Interview with Ambassador Imad Moustapha: Peace Talks, Hizbullah, Palestine

Ambassador Imad Moustapha

Ambassador Imad Moustapha

Interview with Ambassador Imad Moustapha: Peace Talks, Hizbullah, Palestine
by Camille-Alexandre Otrakji
Syria Comment, October 21, 2008

Camille gathered questions from a wide number of Syria Comment readers of various nationalities. He summarized them before giving them to Ambassador Moustapha. Many thanks to Camille and Ambassador Moustapha. Next week, we will publish part two. [Joshua Landis]

PEACE WITH ISRAEL

1) If peace is signed between Israel and Arab countries, how do you see the future role of Israel in the Middle East?

[I.M.] It is important to understand that any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under its endorsement of the Pan Arab Peace Initiative. Therefore, any long-term relationship with Israel will ultimately fall within a broader Arab strategic plan.

Ultimately, the onus is on Israel in regards to her role in the Middle East, which will inevitably stem from her handling of the Palestinian question and especially its two thorniest issues: Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees. Israel’s ability to address these issues along with the return of all occupied land will help define how the Arab nation regards Israel in the region.

It is unreasonable to expect the Arab states and nation to have warm, friendly relations with Israel while the latter continues to occupy Arab land and to humiliate the Palestinian people.

2) Is a nuclear free Middle East a possibility? Will Syria continue to accept Israel’s current military superiority (nuclear and conventional) years after a successfully implemented peace settlement? 

[I.M.] Is it a possibility? We believe it is a necessity.  We cannot envision a region bristling with nuclear weapons to be one with prospects for peace and prosperity.  If a peace agreement is to be achieved, Israel’s position towards its nuclear weapons will be another determining factor towards its standing and role in the region.  You cannot expect to be a partner in peace while you continue to stockpile the most advanced conventional weapons, as well as weapons of mass destruction. There is a contradiction here that Israel has to recognize and address.

The fact that Israel has maintained a conventional military superiority in our region has not provided it with the ability to dictate events; it has not caused us to surrender our rights. Israel should have realized by now that it cannot depend on sheer military superiority to sustain its occupation of Arab lands while dreaming of attaining security.  Ultimately, in order to nurture peace in the region, Israel needs to adhere to international law, and understand that there cannot be a two-tiered legal system in our region in which Israel is judged by one set of standards and code of conduct, while the Arabs are judged by another.

3) Syria’s regional allies in the resistance camp who do not clearly recognize Israel’s right to exist, such as Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, do not publicly oppose the talks between Syria and Israel which were taking place in Turkey. Is this because your allies do not expect those talks to succeed, or because Syria has fine-tune its peace strategy with its allies? Are they ready to support a successful outcome of those negotiations? Or, can Syria be “flipped,” where by it repudiates its allies who will reject Syria’s settlement with Israel?

[I.M.]I strongly contest the premise of this question. The Hamas leadership has stated time and again that they cannot recognize the borders of the state of Israel when Israel continues to be vague about what it considers as its final borders. Blaming the occupied for not recognizing the ‘rights’ of the occupier is immoral. It is an attempt to overturn the table of justice and to blame the victim. Before setting preconditions, mighty Israel should acknowledge the suffering and despair of the Palestinian people. It must recognize their right to an independent and viable state.

Our allies have always known and appreciated the fact that restoring our sovereignty over the Golan is a matter of utmost national priority. They recognize that Syria will not hesitate to use any means necessary in order to attain this objective.

As for the notion of ‘flipping’ Syria, we find that both, absurd and counterproductive. The U.S. needs not create a rift between Syria and, say, Iran. Instead, the U.S. should benefit from the dramatic paradigm-change in the region to capitalize on Syria’s strong relations with Iran. We can help bridge the stark differences between Iran and the U.S.; we can help find a regional settlement to the many contentious issues of the region. We can help avoid the perils of yet another major conflict in our region. The same applies to Hezbollah, which we regard with much pride and consider a very close ally.

