Imad Moustapha and National Day – The Golan

Syria on the Potomac, Fri, 04/17/2009. Foreign Policy’s “the Cable” prepares to go to “National Day” celebrations held by the Syrian Embassy:

It’s not quite the same thing as returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. But the Obama administration is sending a delegation to Syrian National Day celebrations to be held tonight at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

It’s the first time the U.S. government has sent officials to grace the event in six years. The top U.S. diplomat attending tonight’s festivities is Obama’s recently nominated assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, Amb. Jeffrey Feltman, along with other less senior officials.

The Lebanese embassy received an invitation to the event as well, if only yesterday, a Washington Middle East hand heard….

But the Obama administration appears to be proceeding cautiously and without great haste towards greater engagement with Damascus.

Steven Clemons writes:

Yesterday evening, I wanted to pay my respects to a fellow blogger and lover of the arts, Imad Moustapha – who also happens to be the Ambassador of Syria to Washington. I got a snapshot at that Mandarin Hotel party of what incredible impact Barack Obama has had in Washington….

Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN’s Situation Room, stayed for a great long time and met not only Moustapha and his entourage but many others at the party. And then — punctuating the change in the DC game — Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and former US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman was there, along with State Department Middle East watcher Nicole Shampaine and Frederic Hof — who is staffing George Mitchell’s Middle East efforts.

Amazing actually. This is a dramatic change in tone and posture since the departure of the George W. Bush administration.

Others at the party were the Boston Globe‘s Farah Stockman, CNN’s Elise Labott, Ambassador of Yemen to the US Abdulwahab Abdulla Al-Hajjri, Middle East Institute President and former US Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain, Algerian Ambassador to the US Abdallah Baali, New School professor Alon Ben-Muir, former Colin Powell State Department Advisor and now AAAS International Programs czar Norman Neuriter and his AAAS international policy colleague Vaughn Turekian, and many other interesting journalists, think tank types, and then those trade association, lawyers and consultants looking to cash in on the rapidly changing Syria-US tone.

Lesch and Assad

Lesch and Assad

David Lesch was also there. See the wonderful write up of him in the LA Times:

Syria: How an American scholar made friends and influenced a leader
By Borzou Daragahi

San Antonio professor David Lesch, who led yearly trips to Syria for students learning Arabic, struck up a friendship with President Bashar Assad. ‘He values my opinions and ideas,’ he says….

“He is very low-key, he is a very amiable, very humble individual, not intimidating at all,” Lesch says….

Read Shai’s and Yossi’s account of their trip to the Golan. Shai and Yossi are Israelis that met commenting on this blog. They have been part of the SC family for two years now. They have patiently endured insults from those who don’t know them and become much respected by most regulars on SC. Here is an opening bit from Yossi’s blog:

I picked Yossi up in the morning in Haifa, and we drove straight to the Golan (about 1.5-2 hours away). We already had our morning-coffee at the beach-highway cafe “Maxim” (where in October 2003, a 29 year-old female lawyer from Jenin blew herself up, killing some 21 Israeli Jews and Arabs), so we were all “tanked” up.

One thing worth noting, on the way up, is just how natural the ride feels. In the past, I still remember a distinct separation between the Heights and the valley below. Perhaps it was the old Bailey-bridges we’d cross, or the quality of the roads that connected the Golan to the rest of Israel. But today, the bridges are modern, as are the roads. We left Haifa, and “suddenly” found ourselves on the Golan. Just like that….

We asked ourselves, why is it that after nearly 3 decades of annexation, with zero security issues (no Hamas, no Qassams, no Intifadas, etc.), absolutely gorgeous landscape and (still) relatively inexpensive real-estate, only some 26,000 Jews reside on the Golan? It is a question I hope Dr. Yigal Kipnis will help us answer….

Comments (30)


1. norman said:

That is the Israeli reaction to Syria’s peace initiative,

Israeli settlers claim Golan Heights ‘forever’

by Patrick MoserPublished: April 19, 2009
Israeli army officers look towards Syria from the Mount Bental observation post in the Golan Heights. Israel occupied the Golan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community. (AFP Menahem Kahana)

int StoryKATZRIN, Golan Heights (AFP) A light drizzle falls on visitors watching stunning views of the Golan unfold before them as settlers go all out to promote the territory Israel seized from Syria in war in 1967.
The scene takes place inside a specially designed cinema where huge fans and mist-spraying sprinklers add a touch of reality to the “Magic of the Golan” movie depicting the spectacular scenery that attracts tourists and new settlers to the occupied region.

The movie, shown at a mall in Katzrin, the largest city in the Golan, is popular with visitors to the strategic plateau that overlooks Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Representatives of the 20,000 Israeli settlers in the Golan Heights hope the film will do its bit to further boost tourism and bring in more residents, which they believe will give them more clout in arguing the lush region should never be returned to Syria.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Golan is mine, it’s ours. We created it,” says Ramona Bar Lev, spokeswoman for the Golan Residents Committee.

“Our problem is how to convince the government and the Knesset (parliament) to keep the Golan part of Israel,” she says.

She admits she is worried about the future, even though the new Israeli government of hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leans heavily to the right.

Israel — technically still at war with Syria since 1948 — occupied the Golan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community.

More than 18,000 Syrians, mostly Druze, an offshoot of Islam, are left from the Golan’s original population of 150,000.

