“Hizballah and Syria: Outgrowing the Proxy Relationship,” by Emile El-Hokayem

Emile El-Hokayem, a research fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., has written a brilliant essay on Hizballah and Syria. I  copied some important bits and his policy recommendations. Everyone interested in Syria or Lebanon should read the entire article. I will make a few comments after the article.

Hizballah and Syria: Outgrowing the Proxy Relationship
Emile El-Hokayem
Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007, Vol. 30, No. 2

Terms such as “proxy” and “client” are often used to characterize the power dynamic between Hizballah and its allies Iran and Syria. These states’ vital resources and indispensable political sponsorship elevated Hizballah to the position it enjoys today. They each played a central role in past decisions of momentous importance for Hizballah. Today, however, this image of Hizballah as a client of Iran and Syria has become obsolete due to the power base the Shi‘ite group has nurtured and expanded in Lebanon and the growing political capital it has acquired in the Middle East thanks to at least the perception of its military victories, be they real or not, particularly in the summer 2006 war against Israel.

By holding its ground against Israel, the region’s strongest military, Hizballah demonstrated its capacity to shake the Lebanese and regional political landscape. Hizballah resisted Israel’s onslaught without substantive Syrian support. By partnering with Hizballah, Syria hoped to defy isolation and reclaim its role as a pivotal power in the region, as well as give the Asad regime a new lease on life. The shifting dynamics of this relationship, however, with Hizballah asserting itself as a more-autonomous actor, have considerable implications for policies aimed at engaging or isolating Syria, as well as for dealing with the Hizballah challenge. ….

Today, for strategic and ideological motives, Syria is more pro-Hizballah than Hizballah is pro-Syria.

[The following are selected bits from the article]

Hafiz al-Asad and Hizballah

The writings of prominent U.S. and Israeli peace negotiators as well as interviews with Syrian officials confirm that Hafiz sincerely desired a negotiated settlement with Israel, contingent on the full recovery of the Golan Heights in exchange for a flexible mechanism for its return, including mutual security guarantees, water arrangements, and diplomatic relations.6 Although Hafiz hoped to orchestrate an Arab front to strengthen his own negotiating position, the collapse of the elusive Arab front after the 1993 Oslo accords and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement forced Syria to look elsewhere for leverage. ….

Lebanon, firmly anchored in the Syrian orbit, served as Damascus’s strategic depth. It guaranteed good-faith negotiations over the Golan Heights from a position of relative strength. The Western and Israeli assumption underlying Syrian-Israeli talks was that Damascus would constrain and eventually disarm Hizballah once peace was reached. As former Western and Arab diplomats put it, there was an informal understanding that once peace between Syria and Israel was signed, a treaty between Israel and Lebanon would follow, providing a framework for Hizballah’s disarmament and the integration of its fighters into Lebanon’s regular armed forces.7 Yet, Hizballah’s future was never explicitly put on the table, and there is no clear indication that Syria was asked to offer written guarantees to that end. …

During the Period of Syrian-Israeli peace talks of the 1990s

Midlevel Hizballah officials were naturally concerned about the future of their movement when the much-publicized land-for-peace formula assumed the dismantlement of its armed branch. Yet, they also held a belief, born from Hizballah’s political successes, that Hizballah could genuinely transform itself into a political party if need be.16 Ironically, while Hizballah’s military successes in 1993 and 1996 raised its value as a Syrian asset in negotiations, they also gradually transformed it into a more autonomous player with enhanced Lebanese and regional prestige, creating some confidence that it would survive any Syrian-Israeli peace.

Ultimately, of course, there was no grand bargain between Syria and Israel. In its place, after repeated Israeli failures to degrade Hizballah and to break Syria’s linkage of southern Lebanon to the Golan Heights, a set of rules were formulated in 1993 and formalized in 1996 to manage the escalation of violence and enforce redlines in Lebanon. Hizballah agreed to limit its attacks on Israeli forces and their surrogates in southern Lebanon, while Israel pledged not to strike Lebanese civilians. These rules augmented Syria’s leverage by formalizing its role as a guarantor of stability in the area.

After 2005

Hizballah’s actions since the 2005 Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon are often presented as an extension of Syrian and Iranian policy.21 To be sure, its interests often coincide and reinforce those of Syria and Iran, but many overestimate the influence that they have over Hizballah’s decisionmaking and preferences. Syria today is more pro-Hizballah than Hizballah is pro-Syria. Hizballah is no longer a card or a proxy; it has become a partner with considerable clout and autonomy.

Paradoxically, there is little love today for Syria among Hizballah’s supporters.22 They see Syria as having constrained Hizballah’s political potential. The Lebanese Shi‘ite community also suffered from Syrian workers competing for the same jobs. Furthermore, Hizballah owes no particular heritage to Syria, contrary to Iran, which remains a supreme religious and ideological reference. An anecdote making the rounds in Beirut has Hizballah militants comparing Syria to a ring and Iran as a finger on Hizballah’s hand. The ring can fall off or be taken off willingly, whereas the finger can only be severed.23 This contrasts with the attitude of the Syrian public, which identifies with Hizballah. Syrians view the Lebanese as fractious, greedy, and ungrateful for Syrian sacrifices in Lebanon, but they see Hizballah as righteous and animated by a just, pan-Arab cause.

Hizballah’s objectives are often misunderstood. Hizballah’s raison d’etre has become the very idea of perpetual but not necessarily active muqawama against Israel. A former Hizballah activist put it this way: "Resistance is like a one-wheel[ed] bike that Hizballah is riding. If it stops pedaling, it falls."24 …

Hizballah has genuinely adjusted to the sectarian fabric of Lebanon’s society, gradually emphasizing muqawama instead of Islamism in its rhetoric and ideology. Hizballah has not abandoned its Islamist ideal, but to the extent that this goal complicates its ability to pursue muqawama or erodes its image, Hizballah is willing to do away with it. What Hizballah today wants most is to ensure that nothing, especially Lebanese domestic considerations, can constrain its ability to conduct its resistance agenda in the time frame and form of its choosing.

Syria’s departure from Lebanon meant that Hizballah could no longer count on an external enforcer to protect its weapons. This left Hizballah with three options: build alliances with other forces and deepen its political engagement to eventually govern the country, manipulate sectarian politics to create a Shi‘ite shield, or a combination of the two. All of these options are highly dissatisfying. They turn Hizballah into a political party like the others and conflict with the nonsectarian image it cultivates for national and regional purposes….