Syria builds its policies on a framework of principles and national interest, just as other countries do. We have many regional and international allies, such as Russia and Turkey. And while our foreign policy reflects first and foremost our national interest, we constantly touch base with our allies and friends, updating them  on major developments in our foreign policy.

The fact that we disagree at times is a testament to our close relationship, where differences in strategies or tactics, are not only accepted, but respected. Syria’s position regarding the peace process and the principle of land-for-peace lies at the heart of the Syrian foreign policy and stands unchanged for decades. Any party, whether an ally or not, understands this position, and therefore, no one can forge and alliance or friendship with Syria without grasping, and accepting, this reality.

4) Opinion polls frequently show that Israelis do not want to give up the Golan. If Israel leadership is incapable of changing its public’s mind over matters of utmost significance to their future and to that of their children’s future, isn’t it time for Syria to consider addressing the Israeli public more directly? Isn’t it possible to do this without officially recognitzing Israel — something Syria understandably believes must take place at a later stage?

[I.M.] We strongly believe that it is up to the Israeli government to decide whether it wants to make peace or to continue its policy of occupation. If it chooses peace, it will ultimately have to convince its own public of the advantages of peace. We do not expect the Israeli government to address our public on why we should engage in peace negotiations to get back the Golan. Syria’s leadership has for decades prepared the Syrian public of the necessity of a peace and the need to regain our occupied land. We have rallied domestic public opinion around peace. If the Israelis have made peace extremely difficult by moving settlers onto the Golan, investing money there, annexing it, and by demonizing Syria, they have themselves to blame. Surely they cannot now expect our government to explain to their people why peace is necessary. Still, Syria’s position towards peace is well known and constantly repeated. We spare no effort to reiterate that our strategic choice is peace. We go one Western TV; we give interviews to Western print media; we do everything in our power to make our position christal clear.

5) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States and Syria maintain low level contact. How do you see the current relationship between the two countries following the recent meeting between Rice and Mouallem? What will it take to bring the Americans to sponsor the peace negotiations?

[I.M.]  The term ‘low-level’ is not applicable any more. During September and during the visit of our Foreign Minister to New York, Secretary Rice asked for a meeting with him, which was then followed by a longer meeting with Assistant Secretary of State, David Welch. Many issues were discussed in detail. Welch voiced the US’s interest in some sort of a political dialogue and re-engagement with Syria. If what they have both expressed will not be vetoed by other centers of power within the Bush administration, then we expect to see more of these high level contacts in the near future.

During the meeting, the Americans expressed interest in the current indirect talks between Syria and Israel. They expressed their willingness to get more involved. While we believe it might be too little, too late, we have made our position very clear regarding the pivotal role for the US as a sponsor of such talks once they mature into the direct-talks stage.

However, the far more important position is that of the US Congress, whose leaders have unequivocally called on this administration to engage diplomatically and politically with Syria. This goes as far back as the Baker-Hamilton report, and as recently as September, when during a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ranking Republican and Democrat members explicitly asked none other than Mr. Welch himself why the US administration has yet to engage with Syria. We also know that both presidential campaigns have sent signals that they are interested in greater involvement with Syria. Ultimately, the Americans will sponsor the peace talks only when they believe it is in their national interest and in Israel’s national interest to do so, (not to mention the Arabs’). When they realize that a peaceful conclusion to the Arab-Israeli conflict is in their interest, the US will return to the table as a sponsor.

6) The Israelis claim that Lake Tiberius has shrunk in size by few hundred meters since 1967 because of receding water levels. Will Syria still accept an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the 4th of June 1967 line that does not give Syria access to the eastern shore of today’s smaller lake?

[I.M.] The line of June 4, 1967 is clearly demarcated based on international agreements. We have made it very clear in Turkey that we can only restart the peace process with the understanding that this line constitutes the Syrian-Israeli border. Early signs indicate that the Israelis accept this premise. Attempting to change the rules of the game will be a nonstarter. Now, when you start discussing details, the answer is simply that very difficult negotiations will need to be conducted over each and every issue, and I believe you must agree with me that we cannot conduct peace talks over the Internet.