In May last year, Syria and Israel began indirect talks mediated Turkey after direct negotiations halted eight years earlier over the fate of the strategic plateau.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has demanded Israel?s withdrawal from the Golan as a prerequisite to peace, something the previous Israeli government had suggested could be a possibility.

But the latest round of talks stopped in December when Israel launched a devastating war on the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this month, Israel’s new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ruled out any withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for peace with Syria.

“There is no cabinet resolution regarding negotiations with Syria, and we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights,” Lieberman told the Haaretz newspaper.

“Peace will only be in exchange for peace.”

But settlers in the Golan are not entirely convinced.

“We mistrust politicians as a whole, whether Likud or Labour,” says Bar Lev, in reference to the right-wing party headed by Netanyahu and the centre-left party of Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

She points to assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who initially vowed Israel would never let the Golan go but later said the Jewish state was willing to cede occupied land for a comprehensive peace with its archfoe.

“We were sure he was our guy and then we saw he wasn’t.”

Her husband, Katzrin mayor Sammi Bar Lev, insists that if Syria wants peace, “the price is well known: Israel stays on the Golan.”

Like most settlers in the region he considers that reaching a peace deal with Syria would be little more than a formality, since there has been tension but no fighting since the Yom Kippur war of 1973 when Israeli forces turned back Syrian troops who had rolled into the Golan.

“We’ve had peace for more than 30 years, why change it if it’s not broken,” says the mayor of Katzrin, where the population of 7,500 makes it the largest city in the Golan.

“We were here thousands of years ago,” he says, pointing to the ruins of a synagogue from about 1,500 years ago at an archaeological site in Kitzrin where tourists watch reanactments of Jewish daily life in Biblical times. “We’ll still be here for thousands of years.”

He says he is convinced that attracting large numbers of Jewish settlers will eventually make it impossible for the Israeli government to give up the plateau he has called home for four decades.

Like many Israelis, he is convinced that holding on to the Golan — which overlooks the country’s main water source the Sea of Galilee — is crucial for the security of the Jewish state.

Israel has key military installations in the Golan, including observation posts on the 2,814-metre (9,230-feet) high Mt Hermon from where they monitor activity in Syria and Lebanon.

Settlers like to point out that Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 has failed to halt firing of rockets by militants from the Palestinian territory, and warn that pulling out of the Golan would dramatically threaten Israel’s security.

“If we leave the Golan, there’ll be no Israel,” says Avishai Yaakov, a young settler who served with the elite Golani Brigade.

© 2009 Agence France-Presse

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April 19th, 2009, 2:08 pm

 

2. Akbar Palace said:

They have patiently endured insults from those who don’t know them and become much respected by most regulars on SC.

The poor little Israelis “endured insults”. How sad.

If you can dish it out, be ready to get it right back, I always say.

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April 19th, 2009, 3:35 pm

 

3. Shai said:

Norman,

Two comments: First, Katzrin’s Mayor’s declaration that “We’ll still be here for thousands of years” may yet be proven true. But he’ll have to become a Syrian citizen to do that. Second, the Golani Brigade is not considered “elite” in Israel… 🙂

We are not surprised at the reaction of the Golan settlers. As Yossi and I saw ourselves, people are quite terrified of the Netanyahu government, and distrust his intentions. They know he sent Lauder in 1998 to offer Hafez the Golan back, and they know he can do it with Bashar. Lieberman’s statement is very relevant, because it shows the entire world what Israel is truly all about – continuing to hold on to other people’s territory. That clarity was desperately needed for years.

Pressure upon Israel can now finally begin, and it is. Even though I doubt the Obama administration truly believes a two-state solution is possible in the near future, it already rejected publicly Netanyahu’s precondition to negotiations – the recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as “The Jewish State”. The real question now is who on Hillary’s team is going to play Jim Baker’s role this time around…

Don’t be disappointed in the Settlers’ response. The opposite – see the opportunity in this form of clarity.

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April 19th, 2009, 3:43 pm

 

4. Yossi said:

Norman,

I agree with Shai and I wouldn’t read too much into the pompous declarations of Katsrin’s mayor. The truth is that out of the 20,000+ people there, the majority are not messianic settlers like in the West bank but are rather secular foot soldiers of Israel who put the country’s advantage in the first place. They were sent there by the government, and they will come back if the government tells them to do so. But there are some religious settlers that could cause a lot of problem. The population can be divided into three parts: those who dwell in Katsrin, the kibutzniks and the moshavniks. (Moshav is a form of cooperative village.)

The voting in the kibbutzim in the Golan was similar to the rest of Israel: strongly leaning center-left. Here is the results from Merom Golan.

Kadima 40%
Avoda (labor) 24%
Likud 19%
Meretz 5%
Yisrael Beytenu (Lieberman) 4%

The moshavim are a mixed bag, some are similar to the kibbutzim in their makeup, and some are more like West Bank settlements, e.g.

Odem (moshav):

Kadima 47%
Likud 17%
Lieberman 14%
Meretz 5%
Ale Yarok (*) 5%

(*) green leaf: a party whose platform is Cannabis legalization.

Avnei Eitan (a religious moshav)

National Union (religious right wing) 41%
Jewish Home (religious right wing) 20%
Likud 28%

In Katzrin, the makeup resembles the rest of Israel, with a strong tilt towards Lieberman. I think this stems from Russian immigration to the town, and sectarian voting of the Russians. But I wouldn’t attribute a willing to wage a protracted battle to the Russians—what attracts them in general to one place or another is the availably of jobs and affordable housing, and if they’ll be compensated fairly, they’ll be the first to move out.