This fear of the end of a national consensus over its armament prompted Hizballah to enter the Lebanese government for the first time in 2005 and to obtain a formal Cabinet statement endorsing the resistance as "a sincere and natural expression of the Lebanese people’s right to defend its land and dignity in the face of Israeli aggression, threats, and ambitions as well as of its right to continue its actions to free Lebanese territory." Hizballah’s concern was quickly validated as its rationale for remaining armed came under heavy domestic criticism.

The necessity of reaffirming the value of its arsenal led Hizballah to launch the fateful July 12 operation that started the summer 2006 war with Israel with the stated objective of obtaining the liberation of the remaining Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. For its supporters, the war validated the need to preserve Hizballah as a militia to defend Lebanon. For its critics, it illustrated the dangers of Hizballah’s continued resistance.

A senior Hizballah official confirmed this in December 2006: "Now we are demanding [a greater government share] because our experience during the war and the performance of the government has made us unsure. On several occasions they pressured us to lay down our weapons while we were fighting a war."28

The U.S. government and others, including Lebanese politicians, misrepresent Hizballah’s push to obtain more governmental power as a Syrian- and Iranian-engineered attempt to overthrow the Lebanese government….

Hizballah pursues [the objective of blocking the International Tribunal into the Hariri trial] for a different motive: guaranteeing an institutional cover for the resistance by seizing a veto over government decisions in order to prevent a further erosion of its domestic position.

Engaging Syria?

If talks were to begin, Bashar would be expected to demonstrate his willingness and ability to constrain Hizballah and then to disarm it once an agreement is reached. Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon has eroded its capacity to deliver on both counts. Syria could theoretically cut off the supply of Iranian weapons to Hizballah as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the summer 2006 war with Israel. Further, Hizballah could still be negatively affected by changes in Damascus, particularly if Bashar awakes to the precariousness of his position. To be sure, Damascus retains leverage over Hizballah because it receives logistical support from Syria. Yet, although Hizballah and Iran give Bashar short-term legitimacy and strategic confidence, they cannot offer him regional and international acceptance or much-needed economic assistance.

The Syrian regime, despite some bombastic statements during the summer war, cannot embrace Hizballah-style resistance because it has a lot more to lose to an Israeli attack than Hizballah does. Syria is also nervous about growing Iranian power in the Levant, a powerful constraint on its diplomatic options. …

Hizballah could turn the tables on Syria if it felt outmaneuvered, most likely by provoking Israel without Syrian knowledge but at Syrian expense. Testing Syrian intentions without a clear process and end goal could therefore backfire.

In reality, despite encouraging signs from Damascus, including high-profile interviews of Bashar in Western media and meetings with U.S. senators, Syria is in no position to respond constructively to potential U.S. overtures anyway. A Syrian list of demands and apparent readiness to talk do not amount to a coherent and encouraging negotiating posture. Bashar welcomes the process of dialogue mainly because it replaces the narrative of 2005 as Bashar having systematically miscalculated with a new one of Bashar having correctly positioned Syria to take advantage of the rapidly changing landscape in the Middle East. Moreover, calling for dialogue while knowing that the other side will not respond makes Damascus seem open to compromise and makes Washington look intransigent and arrogant. Bashar may well calculate that, were he to survive the next two years and wait for the next U.S. administration to adjust to the many U.S. failures in the Middle East, he would emerge on top, stronger and vindicated.

Although Syria could negotiate peace in good faith during the 1990s because of its strong strategic position, the loss of Lebanon as its economic and political depth and the apparent international consensus on preventing its return to Lebanon suggest that Syria will not sacrifice its ties to its few remaining strategic partners, Iran and Hizballah. Bashar is prisoner to the radical outlook he has espoused in order to gain domestic and regional legitimacy. He can hardly jump ship in the current regional environment. Syria is in a position of relative weakness vis-à-vis its partners.

His narrow sectarian base, though loyal, is hardly expandable; and Syria’s crippling economy, sectarian fabric, and domestic discontent are a recipe for internal instability.

The new relationship between Syria and Hizballah profoundly impacts how peace should be pursued in the region. Seeing Hizballah only through a regional prism and assuming that Syria will systematically determine Hizballah’s behavior is flawed. ….

The underlying assumption that Israeli peace with Syria will lead to Hizballah’s disarmament must also be reassessed. There is no more symmetry in what to expect from Syria with regard to Hizballah. Today, Syria probably retains the power to ignite Hizballah and hopefully to restrain it, but it has lost the power to disarm it. This prospect alarms Israeli strategic thinkers and explains their measured enthusiasm for the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The summer 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah even suggested to some that the predictability of a deterrable Syria controlling Lebanon is better than the alternative of an unbound Hizballah….

What Next for Hizballah?

Despite its summer 2006 victory, Hizballah’s position in Lebanon remains precarious, with a risk that it might overplay its hand.

The need to avoid domestic strife, which would durably taint Hizballah, could lead it to respond positively to Iranian or Arab pressure to accept an unsatisfactory political compromise, although Syria could emerge as an obstacle to such a settlement….

Hizballah is also in the process of reframing muqawama to include the United States, now seen as an existential threat to be countered. Given this emerging reality, an overly aggressive U.S. posture will only reinforce Hizballah’s rationale for pursuing the muqawama instead of undermining it. This is why reaching a political accommodation with Hizballah, as unpleasant as it may be, is so essential.

The fates of Syria and Hizballah are intertwined, but addressing the challenges they pose requires differentiated approaches. Hoping that Syria is the key to Hizballah ignores the reality that although Syria retains some influence, Hizballah has gained leverage and independence over its former patron. Although Syrian and Iranian nods, as unlikely as they may be, would go a long way in containing Hizballah, confrontation by proxy is no longer enough. Rather, only the Lebanese political process, as messy and imperfect as it is, can constrain Hizballah. Political reform and progress on some of Hizballah’s demands, including those related to the Lebanese-Israeli track, will undermine its main levers of power and influence. This is of course fraught with considerable risks and is premised on the capacity of the Lebanese polity to demonstrate adaptability and farsightedness. Nonetheless, this is the approach that the international community should promote to prevent another dramatic explosion of violence.