7) After three failed attempts to reach a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement — first with Prime Minister Rabin who was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, then with Ehud Barak who “got cold feet” according to President Clinton’s memoirs, and most recently with Ehud Olmert who was forced to resign — have you concluded that Israel is only interested in the peace process and not in peace itself?

[I.M.]  The past cannot constitute the framework or basis for our future policies. It does, however, serve as a lesson. In this case, our past experience negotiating with Israelis informs our understanding of what it takes for Israel to ‘make’ or ‘break’ a deal. A truth in politics is that while caution is necessary, opportunities are very rare and must not be missed. This does not mean that we blindly jump at every opportunity. This is the primary reason for our involvement in several rounds of indirect talks with the Israelis through our Turkish friends.

We need to ensure that if we move to direct-talks, their chances of success will be higher than that of previous talks. The past and present are not the only elements at play here. Any future talks will run a greater risk of failure if these peace talks collapse. As parties approach these talks, this fact needs to be made very clear. Thus, if the Israelis are merely interested in the ‘process’ and not the ‘peace’, they will ultimately be held accountable, morally and politically, for missing the opportunity for peace. History will be Israel’s harshest judge; but most importantly, future Israeli and Arab generations will pay a dear price for this shortsightedness and obstinacy.

LEBANON/HIIZBOLLAH

8. Many Lebanese who listen to Mr. Nasrallah’s speeches are worried that Hizbollah does not want to stop fighting Israel until Israel is wiped off the map of the Middle East. Can you reassure them that their country will not necessarily continue to be paying the heavy price for its “resistance culture” after Syria signs a peace treaty with Israel?

[I.M.] If certain speeches by Mr. Nasrallah have worried some Lebanese, they should address their concerns directly to the leader of Hezbollah. Asking a Syrian official to ‘reassure’ them regarding the Lebanese resistance reflects a profound and disturbing refusal to come to terms withthe fact that Hezbollah is part and parcel of the Lebanese political and social fabric. The notion that Hezbollah gets its orders from outside Lebanon is both absurd and counterproductive. Those in Lebanon who have a problem with the “resistance culture” should understand that it grew out of a purely Lebanese context. I find it embarrassing that I need to explain to anybody in the world, let alone to Lebanese individuals, that this culture evolved as a result of decades of continuous and extreme Israeli violence committed on Lebanon.

By insisting on perpetuating this remarkable state of denial, those who refuse to accept that Hezbollah is a partner in what they consider ‘their’ Lebanon, will do themselves and ‘their’ Lebanon a great disservice. What I urge them to do is to accept that Lebanon belongs to all its constituent parties and not exclusively to one or another. Once they accept that, they will then need to start by conducting a comprehensive national dialogue among themselves in order to reach answers and solutions – not direct their questions to us, or even to the Americans.

9)Hizbollah officials have made it clear that they intend to take revenge on Israel for its probable assassination of Imad Mughniyeh. Has Syria advised Hizbollah against taking revenge for Mughniyeh?

[I.M.]  We don’t usually advise Hezbollah on what sort of actions they should take. This is strictly their business; they know what is best for the Lebanese resistance. Obviously, decisions of war and peace are taken by states according to a complex set of criteria and considerations.

On the one hand, strategic military decisions cannot be discussed publicly unless you want us to make rhetorical statements. On the other hand, we are confident that Hezbollah is capable of defending Lebanon and inflicting another humiliating defeat on the Israeli military machine if it decides to launch yet another war of aggression on Lebanon. We also believe that the Israelis fully realize this simple fact.

PALESTINE

10) Egyptian and Saudi journalists these days argue that Syria, which successfully led the Arab world’s decade long boycott of Egypt after President Sadat signed a separate peace treaty with Israel, now appears to be interested in a similar deal that achieves nothing for the Palestinians. How are Syria’s negotiations with Israel, thirty years after President Sadat’s Camp David Accords, different from Sadat’s? Will Syria insist on negotiating towards tangible gains for the Palestinians in addition to recovering its occupied Golan Heights?