Finally, a lot of the families in the Golan and Katsrin in particular are families of army staff stationed in the Golan. These folks will go wherever their army career takes them and have no ideological attachment to the Golan, certainly not one that overrides their loyalty to the government and the army, their employer.

These were the results in Katsrin:

Lieberman 28%
Kadima 26%
Likud 22%
Labor 5%
Shas 5%
National Union 5%

So to summarize, if the government doesn’t screw up with compensation and relocation, I think the Golan settlers problem wouldn’t be too difficult to solve. However, if you see what our government did for the 8,000+ people it pulled out of Gaza (very little), then there is room for concern. Some aid from America or the EU would definitely help.

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April 19th, 2009, 5:41 pm

 

5. Shai said:

Yossi,

The Golan withdrawal will look 100% different from the Gaza one. First, it is doubtful that it will be a unilateral withdrawal. Second, it will not last a few hours or days, but at least a number of years (Syria offered 15!). Third, what Israel will receive in return is Peace with Syria, and quite likely a very nice economic “package” from the US/EU (I’m still amazed at how we can get these things). The $450,000 fantasy-promises made to the Gaza settlers will not be made with the Golan residents. They’ll be given an opportunity to settle most likely in the Upper Galilee. If indeed the Peace Park is established (very good chances that it will), then it is also likely that many of the current residents will continue to work in their businesses on that Park, arriving every morning and leaving in the evening.

And, as you suggested, the Golan settlers are looked upon, by most Israelis, very differently. Unlike the religious settlements in the W. Bank or even Gaza, the Golan residents are considered regular Israelis. Most are not like Katzrin’s mayor, and indeed most will come back without a fight. I’m hoping Dr. Yigal Kipnis will enlighten us more about this…

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April 19th, 2009, 5:58 pm

 

6. Ghat Albird said:

An Australian website is reporting that Obama has refused to meet Bibi at the White House.

A Russian website is reporting that shipments of SAM missiles to Iran are underway.

A commentary by Franklin Lamb in Counterpunch suggests that there is emerging a Syrian, Lebanese, Iran, Turkey “entente” under the aegis of Moscow to counter the US Jordan, Egypt, Saudi group that is amenable to granting Israel’s request that there will be NO RETURN OF THE PALESTENIAN REFUGEES FROM LEBANON.

At the present its reported that the American Embassy in Beirut is proferring financial support (no where in the same million dollar amounts as given Israel on a daily basis) to one or two political parties ahead of the upcoming elections in Lebanon.

Increasing interesting times for “The Middle East”.

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April 19th, 2009, 6:33 pm

 

7. Yossi said:

Shai,

Yes, it will be a different story from Gaza and a much better one it seems. But there are two things to note:

1) As a farmer, I would be wary of not being able to attend to my farm during the nights. (Cow going into labor… Wolves attacking my herds…) If the peace park scheme is to work, the farmers should have at the very least 24 hour access to the farms or preferably the ability to reside there. Offering the farmers to stay opens a great path to normalization but I’m worried that their land usage is conflicting with that of the previous Syrian owners. It would probably need to be decided on a case by case basis (I’m sure many Israelis won’t even consider this option, so maybe it won’t be difficult to resolve.)

2) I doubt that there are sufficient water and land reserves to compensate the farmers in the upper Galilee or anywhere else (especially if you want to discontinue unfair land allocation between Jews and Arabs). In fact, any sort of irrigation agriculture is becoming dubious in Israel. The cost of desalinizing a cubic meter of water is currently about 3.5NIS whereas pumping from the Kineret is probably around 0.2NIS per cubic meter. It probably makes more economic sense for the GOI to import those foods than to subsidize the marginal amount of water to be desalinized if the foods are grown locally. (That is, in times of peace, when self-sufficiency arguments are less important.) What this means is that, unfortunately, the settlers in the Golan will not be able to replicate their lifestyle when they are relocated back into Israel. This is bad news but it will be the share of many agriculturalist one the government stops providing them preferential water rights.

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April 19th, 2009, 6:36 pm

 

8. norman said:

Shai, Yossi,

I myself do not see a reason for the Israeli people who are living on the Golan to leave , they can be considered as Israelis doing business in Syria , they live on Syrian land , pay Syrian taxes and live together with Syrians , actually because they are not religiously motivated , they can be an example of coexistence ,
I assume that Syrian businesses can open in Israel too and pay Israeli taxes and follow Israeli laws ,

I think separation which seems to be the direction in the Mideast is not the best way to have coexistence

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April 19th, 2009, 6:55 pm

 

9. Yossi said:

Norman,

Amen to that, but it will take some time for the majority of people to believe in this vision and start applying it in their own personal lives. We live in the states so we have a perspective most people don’t have. The top priority of most Golan residents would be to continue living inside Israel. For those who can do day-trips into the peace park (e.g. industrialists) the choice would be much easier for sure.

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April 19th, 2009, 7:05 pm

 

10. Shai said:

Yossi,

You’re right, the farmers will not be compensated properly. The water issue is a very serious one, and there are very good options available there as well (see Boaz Wachtel’s Peace Canal Plan as an example). I believe if there is readiness on part of the Israeli leadership to give back the Golan, many options will become available to us, through cooperation between the nations (Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, etc.) and via natural patrons such as the U.S. and Europe.