[End El-Hokayem] Download the full article, available in Adobe Acrobat [.pdf] format.

Landis Comments:

El-Hokayem's analysis of the Hizballah-Syria relationship and Syria's interest in it as leverage against Israel is excellent. The only point on which I disagree is on Syria's weakness.Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon has put a dent in Syria's ability to influence Hizballah and threaten Israel. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Israel and particularly the West should discount its importance or hesitate to engage it.

El-Hokayem paints an overly dire portrait of Bashar al-Asad's position in Syria. He is not weak and he is not going away. Emile very correctly argues that the US must not try to confront Hizballah, but should pressure it into relinquishing muqawama in exchange for a larger, but not overly large, role in politics. He has no illusions that this will be easy because the top leadership of Hizballah is wedded to resistance. Nevertheless, he believes that the "middle level" party leadership is willing to take the political path.

Because Syria no longer plays the dominant role in Lebanon and is no longer Hizballah's master, he suggests that the US can move toward peace with Hizballah and cut Syria out of any broader regional deal. Indeed, he implies, or at least that is how I understood his policy prescription, that the US should cut Syria out. Why? Because Syria is too wedded to Iran, has a weak economy, does not want peace with Israel, and Bashar, being an Alawite, lacks legitimacy and cannot deliver. What is more, he argues that Washington should not reward Syria or Asad by helping it get out of isolation or get back the Golan.

These are arguments similar to those made by Giora Eiland in an article, which I recently posted. I must confess that they don't make much sense to me. Bashar al-Asad is not going away and retains formidable powers to either hinder or help the US in the region. It will hinder the US so long as the US does not help it to retrieve the Golan.

Trying to persuade Hizballah to give up resistance and fully join the political process in Lebanon would be infinitely easier if Syria were helping in the process. Hizballah's weapons come through Syria, which translates into major influence. The only way Damascus will be inclined to stop the flow of weapons to Hizballah is if it gets back the Golan.

More importantly for the US, Syria will be crucial in dulling the power of Iran in the region once the US begins pulling out of Iraq, which it will have to do eventually.

The Iranian-Syrian alliance is founded on their common interest in containing a powerful and threatening Iraq. The two countries came together when Saddam attacked them in the 1980s. They rejuvenated their moribund alliance when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and threatened both countries from Iraqi soil. Once the US leaves Iraq in a mess and weak, however, Iran and Syria's interests will diverge. It is in America's interest to win Syria to its side. It is in Saudi Arabia's interest to win Syria to its side. This is why we saw the Saudi King being nice to Asad at the Arab League summit in Riyadh, despite their differences of opinion over Lebanon.

Arab unity will be the only shield against a powerful Iran that is allied to an independent Iraq. Once the US has withdrawn from Iraq, Syria's interest will be in seeing that the Iraqi Sunni community has an important share of power — an interest it will share with Saudi Arabia, the US, and Turkey.

Of course Syria will not "flip" overnight. It will need assurances that its stability will not be undermined by the West or Israel. Once the Golan issue is resolved, Syria will have every interest in becoming a reliable partner to the West. It wants trade with the West. It wants loans and economic assistance. It wants investment. Iran cannot supply these things. Syria became anti-American because of its conflict with Israel, not because it is perverse. It became anti-American well before the Baath came to power. Getting Syria to work with the West should be a major policy goal of any new US administration. An understanding with Syria would help Lebanon solve its problems. It would help Israel solve its Palestine problem and help the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey ensure that Iran will not be able to project its power into the center of the Arab World.

El-Hokayem's excellent argument about Hizballah does not need to exclude a solution to the Syrian-Israeli conflict. The chances of bringing Hizballah into Lebanon's political process and out off the resistance business would only be increased if such a effort were also extended to Syria. By including Syria in a regional peace solution, the chances of the Lebanese building a modicum of political unity will be immeasurably improved. Just as importantly, the US would regaining some of its stature in the region as a super power that respects justice for everyone.

Comments (22)


1. Alex said:

Oh boy! … All roads lead to Rome!

Syria is too weak and insignificant >>> no need to engage and reward Syria.

Syria is too much of a growing threat to democracy and US, Saudi, Israeli, and Lebanese interests >>> no need to engage Syria or reward Syria.

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April 19th, 2007, 7:24 am

 

2. Ford Prefect said:

“After the September 2004 passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which demanded Hizballah’s disarmament… “ (Page 43)

This is a common trap that Emile fell into typical of Fox News sensationalism. Mention inaccurate sound bites repeatedly and they become hard to eradicate. The UN Security Council never mentioned Hizballah in its 1559 Resolution. It called for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.” That was militias in plural.

Emile did not mention that at the time of Resolution 1559 passage, Mohamad Issa, the Lebanese Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants issued a statement indicating that “there were no militias in Lebanon.” Additionally, the statement went on to say that “there was only the national Lebanese resistance, which appeared after the Israeli occupation and which would remain so long as Israel remained.” “The authority of Lebanon extended to all parts of Lebanon except those areas occupied by Israel,” the statement concluded.

Here again, we see how the media perpetuate guilt by association, often inaccurately.

But most disappointing in Emile’s otherwise brilliant analyses is his complete silence regarding the relevance of events to the overall plans drawn up by the DPB, AEI, and PNAC all the way in Washington, DC. These plans called for the reshaping of the Middle East in favor of Israel. In short, planners called for the complete eradication of all current and potentially emerging forces that could pose a counter-balance to the Israel.

I was hoping to find in Emile’s essay any referential arguments that link the Anglo American invasion of Iraq to the way Syria behaved post the 2003 invasion. Remember that the Lahoud extension and the subsequent 1559 Resolution were after the invasion. Syria was scared and behaved irrationally (some argue that it was quite a rational behavior) under the threat of invasion of Syria.

One must wonder why all of the sudden HA, Lebanon, and Syria became the focus of numerous UN resolutions after the invasion of Iraq. Shouldn’t all the reactions we are seeing in the Middle East today be traced back to one common “action” denominator?

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April 19th, 2007, 10:01 am

 

3. Akbar Palace said:

Hezbollah’s “victory” did not include dismantling the “Zionist Project” or freeing the Palestinians.

Israel’s failure was not being able to neutralize Hezbollah in 6 days or go after Hezbollah’s bankrollers.