[I.M.] This is an extraordinary question based on a totally false premise. When Kissinger came out with his famous dictum that ‘there could be no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria,’ he realized two important facts. First, by drawing Egypt into a separate peace with Israel, the US effectively eliminated the largest and most powerful military in the Arab world from the Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby, shifting the balance of power in the region decisively in Israel’s favor. Second, it established a new precident in Arab politics: separate negotiations with Israel. Such a culture of every man for himself dashed any hope of a comprehensive pan-Arab peace agreement with Israel. Only sticking to a unified strategy could have given the Palestinians more leverage in their negotiations with the Israelis.

For this reason, Syria staunchly opposed the separate Egyptian peace agreement; we spearheaded a campaign to convince the rest of the Arab states not to be trapped into individual negotiations with Israel.

Unfortunately, we failed and Israel won. After Camp David there was the Wadi Araba agreement, which was then followed by the Oslo agreement. Syria’s position was not that Arabs should not negotiate peace agreements with the Israelis, but rather, that they should not do so separately. The golden adage of divide and conquer has rarely proven more accurate than in this instance. As each additional Arab state signs a separate peace with Israel, those that remain find it more difficult to negotiate peace and achieve their demands.

Today, the Palestinian Authority is negotiating its own peace agreement with the Israelis. We understand their circumstances and appreciate how difficult it is for them to live under the draconian law of occupation. To see one’s land being steadily confiscated by the Israelis cannot be easy. We are not happy with the state of Arab disunity and lack of political coordination that prevails among us, but this, unfortunately, is the sad reality in the Arab world. This is the legacy of the Camp David Accords.

11) This year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the Arab Summit in Damascus despite pressure from his Saudi and Egyptian main Arab allies not to. He is also visiting Damascus more frequently this year, compared to previous years. What is the reason behind Syria’s improved relations with President Abbas? How will Syria manage to keep its Palestinian friends and allies happy given that each Palestinian group have different expectations for a settlement with Israel? Will Syria be able to keep moderate Abbas, islamist Meshal, and Marxist Hawatmeh happy?

[I.M.] It is not Syria’s task to keep all Palestinian factions happy. Sadly, deep differences and strongly entrenched mistrust divide the Palestinian factions. This is very damaging to the Palestinian national interest. It is our moral duty in Syria to extend every possible means of support to our Palestinian brethren. Right now we believe that the best support Syria can offer is through attempting to heal the rifts among the Palestinians and reach a national consensus on matters of paramount importance. For this reason, we are keen on maintaining the closest possible relations with all factions, without exception. Fortunately, all Palestinian parties trust us and lean on us for support at this critical juncture. Syria happily assumes this this role and duty.

Comments (87)


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51. Shai said:

QN, Joshua,

I fully agree with you. The Arab Initiative is today a fantasy. Peres’s delusions and his belief in a “New Middle East” tomorrow morning will not be sufficient to make multilateral negotiation with the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians, and the rest of the Arab world, all at once, possible. This is precisely why Olmert sent his advisors to talk to Syria. But, like most wise-men in our region, he was too little too late. And now, our ancient Peres has once again identified a vacuum in Israel’s political arena, and will be attempting to manipulate it as best as he can. He’s already with Mubarak in Cairo today, trying to market the Saudi Plan. See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1030858.html. Please notice, Syria is not mentioned even once!

Tzipi Livni has just announced that this coming Sunday, it will be determined whether we have a new government, or new elections. She is attempting to pressure all the various parties that have tried to pressure her to succumb to their requests (more like blackmail if you ask me). Problem is, they may well call her bluff, and less than 72 hours from now, we may be heading for new elections in Israel. In a way, it may be a blessing in disguise, because it may at least lead to the election of a powerful and determined PM in Israel, namely the infamous Netanyahu (Round II). Seeing how the Peres-Livni-Barak initiative is now pushing for the Saudi Plan, quite likely at the expense of continuing along the Syrian track (which, by all accounts seems to have been progressing extremely well), highlights for me the desperate need for change in Israel (apologies to Obama). Can Netanyahu become a 2nd Begin? I don’t know. But I fear Peres, Livni, or Barak, have just disqualified themselves from such a possibility.