Norman,

I join Yossi’s reply to your suggestion: “Amen and Amen!” Maybe it will actually be easier to reach with Syria than with anyone else. Even with Lebanon we have more emotional “issues” (Hezbollah, 18 years of occupation). Most Israelis don’t even know what a Syrian uniform looks like. It has been that “peaceful”.

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April 19th, 2009, 7:24 pm

 

11. norman said:

Shai, Yossi,

This makes me worry that without force , It would be difficult for the Israeli leaders to convince their people of the value of returning the Golan,

(((( We’ve had peace for more than 30 years, why change it if it’s not broken,” says the mayor of Katzrin, where the population of 7,500 makes it the largest city in the Golan.))))

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April 19th, 2009, 9:26 pm

 

12. majid said:

Did something happen the last two days to cause Bibi to backtarck on the Palestinian issue? He is already indicating his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians without his ridiculous precondition about recognizing the Jewish character of Israel. He is now willing to discuss the two-state solution in the framework of a regional arrangement asking in particular for Saudi cooperation (is he willing to give up East Jerusalem in other words?). It looks like Barack may be behind this development if true. This is what the report at this link is saying.

http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/14C46930-01F9-47F9-8C53-2A130EC27DFA.htm

I couldn’t find any reports in an English media.

Yossi, Shai – do you have any confirmations on this? What do you make out of it?

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April 19th, 2009, 10:39 pm

 

13. majid said:

This report in Haaretz parallels the Al-Jazeera report I linked in comment 12:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1079358.html

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April 20th, 2009, 12:05 am

 

14. Yossi said:

Majid,

I have no rational explanation for the U-turn. It’s not like Bibi is some talented leader of some sort who thinks 5 steps ahead, he’s just a petty politician. The next months promise many such funny moments.

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April 20th, 2009, 3:37 am

 

15. Shai said:

Majid,

Yes, a few days ago I read that the Obama administration publicly rejected Bibi’s ridiculous precondition, and said that negotiations must resume without preconditions, and in parallel to other negotiations (i.e. hinting Syria, rest of Arab world).

I slightly disagree with Yossi about Bibi. Not that I think he’s some grand-strategist (he’s not), but he is a salesperson, and apparently a very good one. He know what to say to make people “like” what he says. So he communicated to the US what it wanted to hear. What did it cost him? Nothing. He’ll send some petty officer (deputy-deputy-foreign-minister) to sit with Saeb Erekat and talk about this, and that, and other things, for weeks, months and years. Perhaps Bibi also understands that there can be no progress made with the Palestinians (Fatah), as long as there is no single representative for the Palestinians. How can Fatah deliver on anything? What will it deliver? Will a single Jew in Israel give back the West Bank, while Qassam rockets are still fired from Gaza? It’s all an exercise either in wishful thinking, or in thought-through manipulation of the Arab and Jewish “street”, by keeping them thinking that peace-talks are better than no-peace-talks.

What I hope, is that in reality, Bibi also understands that the only track that may have a potential is the Syrian one right now. He should traverse it, finalize it, and demonstrate to the entire Arab world (Palestinians included) that Israel is ready to make the final two steps of withdrawal to the 1967 lines. If he does that, not only is it likely that other Arab nations will jump on the “normalization-wagon”, but at last the kind of internal-Arab pressure will be placed upon Hamas and Fatah to resolve their conflict, to elect an agreed upon representative body, and to negotiate with Israel. This, I think, is the only hope we have right now.

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April 20th, 2009, 5:08 am

 

16. Shai said:

Norman,

You may in the end be proven right (about the need for force). If the Sinai-case is any example, then the 1973 war was first required. An Israeli journalist by the name of Ofer Shelach wrote in Ma’ariv last week that we seem to be in a pre-1973-like state right now, intoxicated with our power, dismissive of peaceful overtures from our neighbors, and unappreciative of the possible consequences. He may be right.

There is a 4-part series on YouTube of interviews with Sadat, Shazli, and El-Gamasy about the Yom Kipur War. In it, Sadat clearly states that his goal for the war was to demonstrate to the entire world (and Israel in particular) that the notion of security for Israel was something that could be shattered in an instant. That it was never guaranteed, so long as Israel continued to occupy someone else’s land. He was insinuating, I believe, that even a militarily-weaker Arab state could, and if pushed enough would, attack Israel just to change the status-quo. As Egypt proved, indeed it was changed, and 4 years later in Egypt’s favor (i.e. the Sinai was returned in full). I believe what we are witnessing today with Hezbollah and Hamas is very similar.

Who’s to guarantee that Bashar won’t start feeling backed into the same kind of corner Sadat did? Who’s to guarantee his system of considerations for his own survival as head-of-state versus the chance to force the world to force Israel to return the Golan won’t favor the latter, rather than the first? Who’s to guarantee a coordinated surprise attack upon Israel, from 4 different directions (Syria, Iran, HA, Hamas) won’t take place one morning, with thousands of medium and long-range missiles showering down on most Israeli cities? Or only Syrian missiles on the few settlements of the Golan (indicating clearly its objective, rather than extending the conflict deeper into Israel)?

When some in Israel, and its supporters abroad, dismiss such possibilities, they do so out of that so-called “intoxication with power” that Ofer Shelach reminded us of. They view war as only an on-the-ground, in-the-present, logical step. And one that is taken only if there is a chance for the initiating side to defeat its rival’s army. But as Sadat showed, “winning” could be defined differently, when the objectives are different. And, more importantly, that often the willingness to sacrifice more than your rival is underestimated, and can hence turn into a strategic surprise one day. To the thousands of mothers who will have to bury their sons and daughters in cemeteries across the nation, will it matter that the enemy “lost more”?

