrender is a strategy for liberation, however cushioned in the language of peace that surrender is.

… you are more or less admitting that you have no good ideas about what should be done. And so I repeat: while it is satisfying to be high and mighty, it is basically meaningless if you don’t propose an alternative.

I’m not blaming you: I don’t have any ideas either at the moment, besides investing a little bit of optimism in Bashar and hoping that he knows what he is doing, vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

Finally I would also gently suggest that no rhetoric is innocent. The conqueror/conquered dichotomy and the language that you are using is not free of its moral and political implications. As you said, the Palestinian cause has long functioned as a fig leaf for more than one dictatorship in the region. Don’t you feel, just a little, like you are playing into the hands of those who would like to see the status quo continue?

In fact, there is something similar about the idealism that you espouse and the idealism of the neocon movement.

[WAIT, I’ll explain 🙂 ].

The neocons talked about democracy and institutions and a new era and destroying tyranny, etc, and many people believed them and empowered them to execute their plans, which were not nearly as pure and just as their slogans. Similarly, many of the tyrants in the Middle East talk about conquerors and conquered, achieving justice for Palestine etc., any many people believe them and empower them (as if they had a choice!) to execute their plans, which are not nearly as pure and just as their slogans. You see what I mean.

I don’t count you in that band of tyrants, obviously. 🙂

But I think you should be aware that your rhetoric is also … rhetoric, and it has been put in the service of plenty of injustice, historically speaking.

There’s plenty of rhetoric floating around. What we’re short on, is solutions, ideas, fixes, etc. And, of course, leadership.

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August 6th, 2008, 3:20 pm


275. Off the Wall said:

Dear Karim

Your answer to Jad epitomizes a standard disturbing cliche. You start by demonizing Iranian people as being Rafidis’ and argue that a good relationship between Syria and Iran is “unnatural” mainly because Syria reject Rafidizm. Then you completely switch tone and declare your love of Iranian culture and people and identify the regime as being the enemy. Well, the majority of Iranians are Rafidis, except for secular Iranians. Please be consistent.

If your argument with the Iranian regime is because it is proselytizing rafidi-sm, you should take a much stronger stance against KSA, whose proselytizing Wahhabi worship of religion is the main reason for deforming Sunni Islam in most of the Islamic world into an unrecognizable nightmare. They pose more threat and danger to Sunni Islam than mere thousands who switch from sunni to shia and risk reducing the size of the tribe.

Dear Sami D
You give us much to think about. I have much to say but I do not seem to find a way to start. Being the slowest thinker on this forum, I guess I’ll have to wait until the weekend to gather my thoughts and formulate my comments. In the meantime, i think both Qifa, Jad, Zenobia and especially Shai also gave us much to think about.

Of your comments, one intrigued me the most and that was:

Only a one-state, which would necessarily involve a major scaling down of the racist component of Zionism, can be the minimally fair solution

Can you please elaborate on this point. The word “Zionist” and “Zionism” have become pejorative in Arabic lexicon. Even when our intellectuals recite the historical context of the movement, they do no more than recitation, and fail, intentionally, or otherwise, to divorce their analysis from the emotions that have accompanied the terms over the years. In our discourse, the word Zionist and Zionisms are thrown at Isreali’s or at friends of Israel in the same manner the word “terrorist” is thrown at us with the intent of disarming the opponent and conjuring images of violence, suffering, injustice, and you name it. In both cases, logic and understanding are the first victims of this salvo of loaded terms. I am not arguing for or against Zionism, nor am I denying its impact on the conflict. All i am trying to do is to identify whether our language of discourse, on both sides, is part and parcel of the larger problem. The phrase “racist component” tells me that you are aware of this and I am interested in your elaboration.

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August 6th, 2008, 3:33 pm


276. Karim said:

Dear OTW,i love the iranian people ,and i’m very impressed by the elegance of their women,the regime is not representative of the reality and more and more iranians are becoming allergic to the religion thanks to the hypocrisy of the iranian clerks…and i have no problem with shia iranians(not insulter of the sahaba and the honor of the prophet) ,there are good intellectuals among them like the sociologist Ali Shariati,he criticized traditional shia’ism.And the Iranian culture is not a religion ,for example one of my favourite music is the persian music and the Baluch music is nice and the same for the kurdish iranian music ,they are iranians and sunnis.BTW,most of the poets,thinkers and scientists of the classical iranian culture were Sunnis.
Yes i consider Wahabism as a depravation but i could not equal it with rafidism,you had an idea from the youtube videos.And in Syria we are not concerned because Wahabism has always been rejected by our scholars.And most of the scholars who attacked rafidism were Sufis.(like the persian Mawlana Jalal Din Al Rumi ,founder of the Mevlevi order or mawlawiya)

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August 6th, 2008, 4:48 pm


277. Off The Wall said:

Dear Karim

Yes i consider Wahabism as a depravation but i could not equal it with rafidism,you had an idea from the youtube videos

To me, the videos were offensive, not in the ideological sense, but in their obsurdity and in their attempt to enshrine one group of important poeple in our history by insulting another, as important. I find them more like tabloid, which i find offensive. But their danger is not intrinsic, it is more in the way their oponents chose to respond the them. Wahabi ideology, on the other hand, is inherently and initrinsicly dangourous and if we are to wait until they reform as you have argued time and again, it would be very long time, and they would by the have completely destroyed whatever good in Islam. They have poisened the relegious environment in Syria, Egypt (moreso), Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Algeria, and so on. They are powerful and rich. They should be fought by you as a “moderate” moslim before I, the secular, humanist, fight them.