The reality is: Israel still has the Golan as a buffer and vineyard, Hezbollah has to prove to the Lebanese that instigating war with Israel is in their best interest, and both Hezbollah and Syria can’t afford to sit still without causing more terrorist attacks.

Peace and quiet aren’t part of the Hezzi-Syrian-Iranian “foreign polciy”.

Expect a few shoes to drop in the near future.

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April 19th, 2007, 10:48 am

 

4. Ford Prefect said:

So, AP, I would imagine that “peace and quite” are part of the Neocon/Likud/Kadima foreign policy, right?

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April 19th, 2007, 11:05 am

 

5. ausamaa said:

Wonder on whose head those Shose will drop in the near future?

Detternce is very much like Credibility, once shattered, it will take forever to restore! And Israel’s Detternce has not only been shattered by Hizbullah, it was totaly discredited. The Israelies going into a severe state of Denial does not change this fact. And in this sixty years old Conflict of Wills; this counts for a lot.

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April 19th, 2007, 11:59 am

 

6. Ford Prefect said:

Ausamaa, shoes have already been dropped on the heads of Cheney, Rumsfled, Olmert, and the scores of hapeless souls at AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute who mislead the Americans and the Israelis with lies and manufactured truth. If you look closely at pictures of their heads, you will notice the permanent marks and scars of these shoes. These shoes were all made in Iraq.

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April 19th, 2007, 12:09 pm

 

7. ausamaa said:

FP, actually I had Lebanese shoes and IDF heads in mind! As to Iraq, I am beginning to feel sorry for Bush and the manner in which he was bluffed into all this by the Israeli Lobby and their neocon surrogates. Imagin, the Forigen and Domestic policies of an Empire was brutally hijacked by a few men of a well defined Israeli circle that has only one aim in mind: Make Israel Supreme! How they are gonna answer to that in the future?

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April 19th, 2007, 12:40 pm

 

8. Ford Prefect said:

Good point. The shoes were also made in Lebanon by some corageous Lebanese heroes. The Republican party has been hijacked by the ultra right wing nationalists, neoconservatives, and a Likuk/Kadima ideologues. But I trust and admire my fellow Americans who corrected the course in November 2006 and will continue to do so in 2008.

I don’t feel sorry for Bush. I feel sorry for the Iraqis, the Americans, the Lebanese, and all the people who lost their lives for such a reckless and irrational adventure.

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April 19th, 2007, 2:30 pm

 