I don’t know if enough thought is given to these scenarios within the Israeli leadership. All too often I think it’s not. All too often I think we are all active participants in this gambling game, where the other side has free-will (unlike a gambling machine in Vegas). I can’t see Bashar waiting another 9 years for nothing to happen. Sooner or later, he’ll make a bold move.

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April 20th, 2009, 5:10 am

 

17. majid said:

Shai said, “What I hope, is that in reality, Bibi also understands that the only track that may have a potential is the Syrian one right now. He should traverse it, finalize it, and demonstrate to the entire Arab world (Palestinians included) that Israel is ready to make the final two steps of withdrawal to the 1967 lines. If he does that, not only is it likely that other Arab nations will jump on the “normalization-wagon”,”

I believe Shai you’re placing your hopes in the wrong place. The root cause of the problem of the whole region is the PALESTINIAN problem. Mitchell made it clear in his message when he arrived in the area: people have suffered for long enough. At the risk of sounding too simplistic, the Palestinians have suffered the most and the longest (at least 60 years for the Palestinians as humans suffering versus 40 years for Golan occupation – mostly empty). Very few (in human sense) are suffering because of the Golan occupation. The question of the Palestinian leadership hinges on what Israel is willing to negotiate about. If the Palestinians see something concrete will come out of negotiations with Israel they will resolve their differences (or they WILL be made to resolve it) and become united. Pragmatism eventually will rule.
I see your point that Israel will play on time and will stall as much as it can. But, there are indications of a stern message being delivered and that message originated from the very top, and it was accompanied by a time frame.
Arab countries will NOT jump in simply because Israel promises to return the Golan or starts negotiating it. They have made their position clear. Particularly, without solving the issue the Palestinians AND the status of Jerusalem no Arab country will jump in and particularly the key country in the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Arafat was not responsible for the failure of the talks that Clinton sponsored. It was the failure of the talks in addressing the issue of Jerusalem which caused the Arab States TO INSTRUCT Arafat to reject the deal. Jerusalem is the key for pre-empting (this word keeps coming up as the most communicative term on this blog) radicalism and putting an end to Iranian manipulations of these radicals.

The key word which emerged from the developments of last week is COMPREHESIVE peace, a term used repeatedly by Mitchell. His declaration that this is a US NATIONAL INTEREST is very strong. No regional arrangement will emerge from a single track approach like the one you described. Bibi is calling for regional arrangements and cooperation with other States to create it. In order to have the regional framework you must have relevant states present to sign a deal. For that to happen, the Palestinian issue plus Jerusalem will have to be front and center.

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April 20th, 2009, 6:40 am

 

18. Shai said:

Majid,

I did not say a Comprehensive Peace should not be our goal – of course it should. And I absolutely agree that the root problem is the Palestinian one, and our Occupation of Palestine. But what I am saying, is that I don’t believe we can achieve a solution with the Palestinians BEFORE we do with Syria (and probably a few other Arab states that will follow). We can repeat the “Palestine-First” mantra until we’re blue in the face, but given the situation on the ground, and the fact that in reality, the Palestinian people are split into at least 4 parts if not more (W. Bank, Gaza, Diaspora, Israel), and most if not all of these parts are not working in coordination or agreement with each other, there is no “Palestinian side” to talk to. When there is, of course we should do it immediately. Until there is, we shouldn’t sit and wait. Withdrawal from the Golan (and hence peace with Syria) has nothing to do with the Palestinian people, and should not wait.

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April 20th, 2009, 10:51 am

 

19. Majid said:

SHAI,

Again, Jerusalem first and Palestine first for the Arabs to come in.
NO ARAB STATE WILL JUMP IN FOR THE GOLAN aside from Syria of course, even if the territory gets handed back immediately. I can assure you that all the surrounding states (Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, S.A.) will stay away. Jerusalem is the key.
For the Palestinian leadership issue, please re-read my previous comment.

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April 20th, 2009, 11:25 am

 

20. Shai said:

Majid,

Jerusalem is easy. Most Israelis will accept a Palestinian capital in E. Jerusalem, as part of a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians. But I disagree with you about two points:

1. Hamas will not accept anything negotiated with Israel if only Fatah is doing the negotiation, and it makes sense. And Israel will not give away enough in negotiations, if Fatah can’t deliver security also in Gaza (which it can’t). So this dead-end will lead negotiations to continue forever, with no results. Even if Lieberman himself was to sit with Abu Mazen, nothing could be finalized. Nothing serious could be offered the same Palestinian street you are referring to. It’s wishful thinking to think otherwise, Majid. The most the U.S. can pressure Israel to do, is to sit down with Fatah. If Obama understood one day that Hamas is the key, he might force us all to sit down, and then there might be a chance. But not before.

I don’t claim to know for certain that Lebanon, KSA, Kuwait and Yemen will join Syria, should Israel announce its readiness to withdraw from the Golan and sign a peace treaty with Syria. Of course they won’t do so BEFORE an agreement with Syria is signed. But once it is, I would guess there are very good chances that Lebanon would join in, and then the question for the rest of the Arab world will be – what’s holding us back? The Palestinian people? How can we pressure Israel AND the Palestinians to move forward? And I’m not sure you’re correct, that they’ll wait for a state of Palestine to be created.