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August 6th, 2008, 5:53 pm


278. Jad said:

Karim, I’m not sure if your last comment about “your love to Iranian people” is all Iranian or just the Sunnis’ iranian? (good intellectuals among them …he criticized traditional “”””shia’ism”””””….the Iranian culture is not a religion…they are iranians and “”””sunnis”””””. “””””BTW,most of the poets,thinkers and scientists of the classical iranian culture were Sunnis.”””””)

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August 6th, 2008, 6:14 pm


279. Karim said:

Jad,i’m not neutral but what i really meant are the Iranian people in general.But Of course i have no love for hypocrite bigots,muslims or other than muslims.
In the Ottoman islamic schools of the elite,even in Syria ,persian language was taught and the mesnevi of Jalal Din Rumi is written in farsi.
OTW,wahabi extremism is dangerous but the reason of its relative success is the lack of democracy in the arab world.Our people are humiliated and without hopes ,these resentment make them receptive to radical ideologies that preach the culture of death.
Only a liberal democracy can bring peace and development to our world.The arab regimes more than bush or israel are accountable for this mess.

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August 6th, 2008, 7:02 pm


280. Sami D said:

Alex wrote:

But there IS a chance for a comprehensive settlement. It would be a mistake to not try. You have high expectations (one state solution), and I think you totally lost hope in Arab leaders, which is understandable. But really, I don’t think Bashar will disappoint you too much …

3azizi Alex, If indeed there’s a chance for a comprehensive and FAIR settlement, it would definitely be a mistake not to try. Even if there aren’t, I think it still doesn’t hurt to always try and to explore, but provided we’re always reminded of the reality of the situation and what history has repeatedly shown. I don’t see Israel and the US just agreeing to anything beyond token land return to Syria. My high expectations are only inline with minimal fairness as I outlined above, especially with regard to issues of refugees, 1948 Palestinians, settlements, equal rights. The only reason my expectations (one state) are high is that Israel has a lot of muscle, not because what is being proposed falls far below the standard of minimal fairness. I realize it will be a while for that to happen, but already we’ve seen “post-Zionist” currents in Israel. So, nothing is impossible. I may indulge in the optimism about Bashar, but again I would also keep that optimism restrained, or more accurately grounded in reality of the balance of powers and of what conquerors have, throughout history, conceded and under what terms.

P.S. Shai, thanks for your response. I doubt I will get the chance to comment, (haven’t read it yet) but will try. I have to pick and choose at this stage.

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August 6th, 2008, 7:07 pm


281. Sami D said:

Qifa Nabki wrote:

“As you said, the Palestinian cause has long functioned as a fig leaf for more than one dictatorship in the region. Don’t you feel, just a little, like you are playing into the hands of those who would like to see the status quo continue?”

Dear Qifa,

I think you said it best earlier, that the idealist rhetoric serves as a reality check. Too often people start to believe what they are repeating, as they slowly and unwittingly get tangled into the web of Orwellian constructs erected by the US and Israel. What my hope here was to remind people of the basics and reality of this conflict, lest they are lost in the rhetoric of compromise and excitement over the purported deals that will end all bloodshed. We want to believe in Bashar because other options seem to be out; but let’s also remember the odds and the temptation to sell out, and what history teaches. I am all for a peaceful solution, to persuade Israel to mend its ways regarding the Palestinians. I simply think Israel, like other conquerors will not accept. (Anyway, a peace that is based on selling out the Palestinians is likely to be unstable in the long run, and will involve additional dictatorial power to keep those who might rebel against the practices of our new friend Israel.)

As for strategy, well, I am not a military planner, so I wouldn’t have been able to tell that the best solution pre-1973 would be to launch a war on Israel, or pre-2000 to utilize suicide missions and attacks on Israeli vehicles as the best way to eject Israel, or pre-2006 that kidnapping soldiers is the best way to convince Israel to accept some releasing prisoners. On all these counts I would say things produced results. Would anyone, aside from people on the front who are experienced and familiar with the options on the ground, know what the best strategy would be? Is it opening the Golan front, and arming some groups to kidnap some soldiers? I don’t know.