We are left with very poor choices in Israel. My nation is simply not producing the kind of leaders that can take us to a brighter future. So the question remains, what can be done about it? Should we, or can we, give up? It’s the easiest choice, no doubt. We can feel justified in making clear-cut statements like “If Israelis don’t understand the merits of peace, then there’s nothing we can do further…” And as QN said, we can let our children face these questions 30 years from now. But we must also realize that much blood will be shed until then. And we, and perhaps our children, will continue to pay the price.

Are there alternatives? I don’t know. But I do know that in the business world, when you want to close a deal that has strategic significance, and the company’s current management gets in the way, you find a way to speak to its shareholders, or to its board of directors. As a “shareholder” myself, I’ve seen firsthand the effects communicating through SC has been on my own views, and on my understanding of the conflict. I now want to find the way to pass this knowledge onward. It is an education, not a powerpoint presentation. And if Israel can’t educate us, perhaps it’s time someone else does. The only candidate that has proven itself worthy of that, in our region, is Syria. What have we got to lose?

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October 23rd, 2008, 7:29 pm

 

52. norman said:

hi shai,

i will answer you later tonight,

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October 23rd, 2008, 8:11 pm

 

53. Qifa Nabki said:

If they think that Israel will give up the Golan without exacting a complete abrogation of Syrian sovereignty like they did to Jordan and Egypt then they are the most naive people in the world.

Signature Observer. 🙂

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October 23rd, 2008, 8:32 pm

 

54. Shai said:

Peres just keeps impressing us. Now he’s going to be knighted… http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3611965,00.html

Next he’ll be canonized, and then, khalifized… 🙂

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October 23rd, 2008, 8:51 pm

 

55. Qifa Nabki said:

Observer,

So, what’s going to happen?!

You can’t just leave us hanging…

A long and painful recession is coming, the world is order is collapsing, Israel’s got the region’s dictators by the balls and is hunting for more, the dollar is on its way out along with the Euro, states are failing all over the place…

AND???

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October 23rd, 2008, 8:55 pm

 

56. norman said:

Shai,Rumyal,

When I came to the US in 1980 I was afraid that i will have difficulty in the US as many of the doctors if not most are Jewish , to my pleasant surprised i and my other Syrian doctors freind were helped most by these Doctors we were fearing , That continued after going into private practice , I want to add that the help is mutual most teh doctors i work with are Jewish , What made the change is contact and dealing with each other It is desegregation , It is knowing each other and that is what Israel failed to do after the 1967 war , Integration , even after the 1948 war with palestinian population that was there , during the civil rights movments , the desegragation of schools and the anti discremination laws in housing and employments were essential in decreasing the fear of the wights from the blacks to the point that we are on the verge of having the first African American president, people some time wonder about the reason that the majority wights gave all these rights to the Black , In my opinion it is simple , They had the forsight to know how to avoid a civil war ,
Israel should do the same and show the Palestinian that it care about them , The only way for peace is for Israel is to show the aplestinians that there is a future for them and their children not only the Israeli children ,

Shai, when was the last time or the first time that an Israeli leader said that he care about the Palestinian suffering , never happened , It si apparent that Paestinian and Arab blood does not count and that is one of the most obscle to peace , the only way for people to care about is to show them that you care about them.

Peace between Israel on one side and Syria , Lebanon , Iran and the Palestinians has to come at the same time .