I of course am not talking about real peace. But even a cold one (like with Egypt and Jordan) is, I believe, a real possibility should Israel be willing to at least give back the Golan. Remember, most Israelis have already voted in numerous governments that promised to give back nearly 100% of the West Bank. So the Arab world knows that most Israelis are ready to end their conflict with the Palestinians. But that has yet to be proven with respect to the Golan.

For many Israelis, leaving the Golan is actually harder to envision and understand, than leaving the West Bank.

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April 20th, 2009, 3:22 pm

 

21. majid said:

Shai said, “Jerusalem is easy. Most Israelis will accept a Palestinian capital in E. Jerusalem, as part of a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians”

That’s perfect. That is all Israel has to put forward publicly and the Palestinians will unite and come forward. The rest will be negotiated.

Shai said, “Syria. Of course they won’t do so BEFORE an agreement with Syria is signed. But once it is, I would guess there are very good chances that Lebanon would join in, and then the question for the rest of the Arab world will be – what’s holding us back?”

That is INCORRECT. None of the countries you mention and most particularly Lebanon (you know Lebanon has over 500000 refugees in a very delicately balanced demography – HZB will go nuts not to mention the Christians and others) will come forward neither BEFORE nor AFTER signing an agreement. KSA will not even bother for well known reasons. Yemen, others etc… why? What’s the benefit they will get? You still don’t seem to understand how central the Palestinian problem is to the Arabs.

If you want cold peace with Syria like the one you have with Egypt and Jordan, then sure go ahead. You’ll get the piece of paper Bashar said he’ll sign.

Shai said, “The most the U.S. can pressure Israel to do, is to sit down with Fatah. If Obama understood one day that Hamas is the key, he might force us all to sit down, and then there might be a chance. But not before.”

US administration already knows who the key player is and it already knows Hamas is in control of Gaza and knows the Palestinians are divided. When Israel comes forward with its serious proposal for the Palestinians, as I said before they will become a united government, both recognize Israel and negotiate. The ball is in Israel’s court more than it is in Palestinian’s.

That’s perfect. That is all Israel has to put forward publicly and the Palestinians will unite and come forward. The rest will be negotiated.

Shai said, “Syria. Of course they won’t do so BEFORE an agreement with Syria is signed. But once it is, I would guess there are very good chances that Lebanon would join in, and then the question for the rest of the Arab world will be – what’s holding us back?”

That is INCORRECT. None of the countries you mention and most particularly Lebanon (you know Lebanon has over 500000 refugees in a very delicately balanced demography – HZB will go nuts not to mention the Christians and others) will come forward neither BEFORE nor AFTER signing an agreement. KSA will not even bother for well known reasons. You still don’t seem to understand how central the Palestinian problem is to the Arabs.

If you want cold peace with Syria like the one you have with Egypt and Jordan, then sure go ahead. You’ll get the piece of paper Bashar said he’ll sign. But then you will still have to live with radicalism and the Iranian threat.
Shai said, “The most the U.S. can pressure Israel to do, is to sit down with Fatah. If Obama understood one day that Hamas is the key, he might force us all to sit down, and then there might be a chance. But not before.”

US administration already knows who the key player is and it already knows Hamas is in control of Gaza and knows the Palestinians are divided. When Israel comes forward with its serious proposal for the Palestinians, as I said before they will become a united government, both recognize Israel and negotiate. The ball is in Israel’s court more than it is in Palestinian’s.

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April 20th, 2009, 4:06 pm

 

22. majid said:

Sorry for the duplcations in the above comment. I think I pasted some paragraphs twice and the browser in my computer was acting funny. It is the mouse I think.

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April 20th, 2009, 4:20 pm

 

23. Shai said:

Majid,

I know very well (believe me) how central the Palestinian issue is to the Arabs and to the Arab world. This is precisely why Israel does not enjoy real peace with either Egypt or Jordan. I don’t believe we could have real peace with Syria, or any other Arab state, until Palestine is established. But everything I’ve said so far, does not negate signing separate agreements with other Arab states. I think it is you who is overestimating the value the Palestinian problem has to the leaders of the nations in this region. If you were right, Bashar Assad would have never agreed to discuss the Golan, or peace with Israel, BEFORE Israel and the Palestinians resolve their conflict. Neither would Sadat or King Hussein have. And yet they did. And chances are the Saudis (behind the scenes) are doing precisely that as well.

You said: “When Israel comes forward with its serious proposal for the Palestinians, as I said before they will become a united government, both recognize Israel and negotiate. The ball is in Israel’s court more than it is in Palestinian’s.”

I think this is where your main mistake lies. You make an assumption that because most Israelis might be (eventually) willing to recognize a Palestinian state on nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in E. Jerusalem, that they would offer it (propose it) BEFORE the Palestinians have united and elected a truly representative government. You claim that if only Israel “comes forward with its serious proposal”, the Palestinians could finally unite. But it will never happen this way. No Israeli leader will utter the words “Divided Jerusalem”, or will offer to withdraw from the West Bank, as long as Hamas is throwing Qassams from Gaza, or more importantly, as long as Hamas is not under Fatah’s control. And we both know that this too is not going to happen anytime soon.

Therefore, the Palestinians must unite with or without Israel’s “help”. Israel will always prefer the status quo over a stronger, united Palestinian side. That is why it is so easy for Netanyahu to “come around” so quickly, and shed his preconditions. He knows nothing will come out of it. Don’t expect Israel to make any “serious proposals” anytime soon.