I do feel more than “just a little”, in agreement with you, that the rhetoric of rights and resistance plays into the hands of some dictators (hence my intentional fig-leaf comment). But then, rhetoric of non-resistance and of acquiescence has also played into the hands of other dictators. So dictators will find whatever reason to justify dictatorial rule. And just because some thug adopts the rhetoric of democracy and freedom should not mean we ought support anti-democratic and anti-freedom movements, cutting off the nose to spite the face. (I know this is not what you intended :))

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August 6th, 2008, 7:18 pm


282. Qifa Nabki said:

Sami D wrote:

I do feel more than “just a little”, in agreement with you, that the rhetoric of rights and resistance plays into the hands of some dictators (hence my intentional fig-leaf comment). But then, rhetoric of non-resistance and of acquiescence has also played into the hands of other dictators. So dictators will find whatever reason to justify dictatorial rule. And just because some thug adopts the rhetoric of democracy and freedom should not mean we ought support anti-democratic and anti-freedom movements, cutting off the nose to spite the face.


I’m glad that we are in agreement, then.

As I said, I enjoy your comments, not only because they are a reality check but also because you’re a good writer and a clear thinker.

I guess your comment leads to one conclusion: rhetoric is for the birds.


What is needed is cold hard talk, plans, brass tacks, blueprints, etc. This is what is currently missing from the debate. The Syrians, who are pretty tight-lipped on even their most loquacious days, have given no real hint about how the current talks are going to produce a solution on the Palestinian front. Everyone here is putting on a brave face and assuring each other that “Bashar would never sign a Camp David II,” but we simply don’t know what the alternative will be. They’re proceeding with these talks… full steam ahead! I’m willing to wait and see.

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August 6th, 2008, 7:31 pm


283. Sami D said:

OffTheWall wrote:

Of your comments, one intrigued me the most and that was: “Only a one-state, which would necessarily involve a major scaling down of the racist component of Zionism, can be the minimally fair solution” Can you please elaborate on this point. The word “Zionist” and “Zionism” have become pejorative in Arabic lexicon. … All i am trying to do is to identify whether our language of discourse, on both sides, is part and parcel of the larger problem. The phrase “racist component” tells me that you are aware of this and I am interested in your elaboration.

Dear OffTheWall,

I think, in line with your excellent question, a return to definitions is in order. Indeed Zionism has negative and pejorative connotations in the Arab world. Personally, I use it to refer to what Zionism basically is according to its followers and what it meant for the Palestinians. Zionism is a political movement that aimed to create in Palestine a Jewish state for Jews, to stem then the seemingly irremediable anti-Semitism. All fine and dandy until we recognize that there’s problem: What will happen to the native Palestinians, the indigenous people of the land?

More or less, the entire history of the Palestine-Israel (and Arab-Israel) conflict from then on, follows from this question. Indeed Zionism implied and produced the eventual ethnic cleansing and conquest of Palestine, and the turning of Palestinians into the persecuted, rejected refugees scattered across the region. Today Zionism to Palestinians means not just the 1948 ethnic cleansing, but the additional on-going conquest of the West Bank/Jerusalem, and the building of settlements, the water theft, the imprisonment, starvation and humiliation of an entire population of dispossessed people, the checkpoints, the tortures, the maze of permits, the uprooting of colossal number of trees, and the home demolitions.

But Zionism also means that those “lucky” Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (20 percent of the population) today are discriminated against based on them not being Jews. They account for way more than their proportion of the poor, their land was confiscated, crops poisoned, villages leveled. There were even programs to thin out their numbers and “encourage” them to emigrate, let alone the first twenty years living under military rule. They are discriminated against in employment, their towns get the short end of development funds, can’t marry who they want, can’t bring back their expelled relative in family reunion, can’t choose where they can live and are way under-represented in upper echelon positions in academia, companies, etc. If they demonstrate demanding to end some abuse by Israel, they can get shot and killed, (whereas if radical Jews demonstrate with torches heading towards the house of a Palestinian Knesset member, they are tolerated.). Simply because they are non-Jews, a fifth column outcasts on their own land.

On the other hand, if some tribe in Peru showed some linkage to Judaism, and a rabbi approves, then they’re automatically entitled to emigrate to Israel, get citizenship and full rights — the same rights denied to non-Jewish Palestinians. Again, in the name of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. Even when it was found out that many of the hundreds of thousands Russian “Jews” immigrating to Israel were turning out not to be Jews (however a “Jew” is defined — another contentious issue), Israel didn’t mind. So long as they counted as “Jews” it would seem. Anyone to offset Palestinian numbers, and to preserve the “Jewish character” of the state in the face of “demographic threat” posed by Palestinian mothers’ wombs, is welcome by Israel.

All while Palestinian refugees sit behind barbed wires and inside closing-in walls, watching as their former homes and lands get populated by people from all over the world. These practices would be considered glaringly racist, but they just reflect what’s quite acceptable for the ideology of Zionism. This is why serious calls for peace between Israel and her prime victims, must include an end to Zionism.