9. Ziad said:

خراب في دمشق
محمد علي الأتاسي
صفحات سورية
الخميس 19 نيسان 2007
تحتفل دمشق في السنة المقبلة باختيارها عاصمة للثقافة العربية، وبدلاً من أن تكون هذه المناسبة فرصة للتأمل في حال الثقافة وتخفيف الضغوط عن كاهل المثقفين، الذين لا يزالون يتعرضون للكثير من المضايقات ويقبع بعض منهم إلى يومنا هذا وراء القضبان، فإن محافظة مدينة دمشق أرادت أن تجعل من هذه الاحتفالية غطاء لإمرار مشاريع هدم بعض الأحياء والأسواق في المدنية التاريخية وإزالتها، تحت حجج واهية من مثل تجميل أو توسيع بعض الشوارع الرئيسية في المدينة، وحل الأزمة المرورية الخانقة. هنا قراءة في أبعاد هذا الحدث وفي المحاولات الحثيثة التي تبذلها بعض الهيئات المدينية لوقف هذا التدمير الممنهج لمدنية تعتبرها الأونيسكو جزءاً من التراث العالمي.
نادرة هي المدن التاريخية في العالم التي بقي نسيجها العمراني والاجتماعي في منأى عن التطورات الجذرية التي شهدها القرن العشرون. وإذا كانت معظم مدن المشرق العربي التاريخية لم تسلم في عمرانها من تأثيرات دخول السيارة والصناعة ومواد البناء الجديدة والانفجار السكاني والتوسع العمراني العشوائي وهجرة الريف إلى المدينة وتشظي الأسر الكبيرة خارج البيوت التقليدية، فإن حظ مدينة دمشق القديمة من عواقب هذه التبدلات ومن التطبيق المجتزأ لبعض مفاهيم الحداثة المعمارية الأوروبية، كان من الفداحة بمكان بحيث بات من المستحيل محي أثاره المدمرة عن واحدة من أقدم مدن العالم وأكثرها عراقة وتنوعاً. الطامة الكبرى هي أنه في وقت تجهد مدن كثيرة في العالم لتدارك الآثار السلبية التي خلفها تطبيق بعض أساليب التنظيم المعماري الحداثوية على نسيجها المعماري التاريخي، فإن محافظة دمشق لا تزال مصرة على المضي قدماً في تطبيق هذه الأساليب التي تجاوزها الزمن وظهرت نتائجها الكارثية، ليست فقط في المدن الأوروبية التي جرّبتها، ولكن في مدينة دمشق نفسها.
يمكننا هنا تعداد بعض من هذه المفاهيم الخاطئة في التنظيم المعماري من مثل إعطاء الأولية للسيارة على المشاة واختراق النسيج العمراني القديم بشوارع عريضة تحت حجج واهية من مثل ضمان السير المريح للسيارات والشاحنات ولضرورات تخديم الأسواق والخانات التي تزخر بها هذه المدينة، وعدم إعطاء أهمية حقيقية لأنسجة والروابط والممارسات الاجتماعية التي تنشأ بين السكان بالتداخل مع النسيج العمراني، وعدم الاستفادة من مواد البناء التقليدية وطرائقها، وشكل توزيع الفراغ السكني داخل البيوت القديمة، والعجز عن تطوير هذه الخبرات وأساليب العيش المتوارثة منذ مئات السنيين والإضافة إليها وفقاً لحاجات العصر، بدلاً من نسفها من جذورها.
المأساة في هذا كله، أن ما لم يدركه الدمشقيون بعد، أو بعض منهم على الأقل، يتمثل في أن نيل الحرية يمكن أن ينتظر سنوات أخرى، وأن استعادة الحريات السياسية يمكن أن تؤجل قليلاً، والازدهار الاقتصادي المنتظر قد يأتي آجلاً إذا لم يكن عاجلاً، أما إزالة بعض من أحياء دمشق التاريخية وأسواقها، فمعناه ضياعها إلى الأبد واستحالة استرجاعها في المستقبل. حتى لو أتى لاحقاً من يبني لهم حياً يحاكي حي العمارة أو سوقاً شبيها بالمناخلية، فإن استعادة تقاليد الحي أو السوق وعلاقاته وبشره ورواده وبائعيه وروابطه مع أسواق المدينة الأخرى وأحيائها، هو من الاستحالة بمكان بحيث يصبح من الملح والضروري التفكير ألف مرة قبل التجرؤ لهدم أي من هذه الأسواق أو الأحياء.
جذور الخراب
المشكلة الكبرى في مدينة دمشق التي تضاعف عدد سكانها عشرات المرات خلال المئة سنة الأخيرة وتزايدت مساحتها الجغرافية بشكل أخطبوطي، أنه لم يطبق فيها إلا مخططان توجيهيان للتوسع والتنظيم العمراني، الأول وضعه أثناء فترة الانتداب الفرنسي في العام 1935 مكتب المعماري الفرنسي دانجيه وبمساعدة المعماري إيكوشار. والثاني في العام 1968 وضعه إيكوشار. حاول المخططان، وخصوصا مخطط إيكوشار الثاني، أن يدفعا توسع المدينة بعيداً عن الغوطة، رئة دمشق الخضراء وحديقتها الأجمل، لكن سوء تنفيذ المخطط والانفجار السكاني والفساد، قضت مجتمعة على أجمل ما يميز موقع دمشق، وأعني به غوطتها. أما في خصوص المدينة نفسها فإن كلا المخططين لم يأخذا في الاعتبار خصوصية المدينة القديمة وضرورة حمايتها، عمراناً وبشراً، ومدها بأسباب الحياة وتنظيم علاقتها بالمدينة الجديدة الناشئة من حولها. فعلى مدى الخمسين عاماً الماضية، تمّ شيئاً فشيئاً قضم وتدمير أجزاء واسعة من دمشق القديمة الممتدة خارج الأسوار، بدءاً بحي الميدان مروراً بالشاغور البراني والقنوات، وصولاً إلى حي سوق ساروجة والصالحية، وأخيراً وليس آخراً السوق العتيق وميتم سيد قريش. كما تم إزالة الكثير من المباني الكلاسيكية التي ميزت الفترة العثمانية المتأخرة، من مثل مبنى البلدية في ساحة المرجة وفندق فكتوريا.
بدورها، لم تسلم المدينة القديمة داخل الأسوار، من الهدم والتدمير، فالقصة بدأت مع حي سيدي عامود (يعرف حالياً بحي الحريقة) في قلب المدينة القديمة والذي دكته المدافع الفرنسية في العام 1925 أثناء الثورة السورية الكبرى وأحرق عن بكرة أبيه، ثم ذرعت في الثلاثينات مبان باطونية طابقية قي مكانه، موزعة وفق مخطط شطرنجي لا يمت بصلة إلى النسيج القديم الموجود من حوله. وإذا كان مخطط إيكوشار الثاني، لم يلحظ، في خصوص المدينة القديمة، إلا الجانب التخديمي لخاناتها وأسواقها من خلال شق شوارع عريضة تخترق نسيجها المعماري وتؤمن وصول الشاحنات المحملة البضائع إلى الأسواق والخانات، فإنه أدخل إلى دمشق أحد أكثر مفاهيم التخطيط العمراني الحديثة غباءً وتدميراً، وهو المفهوم الذي يقوم على الحفاظ على المباني الأثرية وترميمها بعزلها عن النسيج المعماري المحيط بها، لا بل وتدمير هذا النسيج في بعض الأحيان لكشف هذه المباني! مع العلم أن هذا النسيج المعماري هو جزء لا يتجزأ من جمالية هذه المباني في علاقتها مع محيطها السكاني والعمراني. المثال الأفدح على هذا التدخل القسري والمدمر، هو الشارع الذي تم شقه في محاذاة الحائط الشمالي لقلعة دمشق ومن ثم في قلب الأسواق في محاذاة المدرستين الظاهرية والعادلية، وصولاً إلى بوابة المسجد الأموي الغربية، حيث هدم العديد من المباني الأثرية لخلق ساحة شاسعة ممتدة في مواجهة البوابة، وتم إكمال المسار في محاذاة الجدار الجنوبي للجامع الأموي وصولاً إلى مقهى النوفرة، وفي الطريق، هدم أحد أجمل أسواق دمشق وهو سوق “القباقبية”. ولإدراك فداحة الجريمة التي ارتكبت في نسيج المدينة القديمة، يكفي زائر دمشق اليوم أن يرى كيف تحولت هذه الشوارع العريضة داخل النسيج القديم إلى مرآب عشوائي للسيارات يعيق حركة المشاة ويغمرهم بأشعة الشمس الحارقة ويظهر جدراناً لا تحمل أي قيمة جمالية أو معمارية حقيقة، بمعزل عن محيطها. أما الساحة الضخمة الممتدة في مواجهة بوابة المسجد الأموي الرئيسية، فإنها لم تفعل شيئاً آخر سوى كسر هذه العلاقة الحميمة والخلابة التي كانت تنقل القادم من ظلال سوقي الحميدية والمسكية، حال دخوله المسجد، إلى فسحة سموية تغمرها الأضواء وسمو المآذن ورفعة الفسيفساء.
