Posted by Alex on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
By Ford Prefect
No. Not under the current US Administration according to Dr. Alon Liel, Head of the Israel-Syria Peace Society and former Director General of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affair. Dr. Liel was speaking at the Middle East Institute in Washington last Thursday to a packed audience.
Liel spoke out of his strong beliefs that the key to peace in the Middle East is to negotiate with Israel's enemies and not its friends or "made-up" friends.
The lecture was, of course, attended by a fun-sized contingent of sworn anti-Syrian Lebanese ideologues trained by the U.S. neocons. While their agonies over the past Syrian hegemony over Lebanon are understood and legitimate, these ideologues continue to undermine otherwise legitimate needs by trying to impose neoconservative ideals that have fizzled and cracked, repeatedly, in Iraq and elsewhere. Luckily, Liel avoided these landmines and presented an eloquent case of how to break the deadlock.
In addition to reciting the intriguing history of the private channel negotiations between Liel and the Syrian-American Abe Soleiman, here are some interesting remarks from Liel's informative lecture.
The cause of the current impasse, or bottleneck, to peace in the
Middle East is, in fact, Washington. Olmert's government does not want to re-start talks with Syria because such talks will "upset the Americans."
For the first time in Israel's history, there is a sworn enemy (Syria) that wants to talk peace to Israel and Israel is refusing. Liel underscored the fact that Israel negotiated peace in the past with its sworn enemies and not its friends. Not talking to Israel's enemies, is in fact, a U.S. policy and NOT and Israeli one.
The American attitude of "do not talk to your enemies until they surrender" is not working. Moreover, the American administration is still dreaming that if they send more money and weapons to Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, he will eventually prevail. Liel indicated that Abbas gets weaker with every dollar and every weapon given to him by the U.S. and Israel.
Liel indicated that there is no shortage of people with whom Israel can make peace. But these people are not really the ones that can deliver peace. Liel indicated that the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah/Hamas alliance is in fact getting stronger and not weaker. In his opinion, Syria is the most important part to the survival, or the dissolution, of that alliance.
There were many excellent points made by Liel for those of us who see a resolution of the conflict through peaceful means rather than military ones. One must stop and admire the courage of Liel and his supporters – who of all places, in Israel, have formed, registered, and received funding for an organization called the Israel-Syria Peace Society. A Syrian parallel to such a grassroots, policy-influencing movement is now highly desirable.
What is striking about Liel's movement is the rigor he is applying to pursuing peace with Syria. He is stopping in Washington to appeal to all U.S. presidential candidates to break the deadlock and start negotiating peace with Syria.
Of course, there are those who insist that talking to Syria will only strengthen the regime's intransigence and reward Syria for acts of violence. Liel correctly disagrees. If Syria is to be offered a respectable deal – a deal which is based on reclaiming its territorial rights Liel argues that a change of behavior, for the better, is the natural outcome of such a peace deal.
One last note of historical enthrallment: Liel recited how, in 1983,
Israel found in Lebanon a faction that it liked with which it struck a peace treaty: the Christian Maronites led by the Gemeyel family. A peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon was formally signed in 1983. Liel was the one who received the new Lebanese ambassador in Jerusalem, Pierre Yezbeck. Yezbeck, with a pocket full of money, wanted to rent a space for the Lebanese embassy in Jerusalem – never mind the fact that even the U.S. was not ready to establish its embassy in Jerusalem.
Yezbeck settled on a nice floor in Jerusalem's Wolfsen Tower, overlooking the Knesset. Soon thereafter, Liel helped him fly the Lebanese flag high over that building. Meanwhile, an Israeli embassy was promptly set up in Dbayyeh, outside of Beirut.
Liel was citing this example for historical context: for peace to last in the Middle East, Israel's enemies must come to the table, and not its friends. He mentioned a story about Farid Ghadry, who upon visiting Israel last year, asked the Israeli Knesset to refrain from giving the Golan Heights to Assad. He wanted Israel to give the Golan Heights to him once he became president of Syria!
Liel spoke out of principle that while Israel will never compromise its security; negotiating peace with its enemies is a true Israeli value. He regretted the impossible deadlock placed by the current U.S. administration while yearning for a true Israeli leader like Rabin who can be courageous enough to put Israel's interest ahead of the narrow-minded one dictated by Washington.