So back to your question, I do believe there’s a non-racist component to Zionism: Namely, its Jewish nationalism aspect aimed at freeing Jews from anti-Semitism, however problematic a national-religious ideology might be, let alone the dwindling of global anti-Semitism which gave rise to Zionism in the first place. Issues with Zionism began when its followers chose an inhabited land, Palestine, to create their dream state – hence Arab hostility to it and the negative connotations in the term.

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August 6th, 2008, 8:23 pm


284. Alex said:


Thank you for all your comments.

I will repeat what QN said above … if you are indeed willing to try, then we do not disagree much.

I expect a possible Palestinian state agreement within 2009… Jerusalem and Refugees will have to wait few more years.

Egypt and “the moderate Arabs” can work with Syria on that part and declare to their people that THEY got the Palestinians back their Palestine.

But it is really nothing more than a 50/50 possibility … nothing is certain.

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August 6th, 2008, 8:30 pm


285. Alex said:

This article in Lebanese Al-Akhbar repeats some of the points we made in the article above.

“Saudi Arabia searches for its lost role”

السعوديّة تبحث عن دور مفقود

بوتين وبندر في موسكو الشهر الماضي (ألكسي دروزينين ــ نوفوستي)بوتين وبندر في موسكو الشهر الماضي (ألكسي دروزينين ــ نوفوستي)
أين السعودية اليوم من التطورات الإقليمية؟ هل لا تزال تمثّل ثقلاً في المنطقة بعد المتغيّرات المستجدّة خلال الأشهر القليلة الماضية؟ الجواب قد يكون سلبياً، وعرض بعض المعطيات داخل السعودية وخارجها يشير إلى أن الرياض تبحث عن دور وعن حلفاء جدد، ولا سيما أن العلاقة مع الحليف التاريخي، الولايات المتحدة، لم تعد، كما يبدو، على ما يرام