As for Lebanon’s Palestinian population, it is perhaps the toughest issue to be dealt with in this entire conflict. We will probably realize it later on, when Lebanon comes to the table. But ultimately, I don’t see many options. If there is no right-of-return into Israel, then those 500,000 people would have only two options – emigrate to the future Palestinian state (if and when that ever happens), or remain in Lebanon. Those who will remain, will receive financial compensation. I’m not sure that these arrangements cannot be provided following an agreement between Lebanon and Israel, and must await a two-state solution which, at this rate, will either never happen, or will when you and I are 10-20 years smarter…

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April 20th, 2009, 7:32 pm

 

24. majid said:

Shai,

I think we’re just going around in circles. You’re obviously obsessed with an idea and you’re refusing to see the wider picture. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be done. But it is a dead end scheme. In other words, it’ll stop with the signing of a piece of paper. Don’t even think Lebanon will come to the table under any circumstances. Actually, the Lebanese constitution was modified recently to outlaw any possibility of allow the Palestinians to permanently remain in Lebanon specifically to prevent this scenario and allay HZB fears.

The Arabs wouldn’t mind ignoring the whole issue and allowing Israel to die a slow death in a cold peace environment. You’re saying 10 to 20 years. I don’t think Israel has 10 to 20 years before it faces a mortal existential threat in demographics and perhaps militarily. Arabs are confident time is on their side. Israel as it is right now has no future. In 10 to 20 years from now Arabs will start talking about the whole of Palestine to be dominantly under their control. Even existing cold peace treaties may be suspended pending fulfillment of new demands. Go back and read the Crusaders history. You’ll see the exact parallel to what we have right now. NOW is the moment of truth for this ‘Zionist entity’. And the average Arab knows that very well.

You’re treating cancer with Aspirin!!!

I think we’re just going around in circles. You’re obviously obsessed with an idea and you’re refusing to see the wider picture. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be done. But it is a dead end scheme. In other words, it’ll stop with the signing of a piece of paper. Don’t even think Lebanon will come to the table under any circumstances. Actually, the Lebanese constitution was modified recently to outlaw any possibility of allowing the Palestinians to permanently remain in Lebanon specifically to prevent this scenario and allay HZB fears.

The Arabs wouldn’t mind ignoring the whole issue and allowing Israel to die a slow death in a cold peace environment. You’re saying 10 to 20 years. I don’t think Israel has 10 to 20 years before it faces a mortal existential threat in demographics and perhaps militarily. Arabs are confident time is on their side. Israel as it is right now has no future. In 10 to 20 years from now Arabs will start talking about the whole of Palestinian to be dominantly under their control. Even existing ‘cold peace’ treaties will get suspended pending fulfillment of new demands. Go back and read the Crusaders history. You’ll see the exact parallel to what we have right now. NOW is the moment of truth for this ‘Zionist entity’. And the average Arab knows that very well.

You’re treating cancer with Aspirin!!!

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April 20th, 2009, 8:10 pm

 

25. Majid said:

Again sorry for the duplications, Same problem.

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April 20th, 2009, 8:14 pm

 

26. Yossi said:

Shai, Majid,

I think that if the Obama administration continued with the current approach it has a chance of obtaining progress on all fronts simultaneously. Israel will be forced to start dismantling the “illegal settlements” (i.e. the 100-odd outposts that are illegal even according to Israeli law that Israel has committed to dismantling already). Israel may also be required to vacate or compensate for the settlements that its own documentation shows were built on private land. The Syrians will be engaged by the US and negotiations with Israel will resume with the condition that Syria doesn’t spoil Palestinian reconciliation. If that goes according to plan, the Palestinians will have a chance to make right and unify.

Lebanon is interesting. I definitely agree with Majid that it must await the general solution to the Palestinian refugees problem. Perhaps the solution may be tied to scrapping the confessional system?

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April 21st, 2009, 1:13 am

 

27. Shai said:

Yossi, Majid,

There’s a difference between what we WANT to happen, and what will ACTUALLY happen. Of course the Arab world is expecting Israel to make itself clear on what it is willing to do, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, on the Golan, with regards to the Palestinian refugees, etc. They (the Arab world) have been getting mixed signals for too many decades, and are rightly tired of it. And now the question is – what next?

Where is there a potential for progress? I’ve said in previous comments that I think the Obama administration is pushing talks with the Palestinians in parallel with other talks not because it truly expects or even foresees potential breakthroughs, but because it needs to help Arab leaders (all of them in fact) address the Arab street, if they are to also talk to Israel. The U.S. certainly cannot be seen as “giving up” on the Palestinians, nor can any of the Arab state around. But in reality, I can’t believe ANYONE is expecting progress there, so long as Hamas and Fatah are not united.

Yossi, I’m far less optimistic about Obama’s ability to force Israel to substantially dismantle settlements in the W. Bank. In Washington, Israel will always win arguments like “We do not wish to REWARD terror… We’ll dismantle most settlements as a result of a peace agreement, one that will deliver security…” What can Obama say to Abbas, when he knows he barely controls 50% of the Palestinians? Progress along the Palestinian track is hopeless, because there is NO track! Negotiations can only happen between two sides that can give and take. Only Israel can give, and it doesn’t want to right now. Abbas can do neither.

As for Lebanon, I also remember Siniora’s very-emotional declaration that “Lebanon will be last to make peace with Israel…” It won him a few cheers, and obviously had a convincing effect on people. But everyone knows that Lebanon and Israel have EVEN LESS at odds than anyone else in the region. Because the final-status of 500,000 of its residents is yet to be settled is not sufficient reason not to reach an agreement with Israel, especially if Syria does! What reason would Lebanon have for continuing to “resist” Israel, if Syria signs a peace agreement? Hezbollah?