الكارثة أن الجامع الأموي نفسه لم يسلم من التخريب، حيث تم ترميمه من الداخل بطريقة أقل ما يقال فيها أنها متوحشة، لم تحترم خصوصية المكان وتاريخه العريق.
الخراب مستمر
في منتصف السبعينات من القرن المنصرم، وأمام التدمير الممنهج للمدينة القديمة، صدر مرسوم جمهوري يمنع الهدم وتشييد المباني الحديثة داخل دمشق القديمة، وأنشئ على الأثر مكتب لحماية دمشق القديمة، عدا أن تجربة السنيين المنصرمة أثبتت أن هذا المرسوم وجهود مكتب حماية دمشق لم تستطع أن تفعل الشيء الكثير لإنقاذ المدينة، لا بل إن دوائر أخرى للدولة كانت سباقة في عمليات هدم أجزاء مهمة من دمشق القديمة وإزالتها. ويكفي في هذا المجال النظر إلى الكارثة المعمارية التي تمت في شارع الثورة من خلال المباني الرسمية الشاهقة التي شيدت في محيط سوق ساروجة والتي تهيمن على الأحياء القديمة كافة، وتسحقها ببشاعتها وبحجبها للضوء وبإطلالها القسري على باحات البيوت الداخلية.
أفدح ما نتج من قوانين حماية دمشق القديمة ومن المكتب المنبثق عنها، هو تركيزها على المدينة داخل الأسوار وإهمالها للقسم الممتد خارج الأسوار، مع أن هذا الأخير هو جزء لا يتجزأ من مدينة دمشق التاريخية ويحتوي على أبنية وأسواق وحارات تضاهي في أهميتها ما هو موجود داخل الأسوار وتتداخل معه تداخلاً عضوياً. المشكلة الأخرى أن هذه القوانين هي من الجمود والقصور والمحافظة، بما يجعل من المستحيل على السكان احترامها إذا هم أرادوا أن يرمموا بيوتهم. الحال التي تفضي في النهاية إلى انتهاك مستمر لهذه القوانين وإلى انتشار الفساد والابتزاز في العلاقة التي تربط بين الدوائر المسؤولة عن تطبيق هذه القوانين وبين قاطني المدينة القديمة.
ومن المشكلات الكبرى التي واجهت دمشق القديمة في السنوات الأخيرة، تحويل الكثير من بيوتها إلى مطاعم وبارات من دون أي احترام للخصوصية المعمارية لهذه البيوت ولطبيعة الحارات التي توجد فيها وللبنية التحتية غير المؤهلة لنشاطات كهذه. ناهيك بجعل المدينة عرضة للمضاربات العقارية المنفلتة العقال، والتي ستؤدي في النهاية إلى إفراغ المدينة من ساكنيها وتدمير أسلوب حياتها وجعلها مطبخاً ليلياً لمحبي السهر والأكل في المطاعم.
يبقى أن أخطر ما يتهدد المدينة القديمة، هو قوانين الاستملاك العشوائية التي لم تنفك تنهش في جسد المدينة معلنة دمارها التدريجي والحتمي إن هي دخلت حيز التطبيق. فمعظم البيوت القديمة من حول المدارس الرسمية، مستملكة بذريعة الحاجة إلى توسيع هذه المدارس في المستقبل، مع أن أول ما يجب القيام به هو نقل هذه المدارس إلى خارج المدينة القديمة لما تسبب به من ازدحام. كما أن حي الحمراوي التاريخي المحيط بقصر العظم مستملك بكامله منذ الستينات وممنوع على قاطنيه ترميم بيوتهم أو بيعها أو تأجيرها أو استثمارها. تالياً، فإن هذه البيوت تتداعى على رؤوس ساكنيها من دون أن يستطيعوا فعل شيء. كذلك هي الحال مع العديد من الحارات والأزقة داخل السور وخارجه. الفضيحة أن مسببات هذه الاستملاكات زالت في معظمها، ولا أحد يجرؤ من المسؤولين مع ذلك على المطالبة بإلغائها.
المشروع الجديد
قبل أشهر عدة، قررت محافظة مدينة دمشق تفعيل قرارات استملاك قديمة، وعملت في ليلة واحدة على إخلاء محال سوق العتيق من شاغليه وأقدمت على هدم السوق وميتم سيد قريش بالقرب من ساحة المرجة، وأبقي حمام القرماني عارياً من نسيجه المعماري، وأعلنت المحافظة أنها ستعمد إلى ترميمه وتحسين واجهاته! المضحك المبكي في هذا الهدم الجائر، الحجة التي استخدمت لتبريره والتي تقول إن ما هدم هو “قديم وليس أثري”! فنحن هنا أمام منطق سوريالي يسمح لنفسه بأن يقسم نسيج المدينة ومبانيها بين قديم وأثري وفق معايير لا يعلم إلا الله كيف تم وضعها وتطبيقها. فما الذي يجعل مثلاً من سوق الحميدية سوقاً أثرية وليس قديماً، وتالياً يجب حمايته؟ هذا مع أنه من أسواق دمشق المتأخرة، وهو بالتأكيد أحدث من سوق العتيق الذي تم هدمه. ألا يدرك القائمون على هذه الجرائم في حق المدينة التاريخية أنها وحدة متكاملة، وأن كل ما فيها أثري بشكل أو بآخر لأنه يكمل بعضه بعضاً من حيث العمارة والوظيفية والأهمية الرمزية التي يحتلها في عقول أهل المدينة وقلوبهم ونمط عيشهم، لا بل وحتى في دخوله كعنصر رئيسي في تشكيل هويتهم المدينية؟!
لم تكتف محافظة مدينة دمشق بهدم السوق العتيق، والواقع في منطقة حساسة جداً بالقرب من ساحة المرجة التاريخية التي لم يبق من أبنيتها العريقة إلا بناء العابد، بل أعلنت الشهر الماضي نيتها توسيع شارع الملك فيصل الواصل بين شرق المدينة القديمة وغربها بالقرب من ساحة المرجة، بما يعني هدم جزء من سوق المناخلية الشهير وإزالة سوق النحاسين لفتح اتوستراد يوازي السور الشمالي للمدينة. وزفت المحافظة للدمشقيين نيتها أن تعمد في المشروع نفسه إلى “إزالة التعديات عن السور الشمالي لدمشق وإظهاره وكشف ثلاثة أبواب تاريخية منه هي الفرج والفراديس والسلام”.
الفضيحة في هذا المشروع أن السور الذي تريد المحافظة إظهاره على حساب النسيج العمراني المتداخل معه، هو عبارة عن بقايا السور الروماني الذي تم تجديده في العهد الأيوبي بحجارة صغيرة وغير متناسقة، ثم فقد أهميته العسكرية خلال العهد العثماني وتجاوزته المدينة وخرجت عنه. لا بل أن معظم حجارته الرومانية الضخمة تم الاستفادة منها على مدى القرون السابقة من أجل تشييد المباني الرسمية والجوامع. ولتكتمل المأساة-الملهاة، فإن المحافظة أعلنت أنها ستحوّل بعض المناطق التي تمت إزالتها بجانب السور إلى متنزهات ومساحات خضراء! فلم يعد يكفي مدينة دمشق حرمانها من غوطتها والمساحات الخضراء المحيطة بها، إذ جاءت المحافظة لتقرر إنشاء مساحات خضراء في قلب النسيج التاريخي! أما سوق المناخلية الذي يشكل جزءاً لا يتجزأ من الدورة الاقتصادية والمكانية للمدينة ولأسلوب حياة سكانها، فإن المحافظة قررت تعويض تجاره وحرفييه بنقلهم إلى منطقة المعضمية في ريف دمشق، وإنشاء سوق بديل لهم هناك!
تجاه هذا العسف والفوقية في اتخاذ القرارات، شكل التجار وسكان الأحياء المتضررة جمعية للدفاع عن حقوقهم ولمنع تنفيذ قرار المحافظة، وتضامن معهم العديد من المثقفين والكتاب، وجرى توقيع عرائض احتجاج، وراحت القضية تتحول شيئاً فشيئاً إلى قضية رأي عام تخص شرائح واسع من السوريين. إلا أن غياب الرقابة على صانعي القرار وانعدام النقاش العلني الحر وانتشار بؤر الفساد والمضاربات العقارية وعجز المجتمع المدني عن تنظيم نفسه بشكل قانوني وشفاف، يجعل الانتصار في هذه المعركة محفوفاُ بالأخطار. وهذا إذا دل على شيء، فعلى أن قضية العمران، حتى بلد منعت فيه السياسة عن المجتمع، تبقى قضية سياسية بامتياز.