نيويورك ــ نزار عبود
الأشهر القليلة الماضية كانت كفيلة بإظهار انكفاء الدور السعودي الإقليمي بعد سلسلة من الإخفاقات في أكثر من ملف، إضافة إلى تراجع العلاقة بين الرياض وواشنطن، ما حتّم توجهاً سعوديّاً للحفاظ على ما بقي من المكانة، منها عرقلة مساعي الانفتاح الغربي على دول في المنطقة، وبالتحديد سوريا وإيران، والبدء في البحث عن حلفاء جدد مفترضين للتعويض عن التراجع في العلاقة مع الولايات المتحدة.
مؤشرات كثيرة في الآونة الأخيرة دلّلت على هذا التوجّه السعودي، ولعل أبرزها الاتفاق العسكري مع روسيا، الذي وقّعه الأمين العام لمجلس الأمن القومي السعودي، بندر بن سلطان، الشهر الماضي. اتفاق راجت أنباء عن ربطه بالعلاقات بين موسكو وطهران، واعتباره «رشوة» سعوديّة لروسيّا للتخفيف من انفتاحها على إيران.
رغم نفي الرياض وموسكو للأنباء التي أوردتها حينها صحيفة «كومرسانت» الاقتصادية الروسية، إلا أن للخبر ما يبرره في ظل القلق السعودي من الصعود الإقليمي الإيراني. كما أن الغاية السعودية من الصفقة تتجاوز «الرشوة» لتدخل في إطار «تنويع مصادر التسلح»، كما قال بندر، أو تنويع الحلفاء، كما يوحي المسار السياسي في المنطقة.
ومع مرور نحو شهر على الاتفاقية العسكرية، إلا أن الكثير من بنودها بقي غامضاً. فلا موسكو ولا الرياض نشرتا تفاصيل الصفقة الموقّعة في 14 تموز الماضي، خلال زيارة بندر إلى روسيا، كما لم تعرف قيمتها. لكن بعض المصادر الروسية والأميركية، وكذلك السعودية، قدرتها بأكثر من أربعة مليارات دولار. وقالت مصادر على صلة وثيقة بالعائلة الحاكمة في الرياض، إن «طائرات عمودية للنقل العسكري «أم آي ــ 17» ومروحيات الشحن والقتال «أم آي ــ 35» ستتصدر الاتفاقيات المرتقبة». وهناك اهتمام بشراء طائرات قتالية متطورة ودبابات من طراز «تي ــ 90». وأبرزت تلك المصادر اهتمام بندر بشراء أنظمة الدفاع الجوي الحديثة، ولا سيما من الطرازين الأحدث، «سام ــ 300» و»سام ــ 400». علماً بأن أيران ستتلقى النظام الأول في أوائل العام المقبل.
ولذلك دلالة كبيرة في المعادلة الاستراتيجية في الشرق الأوسط، إذ إن أنظمة الدفاع الصاروخية الروسية هي التي ستحمي المنشآت النووية الإيرانية. وعندما تنتقل إلى دولة مرتبطة عضوياً بالمنظومة الدفاعية الأميركية، فإنها تسعى، سواء عن قصد أو حسن نية، إلى خرق أسرارها التقنية ونقلها إلى خصوم غربيين يدرّبون سلاح الطيران السعودي.
مثل هذا السيناريو له ما يبرره في التاريخ، ولا سيما أن بندر نفسه كان وراء صفقات الصواريخ البحرية الصينية «سيلكوورم» في منتصف ثمانينيات القرن الماضي. وكانت تلك صدمة للأميركيين لأنها تمّت من دون علمهم وبقيت سراً. وقتها، أبرمت السعودية صفقات مع الصين لحساب العراق بعلم أميركي، وفي الوقت نفسه حصلت على صواريخ صينية أخرى لنفسها ما أثار غضب واشنطن واللوبي الإسرائيلي. وكانت الرياض تلجأ في علاقتها مع الصين إلى شراء الأسلحة نفسها التي كانت تتم بين الصين وإيران وتحوّلها إلى العراق بسعر أعلى لتضعف إيران من جهة، وتقوّي نظام صدام حسين من جهة أخرى.
ويبدو اليوم أن السعودية تخوض سباقاً مع الزمن لإثبات فعالية دورها في المنطقة، وأنها تستطيع أداء أدوار كبيرة لحسابات إقليمية ودولية؛ فالرياض تشعر بانزعاج بالغ من أي حوار غربي مع إيران وسوريا، ناهيك عن القلق من التعاون العسكري بين طهران وموسكو. كذلك، تشعر المملكة أن أي فك لعزلة طهران ودمشق سيكون على حساب مكانتها الاستراتيجية في المنطقة وقد يهدد كيانها بالخطر. ورأى مصدر سعودي مقرّب من العائلة الحاكمة أن المملكة تحرص على بناء «علاقات عسكرية وسياسية كبيرة مع موسكو التي تؤدي دوراً مؤثراً في مجلس الأمن الدولي، فضلاً عن كونها المصدر الأساسي الخارجي للتسلح بالنسبة إلى سوريا وإيران».
ولم يعد سراً أن الرياض سعت بدأبٍ لوقف محاولات فكّ العزلة على دمشق، الأمر الذي عبّر عنه وزير الخارجية الفرنسي برنار كوشنير صراحة، بعد الزيارة السريّة لوزير الخارجية السعودي سعود الفيصل وبندر بن سلطان إلى باريس قبل أيام من انعقاد قمّة الاتحاد من أجل المتوسط والقمّة التاريخية بين الرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي ونظيره السوري بشار الأسد.
وتشير مصادر مطّلعة إلى أن الرجلين جاءا بهدف واحد هو «منع زيارة الرئيس السوري للعاصمة الفرنسية في 11 تموز، عارضين توقيع صفقات اقتصادية ضخمة مع الشركات الفرنسية على جميع الصعد». لكن ساركوزي كفّ يد كوشنير عن الملف السوري وواصل انفتاحه على دمشق وطهران، في تحوّل فرنسي أثار قشعريرة لدى رجال السياسة في الرياض.
المحاولات السعودية هذه، سواء مع موسكو أو باريس، ناتجة من إحساس الرياض بالتجاهل الأميركي لتوجّهاتها الإقليمية. ولم تجهد السعودية في إخفاء الانزعاج من البرودة الأميركية في التعاطي معها. وكان ذلك واضحاً في أكثر من موقف، فهي لم تستقبل الرئيس جورج بوش في أوائل أيار الماضي بالحفاوة التي كان يتوقّعها بالرغم من الرقص معه بالسيف. كما إنها رفضت طلب الرئيس الأميركي بزيادة إنتاج النفط، إذ تعهّدت الرياض بزيادة بمقدار مئتي ألف برميل يومياً فقط، بحجة أنها لا تمتلك طاقة إنتاج احتياطية، وأنها قادرة على تلبية طلبات السوق بكمية الإنتاج الحالية. وبدلاً من أن ينخفض سعر البرميل كما يتمنى الأميركيون، واصل صعوده مقترباً من حاجز الـ150 دولاراً. آنذاك عبّر بوش عن سخطه بخطاب ألقاه في شرم الشيخ مغال في التأييد لإسرائيل، مضعفاً وضع حلفائه الإقليميين.
السعودية عادت بعد مغادرة بوش للمنطقة، وتعهدت في قمة الغذاء، التي عقدت في روما في حزيران الماضي، برفع إنتاج النفط إلى 9.7 ملايين برميل يومياً حتى يهبط سعر النفط. أي بزيادة نصف مليون برميل يومياً. كما قدمت 500 مليون دولار لصندوق «أوبك» المخصص لإقراض الدول الفقيرة المتأثرة بارتفاع سعر الطاقة بفوائد ميسّرة.
وكان يمكن للرياض أن تقدم تلك التعهدات للرئيس الأميركي كهدية رمزية بمناسبة زيارته، إلا أنها لم تفعل وفضّلت القيام بمثل هذه المبادرة إفرادياً وفي إطار تجمّع عالمي. لكن مع ذلك فإن سعر النفط واصل ارتفاعه.