After the agreement is reached these countries should start a marketing campain to sell the deal , I think that people are tired of wars and would love peace if it was p

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October 24th, 2008, 1:47 am

 

57. innocent_criminal said:

Yeah Observer, tell is a bit more about the impending doom and this New World Order. 😉

Shai – like many here, i do not share your enthusiasim for Netenyahu, but i understand it. This is way i’d also tell you that the powers that be (the one that pushes certain leaders to power) will make sure none of them will have a comprehensive mandate. a key factor to reach a peace treaty. Hence why Livni is almost certain to be PM (even if an early election is called)

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October 24th, 2008, 2:04 am

 

58. Akbar Palace said:

Responding to Post 38:

1. It has tried twice to form a unified Palestinian leadership to promote deal-making. These efforts have met with rejection by Israel and Washington, which prefer to believe they can destroy Hamas in order to divide the West Bank and keep all Jerusalem in Israeli hands.

Please back up your statement that the US and Israel “…believe they can destroy Hamas…”.

2. Syria has compromised in Lebanon – allowing for Suleiman’s election and not pushing the Hizbullah victory on the ground to its logical conclusion in order to build up Aoun and the more “acceptable” opposition members in the cabinet. Hizbullah has not asked for a major rewrite of Taif.

Syria is no position to control Lebanon anymore. This isn’t a “compromise” and this isn’t a “Hizbullah victory”. What it is is a very tenuous peace that, unfortuntely, can come apart at the drop of a pin (without any outside influences).

3. Syria has curtailed infiltration into Iraq even though Washington has refused to reward it or resend an Ambassador. It has not complied completely with US demands on the border, but it has shown good will in the face of a powerful US diplomatic boycott.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7018256/

4. Meanwhile the US has shown no indication that it has changed its fundamental thinking. Hizbullah is still regarded as the A team of terror, which must be dismantled – probably by force.

How sad. To call a spade a spade… The lack of tact is so unprofessional.

The Syrian leadership, as a “minority regime”, is in a special category of illegitimacy among Middle Eastern dictatorships. Washington must make a special example of it in order to show that it has not abandoned its rather cynical “freedom agenda,” even as it embraces dictators in Riyadh, Cairo, and elsewhere many of whom hold more political prisoners in their jails than Syria does.*

*and don’t support and export terrorism

Both candidates continue to promise that they will use military force to stop Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear power on its territory.

This is troubling…(for some)…

Clearly distrust is at the heart of the inability to break out of the vicious cycle of wars and violence. It is a mistake, however, to disregard Syria’s willingness to show flexibly. So far, none of this has been rewarded by Washington – at least not overtly.

Show more “willingness” and more “flexibility”;)

Many signs indicate that the US and Israel are just taking a breather following the Bush failures – not that they are ready for real change. Syria needs to see some indication of real change.

The term “Bush failures” is waaaaay too overused, especially now that Saddam is gone, al-Queda has been killed off and marginalized, Syria is out of Lebanon, the Taliban is not in power in Afghanistan, Iraq is an ally and democracy, and 2 WMD programs have finally been verifiably dismantled.

At the same time, Syrian conservatives can look at Syria’s successes in the regional game of power politics to demand that Syria not make more concessions.

New definitions for “failure” and “success” has finally emerged here on Syria Comment by the Co-director, Center for Middle East Studies
University of Oklahoma’s Professor Josh!

After all, they will argue to Syria’s peaceniks, “we are winning! Why make more concessions, if Washington and Jerusalem are too stupid to recognize this.”

What is Syria winning Professor Josh? A stuffed animal at a Damascus carnival? Please be more specific. Please list 10 Syrian “peaceniks” and why you think they are “peaceniks”.

Iraqi Shiites are giving Washington the shaft. Iraq’s Shiite leadership will consolidate their hold on power and move in Iran and Syria’s direction, helping to break the US imposed economic sanctions on the two.

Today’s article from the NYT has a different “spin”…

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9503E6D6173BF933A15752C1A9659C8B63

Turkey has moved decisively toward a more pro-Syria and Iran policy. Washington and Israel can no longer use it as against its enemies.

More opinion without proof. Yes, Iran and Syria have so much to offer the Turks. Why didn’t I think of that?