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April 19th, 2007, 3:09 pm

 

10. Akbar Palace said:

Ford PRefect said:

So, AP, I would imagine that “peace and quite” are part of the Neocon/Likud/Kadima foreign policy, right?

They’re also part of the Labor/Meretz/Hadash foreign policy as well.

When there aren’t kidnappings and Katyushas coming from Lebanon, and when there isn’t any Qassam falling, terror attacks, or arms smuggling coming from Palestine, there is usually peace and quiet.

ausamaa said:

The Israelies going into a severe state of Denial does not change this fact. And in this sixty years old Conflict of Wills; this counts for a lot.

Ausamaa –

What “denial” are you referring to? That the Arabs want to “liberate” Arab lands? Israel, since her inception, has never denied the ultimate goal of Arab terrorists.

Don’t underestimate the will to survive. This counts for a lot too.

Ford Prefect said:

Ausamaa, shoes have already been dropped on the heads of Cheney, Rumsfled, Olmert, and the scores of hapeless souls at AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute who mislead the Americans and the Israelis with lies and manufactured truth. If you look closely at pictures of their heads, you will notice the permanent marks and scars of these shoes. These shoes were all made in Iraq.

Ford Prefect,

No one misled the Americans except for Saddam Hussein’s disregard for UNSC resolutions. Which is why the US Congress voted for regime change.

Whatever scars the US has, the Middle East has suffered many times over. The Jihadists aren’t killing many Americans mind you, they’re killing their own people. It seems to me Cheney and Rumsfeld bother you more than Fratricide.

The Republican party has been hijacked by the ultra right wing nationalists, neoconservatives, and a Likuk/Kadima ideologues.

Right. “Hijacked”. After the US Congress has the same intelligence the US Administration had. The neocons brought down the World Trade Center towers, the neocons invaded Kuwait and fired 39 Scud missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the neocons fired 3000 Katyushas into Israeli population centers.

It’s all making sense now;) Talk about “denial”…

BTW – Here’s another neocon you may want to keep an eye on:

http://www.drudgereport.com/flash2.htm

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April 19th, 2007, 4:34 pm

 

11. aysamaa said:

What denial?! Israel’s denial of being in a state of denial!
Denial of the fact that the good ol’ days have finally come to an end for Israeli brute force! Denial of the fact that super power Israel is as stuck in the mud it has helped creat as it has ever been. And a bit worse even!

Sobering, isn’t it?

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April 19th, 2007, 4:44 pm

 

12. Alex said:

Akbar,

I don’t think this senator will be the one.

When was the last time Americans elected a senator (or a Washington insider)for president?

Look for the governors and mayors.

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April 19th, 2007, 5:07 pm

 

13. Alex said:

Forget Emile’s paper.

this explains it all.

: )

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April 19th, 2007, 6:29 pm

 

14. Alex said:

From Today’s editorial in Haaretz:

“Syrian President Bashar Assad’s war threats are a reminder of the dangers in store for Israel if the political freeze continues. Syria is a partner to the Arab peace initiative and supported the Riyadh agreement. Now it must wait its turn and not act to undermine stability.

Olmert has issued calming statements to the effect that Israel does not intend to attack Syria. But this is not enough. In his expected talks with representatives of the Arab League, he must make it clear to them that Israel does not intend to remain in the Golan Heights forever and that Syria will be part of the peace process in the future.”

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April 19th, 2007, 7:09 pm

 

15. ausamaa said:

The so called Arab “Axsis of Reason” seems to be playing a very dangerous game by giving Israel’s some free gifts such as meeting with an “Arab League” delegation consisting of Egypt and Jordan (if this is correct then it will be the first time that the Arab League makes such a venture). The Axis of Reason is counting on a receiving something in return from Israel, while Israel must be counting on either Syria torpedoing this effort or on a blow up somewhere in the region to save it from slipping into any thing remotely representing a peace path.

But what are their true intentions:

-Do they really believe Israel can be cajuled into a peace scenario?
-Are they merely going through the motions to allow Bush, Israel, and themselves some breathing space to contemplate options in a somewhat “cooler” Middle East?
-Trying to use Syria’s current silence in a a very sly manner to “eventually” corner Syria in a situation where it has to either “play along” or else be portrayed as the spoiler?

How would Syria react to all this?

Is Al Sader pulling out of the Iraqi government part of the Syrian reaction? A warning?

Or is Syria humoring them until the Bush Admin is out? Did Pelosi promiss anything? If so, how would Israel react to all this? Why is Turkey a little upset? Why is Iranian action so bold and intemidating?

It seems everyone is trying to out fox the other until they pass through the current rough seas.

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April 19th, 2007, 8:46 pm

 

16. Atassi said:

Alex,
This explains it all!!! is that it. You are killing man. Are you sure you are not Bashar Minster of El Tatabeel Wal TaZmeer?

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April 19th, 2007, 9:18 pm

 

17. Ford Prefect said:

AP,
It is really not worth it here to restate the obvious. But I will repeat it anyway to refresh your memory.