هبوط سعر النفط الحقيقي وقع مباشرة بعد الإعلان عن أن مساعد وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية، وليام بيرنز، سيزور فيينا من أجل الاجتماع بالمفاوض الإيراني سعيد جليلي حول البرنامج النووي. وترافق أيضاً مع حلّ مشكلة الأسرى اللبنانيين وعملية التهدئة في غزة واستئناف المفاوضات غير المباشرة بين سوريا وإسرائيل في تركيا.
منذ ذلك الحين والانفراج في سوق الطاقة يتواصل بوتيرة شعرت بها كل العواصم، ولا سيما مع تزايد الحديث عن إمكان تحقيق انفراج دولي واسع يشمل كل المسارات في الشرق الأوسط ولا يهمل وضع الاقتصاد العالمي المهدد بأفدح الأضرار.
انفراجات تبدو السعودية بعيدة عنها تماماً، ولا سيما أن دورها في المنطقة تميّز بعدد من الإخفاقات بدأت باتفاق مكة الفلسطيني في شباط 2007، الذي لم يصمد أكثر من أربعة أشهر، مروراً بقمّة دمشق الأخيرة، التي لم تفلح جهود الرياض في إفشالها، حتى إن مقاطعتها لم تنسحب على سائر القادة الخليجيين الذين حضروا لتكريس الرئاسة السوريّة للقمة العربية، وصولاً إلى مؤتمر الدوحة اللبناني، الذي كان الدور السعودي فيه لا يتجاوز دور مشاهد نشرات الأخبار.
فالسعودية فشلت، بالرغم من استثمار مئات ملايين الدولارات في لبنان وفي قضايا إقليمية أخرى ذات صلة، في بلوغ تسوية مناسبة لسياستها وبما يرضي الراعي الأميركي. وكان الأميركيون طيلة هذه المدة يدفعون ثمناً باهظاً في اقتصادهم وسمعتهم على الساحة الاستراتيجية الدولية. معطيات يضاف إليها إحجام السعودية عن إقامة علاقات مع العراق، ساهمت في إغضاب واشنطن.
إزاء هذا التآكل السريع في العلاقات الأميركية ـــــ السعودية، يبدو أن الرياض بدأت في إقامة استراتيجية إقليمية مستقلة تعيد الاعتبار إلى دورها الإقليمي. وبعض العارفين بالبيت السعودي يرون أن «الرياض أضحت في غاية التخبط بعد تلقي عدة انتكاسات لمصلحة خصومها الإقليميين». ويضيفون «صحيح أنها راكمت ثروات طائلة من عائدات النفط التي هطلت عليها في السنوات القليلة الماضية تؤهلها لأداء دور مؤثر على الساحة الدولية. لكن العاصمة السعودية لم تعتد الرقص السياسي المنفرد من قبل».
المعادلة الاستراتيجية اليوم جعلت الرياض معزولة سياسياً بالرغم من ثقلها النقدي الكبير. وتجلى ذلك بصورة واضحة عندما وقفت الولايات المتحدة في الأسابيع الماضية في وجه مشروع قرار سعودي في مجلس الأمن الدولي يندد بالاستيطان في فلسطين ويطالب بإيقافه. كان بوسع واشنطن الموافقة عليه، أو على الأقل إمراره بالامتناع عن التصويت، لأنه لا يخالف خريطة الطريق أو توصيات اللجنة الرباعية ولا حتى بيانات وزارة الخارجية الأميركية ذات الصلة. لكن امتعاض البيت الأبيض من خذلان الملك عبد الله للرئيس بوش، جعل الأميركيين، على ما يبدو، يلجأون إلى تحجيم الدور السعودي إلى أصغر ما يمكن.
ومع الاستهداف الأميركي للرياض، فإن السعودية تحاول البحث عن دور من خارج الفلك الأميركي. لكن لا يبدو أن محاولاتها تجد طريقها إلى النجاح، ولا سيما أن الحسابات الدولية في الأشهر القليلة الماضية، اختلفت كثيراً عما كانت عليه في السابق.
وإذا كانت الرياض تحاول شراء مواقف سياسية من باريس وموسكو في مقابل عقود تسلح وعقود بناء عملاقة لها ولشركائها في دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي، فإن تلك الدول باتت مقتنعة بأن ما تجنيه من علاقة مع لاعبين فاعلين في الشرق الأوسط أهم بكثير.
أما أوروبا والولايات المتحدة وآسيا فتدرك تماماً أن التوتر مع إيران وارتفاع سعر النفط بنتيجته بات يصيب الاقتصاد العالمي في مقتل. وخير مؤشر على ذلك هبوط أسعار المنازل في الولايات المتحدة بنحو 16 في المئة خلال أيار الماضي وحده، وما لذلك من تداعيات كارثية على أوضاع المصارف. فالصين تفقد بانهيار مصرفين متعثّرين يعملان في مجال التسليف العقاري الأميركي، هما «فريدي ماك» و«فاني ميه»، 400 مليار دولار. وتفقد روسيا فيهما نحو 100 مليار. واليابان 100 مليار. وتقدر خسائر الدول الخليجية بنحو 200 مليار دولار. ولقد سجّلت أخيراً اتصالات بين الخزانة الأميركية وحكومات الدول الخليجية لطمأنتها بأن الولايات المتحدة لن تسمح بانهيار المصرفين اللذين يتوليان قروضاً عقارية بقيمة 12 تريليون دولار.
لكن الكل يشتم رائحة الدم الأميركي بنتيجة هذا النزف المالي والسياسي والعسكري الحاصل. وهناك من يشعر بأن الولايات المتحدة قد تضطر قريباً إلى العودة مكسورة من الشرق الأوسط على طريقة هزيمة فيتنام. تعود لتلعق جراحها، وكلها عتب وسخط على الحلفاء العرب الذين، بحسب رأيها، لم يساهموا جديّاً بدفع أجندتها، سواء في لبنان أو فلسطين أو العراق.
أمام هذا الواقع، يقول دبلوماسي في نيويورك لـ«الأخبار» إن «السعودية تعيش خوفاً وهمياً من احتمال تعرضها لهجوم إقليمي. وتشعر أن واشنطن لن تستطيع الوقوف إلى جانبها في زمن الشدة. وبالتالي فإنها تحاول من جهة إضعاف خصومها الوهميين، إيران وسوريا، ومن جهة أخرى تسعى إلى تنويع مصادر تسلحها وربما اللجوء إلى اقتناء أسلحة نووية سراً إن استطاعت».
وذكّر الدبلوماسي بما ورد في تحليل الكاتب ريتشارد راسل عن امتلاك السعودية لقدرات نووية، وقال فيه «من غير المناسب للرياض الاعتماد بشكل أساسي في دفاعها على الولايات المتحدة وتنتظر منها أن تهبّ لنجدتها في جميع الظروف… وطبقاً لوجهة النظر السعودية فإن امتلاك أسلحة نووية وأنظمة التوصيل الصاروخية يبدوان منطقيين وضروريين». ويرى أن هذه الأنظمة لن تكون على شكل سلاح الطيران الضعيف أمام شبكات الدفاع الأرضية. بل صواريخ باليستية على غرار «سي إس إس 2».
إلى الآن لا يبدو أن السعودية استطاعت إيجاد دور بديل في المنطقة، حتى إن لجوءها إلى «مصالحة الأديان» خلال المؤتمر الذي دعا إليه الملك عبد الله في مدريد، لم يكن إلا في إطار السعي السعودي الحثيث للبحث عن دور ما في المنظومة الدولية الجديدة.
البحث لا يزال جارياً، والهدف لا يبدو سهل المنال، إلا في حال انتكاسة إقليمية كبيرة، تعيد للسعودية أهميتها الاستراتيجية. والانتكاسة لا يمكن أن تكون إلا على حساب أطراف إقليمية أخرى.

