Can Israel and Syria Break the Middle East Deadlock?

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. 

Audio recording of Alon's talk.

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.

Comments (56)

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51. Alex said:

Saudi King Was Target of Plot Foiled During U.K. Trip, AFP Says
2008-02-27 12:42 (New York)

By Thomas Penny
Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) — A plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s King
Abdullah during a visit to London last year was foiled by British
police, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the head of the
U.K.’s National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit.
Officers at London’s Heathrow airport intercepted a courier
who was carrying cash intended for Saudi dissidents who planned
to assassinate the king, Detective Superintendent Mark Holmes was
cited by AFP as saying today during a counterterrorism conference
in the southern English town of Brighton.
The operation followed a tip from an informant and led to
the seizure of $330,000 in $100 bills, AFP said. Detectives
didn’t have enough evidence to bring any charges, AFP cited
Holmes as saying.
The Saudi monarch met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and
Queen Elizabeth II during the state visit in October. The trip
provoked protests by critics of Saudi Arabia’s record on human
rights and by campaigners who object to the U.K. government’s
decision to drop a fraud investigation into arms sales to the
Gulf kingdom, the world’s largest oil producer.

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February 27th, 2008, 6:17 pm


52. Norman said:


Alex has my EMail,

Alex ,

It is Ok to give my Email to FP.

By the I agree that money can be spent better.

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February 27th, 2008, 6:18 pm


53. Shai said:

Alex, QN, Ford Prefect, Norman,

A very sad day today. Some 40 rockets were launched into the Negev, killing one Israeli, and landing very close to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. Israel’s retaliatory strike into Gaza reportedly killed 3 children, and injured 12 others. When is this cycle going to end? Can we just sit here and await a new administration in Washington? Can we not find the way to start talking formally, publicly, soon? With Turkish brokering, or anyone else? Clearly, no Israeli is going to show up at such talks unless it is clear they’re ready to give up the entire Golan. And no Syrian will show up unless they’re ready to reign in Hamas and Hezbollah. Must we wait now for another “development” with Hezbollah? The ones controlling this clock seem to be Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, instead of Damascus, Jerusalem, and Washington. We cannot let this go on.

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February 27th, 2008, 6:31 pm


54. Shai said:


I understand what you’re saying. And my tendency is to agree, and say “let’s wait for next year”. But there is a growing fear inside me, that the extremists on all sides are running the show now. And that they too understand what may happen next year, and hence they’ll do anything and everything to make sure next year never arrives. What I mean by that, is to create such a reality, that will force all sides into such a collision, that no new administration in Washington will be able to remedy the situation quickly. For instance, since Hamas understands that time is not so much in his favor, he may well decide to strike in such fashion as would almost undoubtedly cause Israel to invade Gaza. Today’s 40+ rockets into the Neveg area could have been such an event. Had 10 or 20 Israelis been killed, or god-forbid some children as well, there would have been such internal pressure on the leadership to punish Hamas, that a land operation would have almost definitely been given a green-light. And then, we know what another summer 2006 will look like, except that in Gaza, it would be 10 times worse. And, if the IDF continue fighting like it did in Lebanon, and kills many more innocent civilians, who’s to say that Hezbollah won’t join in, and/or Iran, and now we’re at WAR! Not an operation, but outright war. And if/when Israel will fight a war on multiple fronts, Syria may have no choice but to join in, on the side of Iran, and then we’re almost at doomsday scenario. No Obama, or Hillary, or McCain will be able to save the region then – it’ll be much too late, as many tens of thousands, if not more, will die. The next war will not look like any war we’ve seen yet in this or the previous century. It will involve the kind of weapons we fear dreaming of, if things get out of hand. Problem is, that when regular, responsible nations fought with regular armies, things never got too much “out of hand”. But when extremist organizations are involved, who get their orders from religious leaders who might believe in a second coming of their “Messiah”, things could very easily get out of control.

Trust me Alex, every day and night I say to myself “You’re exaggerating. Nasrallah, Hanniyeh, and even Ahmedinejad, are responsible people. They’re not suicidal. They’re not going to take the ultimate chance. Relax.” But my biggest fear is not that they ARE suicidal, but that they would miscalculate. Just as Nasrallah never dreamed Israel would retaliate as it did in summer 2006, who’s to say Hamas won’t miscalculate, or Iran won’t, or even Syria won’t? I’m least worried about Syria, as they have much to lose here. But the others? What have they to lose? Isn’t it the case that with each Palestinian dead, Hamas only gets stronger? The cruel irony is that for Hamas, and Hezbollah, and certainly Iran, the more Israel hurts the Palestinians and Lebanese, the more power these organizations achieve. And who’s to say that morality will come ahead of their innate and natural desire for more power?

I am truly concerned. I cannot sit back and wait another 9 months, despite the fact that you may be very right, that acting too fast beforehand could cost Syria a price. But then again, if you were Bashar’s speech-writer, and you had no choice but to write a speech for him the day he informs the Syrian people, and the rest of the region, that Syria is negotiating the return of the Golan Heights, in return for peace with Israel. Your instructions are to write in any way you like, but to make sure it comes off sounding NOT like Sadat. You must speak of a cold peace if the Palestinian conflict is not resolved. You must mention Syria’s continued support of the resistance. You can even spell it out for everyone “I will NOT be another Sadat! And here’s why…” Do you mean to tell me that Assad cannot do this? There’s no way to come off being different from Sadat? Must we first have substantial progress with the Palestinians? Or the U.S. involved? And what if these don’t happen fast enough? Lots of questions… not enough time… sorry.

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February 27th, 2008, 6:56 pm


55. Enlightened said:

QN Said;


QN; do you not think that some dialogue has already started? That man with the very hard name to pronounce and type ZB, has initiated something?

Yes, what’s his name (let’s call him Ziggy, not ZB… sounds rude on this blog with all the Arabic speakers!) has initiated something. But remember that he didn’t show up in that high-level delegation in the end.

I am sorry QN, I was having a bad hair day yesterday. I forgot that you were 17, and only a 17 year old would have picked up that connotation. Man at 38 I am feeling quite old, not to have picked that up. Apologies to Ziggy I didnt mean to infer that you are a D…, A man of your stature deserves more respect, and I humbly offer my aplogies.

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February 28th, 2008, 12:04 am


56. Qifa Nabki said:

I forgot that you were 17, and only a 17 year old would have picked up that connotation.

Alex, you’ve created a monster.

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February 28th, 2008, 12:34 am


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