Fact: The Administration lied to the American people about the threat of Iraq. The evidence was manufactured.

Fact: The Iraqi invasion was a colossal failure.

Fact: Congress wanted a regime change in Iraq. Not an invasion led by incompetent Administration.

Fact: Over 3,300 Americans died.

Fact: over 68,000 Iraqis died.

Fact: Afghanistan is being lost to the Taliban.

Fact: Iran was the biggest winner – claiming Iraq and Afghanistan to her side.

Fact: Israel was duped into striking Lebanon by the same hapless US Administration – resulting in a humiliating defeat. Olmert’s ratings are below the margin of error. Hezbollah emerged as strong as it ever was.

Fact: Iraq never had Jihadists before. Now it does.

Fact: The American public spoke in November.

Question: what planet do you live on?

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April 19th, 2007, 10:02 pm

 

18. Alex said:

Atassi 7abibi .. I was joking, I thought it was obvious!

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April 19th, 2007, 10:16 pm

 

19. Ford Prefect said:

Was obvious to me; but as the saying goes; when you are a hammer, you tend to see only nails (or was it if you are a stud, you tend to see only xxxxs?) Anyway, I love you dearly Cuz! 😉

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April 19th, 2007, 10:54 pm

 

20. Ford Prefect said:

A very interesting article from my friend, Mohammad Jubeili of the Third Alliance; a Syrian opposition group.

http://thirdalliance.net/index.php?categoryid=7&p2_articleid=683

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April 19th, 2007, 10:58 pm

 

21. Alex said:

FP,
I was talking to “Atassi” .. are you Atassi?

: )

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April 19th, 2007, 11:05 pm

 

22. norman said:

This is interesting and indicate the Syria has princples that it stands by:

Published: 20/04/2007 12:00 AM (UAE)

Illustration by Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

Can Syria and Israel make peace?
By Patrick Seale, Special to Gulf News

Spurred on by Bill Clinton, Syria and Israel came very close to a peace agreement in 2000. But Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister at the time, threw away the chance.

He didn’t think the Israeli public would swallow the prospect of Syrians swimming and fishing in the north-eastern corner of Lake Tiberias. Instead, he wanted to push back the Syrian border several hundred metres from the lake.

The late Syrian president, Hafez Al Assad, was outraged. He had expected Barak to honour a pledge given by two previous prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, that as part of the peace package Israel would withdraw fully from the Golan Heights to the water’s edge.

But Barak got cold feet and the chance of peace was lost. Can it now be revived?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due in Damascus on April 24, no doubt to make his own assessment of the possibility for renewed talks. Ban is only the latest of a string of high-level visitors to the Syrian capital, which have included US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a clutch of prominent US Congressmen, envoys from several European capitals, and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, among many others.

Preliminary work

Invariably, they all return from Damascus with the same message from its President: Syria is ready, even eager, for peace talks with Israel, without pre-conditions. President Bashar Al Assad has even hinted that, since much of the preliminary work has already been done in past years, the talks could be completed within six months.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rebuffed the Syrian offer, setting instead stiff preconditions of his own. Before agreeing to talks, he wants Syria to cut its ties with Iran as well as to Hezbollah and Hamas; to keep its nose out of Lebanese affairs; and stop militant jihadists from crossing the Syrian border to attack American forces in Iraq.

There is no chance whatsoever that Syria could agree to these terms ahead of peace negotiations. They are as improbable as asking Israel to sever its ties with the United States! Syria’s alliances with Iran and Hezbollah are its lifeline, strategic cards to be played during, not before, a negotiation.

The Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis is seen by its members as their main instrument to contain US-Israeli aggression – as was proven during Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer.

If, however, a global peace were to take hold, involving the Palestinians as well as Syria and Lebanon, Damascus would have less need of these allies.

Syria’s isolation is clearly at an end. Even its enemies seem agreed that engagement with Damascus is a pre-condition for a regional settlement. A number of prominent Israelis, including Defence Minister Amir Peretz, have called on Olmert to respond positively to Syria’s olive branch.

Something of a stir was caused recently by the news that Ebrahim (‘Abe’) Soleiman, a US-based Syrian, and Alon Liel, a former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, held periodic meetings between 2004 and 2006 in a private attempt to break the log-jam between their countries.

Dreaming hawks

All this would seem promising except that neither the enfeebled Israeli premier, Ehud Olmert, nor his chief patron, US President George Bush, is at all ready for a dialogue with Syria. In Israel, military and security hawks dream of a ‘second round’ in Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah and put an end, once and for all, to Syrian influence.

In turn, the Bush administration continues to view Syria with undisguised hostility. It has entirely espoused the Israeli position that Hezbollah and Hamas are ‘terrorist’ organisations not legitimate resistance movements; that Iran is the world’s leading ‘state sponsor of terrorism’; and that Syria should humbly comply with US demands before any dialogue can take place.

The impasse therefore continues. Still refusing to recognise that their hegemony is contested throughout the region, US and Israel have not yet drawn lessons of the strategic disaster in Iraq or of Israel’s defeat in Lebanon.

In the meantime, the influential Brussels-based International Crisis Group has published a major report on ‘Restarting Israeli-Syrian negotiations’. It declares that its ideas have been discussed with officials in both countries and can, in its view, be accepted by both sides.

The key points of the Crisis Group’s proposals are as follows:

The boundary between Israel and Syria would be the line of June 4, 1967 – as Syria has always insisted;

Syria would have sovereignty over the Golan up to Lake Tiberias and the Jordan River and have access to the adjoining water; while Israel would have sovereignty over the Lake and the River and have access to the adjoining land;

The armies of both countries would be separated by demilitarised zones as well as by areas of limited forces and armaments;

The US would take over the operation of the Mount Hermon early warning station, now in Israeli hands, which allows Israel to look down on the Damascus plain and eavesdrop on Syrian communications;

Once the peace treaty came into force, Syria and Israel would rapidly establish diplomatic relations and become good neighbours.

Spelled out in this manner, a peace agreement between Syria and Israel certainly seems within reach, if only the will were there. Suspicion on both sides, however, is deeply ingrained, with each seeing the other as a sort of devil.

The greatest hurdle of all, however, remains the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without real movement on that front, Syria would be unable to conclude what would be seen as a separate peace.

Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.

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April 20th, 2007, 1:31 am

 

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