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August 6th, 2008, 8:36 pm


286. Shai said:


Sami is one of the best commentators. It is of course not easy for me to read much of what he says (though I agree with most of it), and I suppose that is understandable given that I am the Israeli. But from my angle, when I look at those few opportunities in our lifetime that cross our path (in this case, initiated by Syria), I keep seeing my future grandchildren looking me in the eyes and asking: “Saba, what did YOU do to help end the bloodshed in our region?” I owe it to my children and to theirs, to have a good answer.

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August 6th, 2008, 8:39 pm


287. ayman said:

Dear Shai.

To understand the dymanics of Syria and Israel’s Brand conflict it is important to look back, because any system of thought that is not self-referential is not intelligent (if we are to believe Douglas R. Hofstadter). Using Alex’s complex systems and Majhool’s regression theory won’t do unless we use the golden braid analogy in GEB. Also useless is both optimism (yours) and pessimism (mine) regarding what is going on now. So, and at the risk of making you (and everyone else) bored I’ll present to you my take on this conflict. It is emotion based…but may be helpful to you since you seem to want to understand us, and our understanding of you.

The first chronicle of this seemingly eternal Israeli Syrian conflict was in 175 BC in the story of Hanukkah. It as you know (but as my fellow Syrians may not) is the story of the struggles of the Maccabees, led by Judas Maccabeus, against Antiochus IV of Syria, a struggle Judea won. Their latest Israeli Syrian (I’ll explain why it was Syrian not Lebanese in a second) conflict was in 2006 in southern Lebanon, and it resulted in a tie at best.

Just as the Holocaust provided the moral justification for Judea’s reemergence as “Israel”, the 1948 “Nakba” caused the re-packaging of Syria’s southern branch as “Palestine”. Prior to 1948, and the creation of the modern state of Israel in Palestine, Jews identified more with Judaism than Israel, and Syrians identified with Syrian nationalism and not the Palestinian cause per se. Palestine was then considered by all Syrians as Syria’s southern province, this pan-Syrian élan was especially prevalent in the Orthodox Christian community in every Middle East city.