Majid, I think you’re refusing to see that precisely in that “wider picture”, as you called it, people are getting tired also of the Palestinian disunity. Of course no one in this wider picture is happy with Israel, but they also realize that as long as Hamas and Fatah are at odds, Israel has the perfect excuse to keep negotiations going forever, and in the meantime, to deliver nothing. Even the Palestinian people themselves are getting tired of it, and are planning to just wait it out. They too are quickly giving up on a two-state solution.

The funny thing is, that it seems only the U.S. and Fatah are (still) interested in two-states. Neither Israel nor Hamas are… And I’m not sure any of the states in the region are either. That “wider picture” is changing, Majid.

Let’s move on to another topic. I think we’ve exhausted this one, and especially the forum… 🙂

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April 21st, 2009, 4:04 am

 

28. norman said:

Shai, Yossi,

something good can come out of Bad Ahmadinajad,

Font Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print ANALYSIS: John Lyons | April 22, 2009
Article from: The Australian
IN just over 30 minutes yesterday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dealt himself permanently out of the new international chess game being played by Barack Obama.

He almost certainly does not care, of course.

Ahmadinejad is a wily politician up for re-election, having survived at the top of Iranian politics for many years even when he has been known to upset the council of ayatollahs to whom he is ultimately responsible.

When he stood up in Geneva yesterday, he knew exactly what reaction the speech would get. It’s the same speech he gives every chance he can – and it gets the same reaction from the same people every time.

Ahmadinejad’s audience was not the 23 European Union delegates who walked out, or the delegates from the US or Australia or Italy who already knew what he was likely to say and boycotted it. His audience was the voters in Iran, who in June will decide whether he gets another term as president – and the signs for him are not good.

Ahmadinejad is under huge pressure – the economy is tanking because of the fall in the oil price, and criticism of him frequently appears in state-controlled newspapers, something that would not happen if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in whom the real power resides, did not want it to.

Ahmadinejad is daily accused of all sorts of things in even remote rural papers: to put it colloquially, the ayatollahs appear to be hanging him out to dry.

That does not mean he cannot win – he will certainly win some applause from hardline voters for his attack on Israel. One only needs to look at the pictures of the conference walkout to see there was no shortage of enthusiastic applauders.

But the speech means the Obama administration, which has been trying to end 30 years of hostility, now cannot deal with Ahmadinejad.

The European countries were prepared to give him a chance. But the fury of their comments after his speech shows it will take much time for that anger to recede.

The Obama administration has decided they’ll try to start with a blank sheet and give all relationships a chance.

Obama recently directly addressed the people of Iran in a video message – he talked about the great Persian culture; he talked about the importance of fists not being clenched; he talked about a new beginning.

Now that has come to nothing, for the moment. It means two things: the US has to think of a different way to deal with the looming crisis of Iran developing nuclear weapons and it means Syria becomes crucial.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently sent two advisers to Damascus for the first official talks for years – one from the State Department and one from the White House.

The US would have noticed the applause Ahmadinejad received in Geneva. They desperately need more friends in the Arab world.

A deal with Syria is do-able. Obama at the moment has such an aura about him, even in the Arab and Muslim worlds, that much of the traditional anti-Americanism has dropped away. For the moment.

Israel almost made a deal with Syria last year – in Ankara a group of Israeli negotiators sat in one hotel suite while some Syrians sat in another and Turkish negotiators went from hotel to hotel with possible peace deals.

The Gaza war put an end to the talks, but a deal was close. Syria wants two things from Israel: land and water. Israel wants one thing from Syria: a guarantee of security from its northeast. If Israel can have three neighbours who pose no threat – Egypt, Jordan and Syria – then it’s easier to deal with the three who do – Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Golan Heights is Israel’s trump card – by handing back the Golan to Syria a deal could be completed.

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad clearly wants to join the international community. He embraced French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy last year when the latter visited Damascus.

A deal with Syria would come with enormous bonuses for the US and Israel. Many of Hamas’s key leaders are based in Damascus, and a deal would give the US and Israel at least the ability to keep an eye on Israel’s enemy up close. And Syria has some influence with another of Israel’s enemies, Hezbollah.

Clinton would have watched the walkout in Geneva with some horror.

But she would almost certainly have been thinking at the same time of Syria.

Story ToolsShare This Article Email To A Friend Share This ArticleFrom here you can use the Social Web links to save Syria becomes crucial as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spurns Barack Obama to a social bookmarking site.

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April 21st, 2009, 5:59 pm

 

29. Shai said:

Norman,

I think a lot depends on whether he wins the next election in Iran, or not. Israel, the U.S., and just about everyone else, will be more calm in respect to Iran’s nuclear program if the next leader will not be as belligerent as Ahmadinejad was. To question the Holocaust, and to state a desire to “wipe Israel off the map”, causes only further hardening, readiness for war, and paranoia. No one will be surprised if tomorrow morning we awaken to the news of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. It’ll be a mistake, but everyone is thinking and talking about it.

If nothing can stop Iran’s nuclear program, at least let her leaders sound pragmatic.

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April 21st, 2009, 7:30 pm

 

30. norman said:

Shai,

Ahmadinajd will not win the election in Iran , He is not the right man for Obama’s time , you will see.

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April 22nd, 2009, 1:56 am

 

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