European pogroms were the immediate cause of the birth of Israel and a new “Brand” re-alignment in both the Jewish and Syrian communities of the world. Jews had been praying “next year in Jerusalem” for centuries and they had read their Old Testament which seemingly gave them an exclusive title to all the Promised Land, especially-though not exclusively-Palestine. And with the fulfillment of their prayers came a new brand; brand Israel. Its brand logo was a Star of David; its credo was why, not? (A can-do attitude similar to the attitude of American culture). It is now a ubiquitous brand that is often confused with Brand America. One may even argue that the celluloid America of Hollywood fame was created by them, and not vice versa. Brand Israel was born of scattered, well-heeled, intelligent, yet marginalized parents. In just sixty years it has taken a stunning proportion of them from the ghetto into the gazebo. Its reluctant low profile representatives were innately prudent, but recently they have gotten cocky. This change in attitude may have been earned, but it may not be wise. Imagine going from Freud and Einstein, to Perle and Wolfowitz! The last ten decades have been a virtual pantheon of Judean men and women of guile and substance, while today the Jews are hitching their wagon to a bunch of intellectual lightweights and Bush administration cronies. These impractical and soon to be forgotten theorists have set their sights on Syria and its brand.

The saying: our enemy defines us, was never truer than it is today. Brand Syria is (and has always been) more about “reaction” than it is about action. So today it defines itself as the brand of rejection to Israeli inspired U.S. world hegemony. Even before the Iraq war and the birth of Israel in 1948 Brand Syria had rejected Ottoman, Crusader, Fatimid etc., world hegemony. Presently it’s reacting to spreading Israeli-inspired U.S. foreign policy. Its credo is a soft “yes,” or more precisely; “no, but”! The ‘but’ cancels the no or yes by it’s qualifying the answer. Our most common Syrian phrase is this “ay, bas” (yes, but.) Look carefully at it…it’s an equivocation of an affirmation. It’s so bad, that we can’t say a single yes or a simple no without a caveat. Brand Syria’s logo would be-if it had one-a Kufi LA (a big no in calligraphy) inside a crescent. A fertile crescent, not an Islamic crescent one…mind you. Yes, but…that subtle no, is the only thing that binds Syrians. If you ask Syrians; do you want to fight Israel? They’d say; yes, but! It’s a nuanced no. Ask them do you want Peace with Israel? No, but. Are you anti American? No, but. Pro American? No, but. For Iraqi freedom? Yes, but. Saddam? No, but. Pro Lebanon’s freedom? Yes, but. etc. An example of this odd mindset, so prevalent in Syrians of all types, is the Syrian Jews in Brooklyn N.Y… Ask them; are you more Syrian than Jews or vice versa? I challenge you to get a straight answer from any member of that community, they-more than anyone-on earth exemplify Brand Syria at it’s nuanced best.

Brand Syria has no brand (tenets) or brand explaining rules because there’s nothing they wouldn’t say no, or yes but, to. Still by surviving 10,000 years Syria has done well with this mind-set. So, Brand Syria (or its non-brand) allows for everything except extinction. Brand Judea is again in conflict with Brand Syria, but today they aren’t the Maccabees and Syria’s on its way to its own Hanukkah victory and rebirth. The recent war in Southern Lebanon may be the first of many skirmishes that Brand Judean can only lose. Syria is good at survival, but if it is to prevail it can do so only by its adversaries’ tendency to self-destruct.

Shai, Brand Syria is brand Judea’s Semitic cousin, and not its natural enemy. Brand Judea’s only natural enemies are the anti-Semites of the world, the abhorrent neo-Nazis who may still be around but are now (in turn) very marginalized. If the two Semitic sister-brands merged they’d make good global partners. These two Semitic brands are in conflict in Israel proper, and nowhere else. Brand Syria should learn from its sister brand, and emulate its ways, and brand Judea should in return ease up on Brand Syria while it’s still ahead. Syrians know that under similar circumstances of world wide general indifference and occasional attack, their Judeans cousins who were like they are today ( a scattered bright and talented minority in Diaspora) reconciled, and by adopting a “why not” attitude now rules. Brand Syrians can do it, and by globalization what was once achieved by Brand Judeans in sixty years can be achieved in twenty, but only after real Semitic brand reconciliation begins.


* Shem came before Abraham, he was the son of Noah, and settled bilad el-Shem after the Flood. He (not Abraham) fathered all of us Semites or Shemites, because from Shem comes the word Semite, and Sham is still the most commonly used name for Syria’s capital; which is “Sham”. Or more exactly (Dimashq-E-Shem, ergo Damascus) I am a Shami. I’m not (as some would gather) a Syrian Nationalist because I believe Sham is bigger than Syria, it includes you all.

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August 14th, 2008, 3:52 am


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