Russia has become angered at Washington and more willing to defend Iran and Syria in the Security Council and to arm them. Russian arms are improving in quality again.

Methinks our resident Professor is a professional cheerleader…

France and Europe are not keen to continue Washington’s hard line against Syria.

More opinion. Actually the Europeans are more concerned with the increase in Islamic Fundamentalism than the Americans and the Israelis.

Europe is also fed up with the weakness of Lebanon and March 14th’s powerlessness to do anything but deliver fine sound bites.

Europe is not about to change their alliances…

Hizbullah has shown excellent leadership and military prowess that is a game changer.

Their “military prowess” will not defeat Israel and will only create greater animosity within Lebanon. No Islamic dictatorship in the Middle East has produced the Utopia they all promise. Usually, the exact opposite…

India and China are on the way up in the world and want good relations with Iran and Syria. They give Damascus hope that in 20 years there will be real changes in the world balance of power.

The US gave hope to Middle Easteners that they can elect their own representatives and their own government.

They have no connection to holocaust guilt or the Christian belief that Jews are the chosen people and the messiah will return only when Jews have settled all the land.

Of course China and India don’t deny the holocaust either…

A rather normal comment considering the overwhelmingly anti-Israel sentiment on most college campuses and their total fascination with the thugs that make up the Middle East.

The West is in deep economic trouble and will not want to throw more resources away fighting Middle East wars they cannot win.

More anti-American cheerleading. The US will climb out of this economic downtrun within a year. Then, hopefully, our economy will climb to match that of Syria’s;)

Afghanistan is going very badly.

For the Taliban and al-Queda. Maybe. And Barack Obama doesn’t like Pakistan very mcuh either.

Pakistan is moving away from the Washington camp. The Bush military campaign in Wizirastan will cause an alergic reaction against the US.

Of course, Pakistan is being taken over by your freedom-fighter heroes.

All of these considerations will cause Syria to hold the line on concessions it is willing to make.

As Charles Johnson says on LGF: Quelle “Shocka!”

Syria is not going to flip.

OK, but Madeline Albright may not be happy…

If the West wants change, it will have to deal with Iran-Syria-and-HIzbullah as they are and bring them along together.

Translation: allow them to arm, terrorize, and occasionally kill a few Jews.

Not as the West dreams they should be or in divide and rule fashion. There is no trust for this kind of approach.

Saddam had the same demands…

My hunch is that the Syrian leadership believes that Israel can gain acceptance among the broad mass of Arabs and Middle Easterners, but only by making very painful concessions – concessions that it shows no interest or inclination of making.

Translation: Israel must return the Golan for something called peace that allows the Arabs to anihilate Israel at some later time.

Olmert pointed in this direction when he came was out of office, but was widely mocked for his wisdom – and of course he could never have said these things while in authority – a bad sign.

Israelis have been prepared for years to return the Golan for peace. Nothing new.

There is a very wide gap between the two countries – perhaps less than there is between Palestinians and Israelis – but it is very wide. I think that is why many believe there will be another war before there is compromise – alas.

Who knows? It’s been a while since the brave Syrians have fought their own battles…

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October 24th, 2008, 2:40 am

 

59. Alex said:

Now, all of Lebanon knows about Syria Comment and about Ambassador Moustapha’s interview.

Assafir newspaper translated it:

http://www.assafir.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=2200&EditionId=1072&ChannelId=24487

تقاربنا مع إيران يحل الكثير من المسائل الإقليمية
عماد مصطفى: استراتيجية عربية أشمل ستحكم أي »علاقـة طويلـة« مع إسرائيل

قال السفير السوري في واشنطن عماد مصطفى، في حديث شامل مع موقع »سوريا كومنت« رداً على أسئلة وجهها قراء من مختلف الجنسيات، إن إسرائيل تدرك أن »حزب الله« قادر على إلحاق هزيمة أخرى بها، وربط أي علاقة طويلة المدى مع الإدارة الاسرائيلية بـ»خطة إستراتيجية عربية أشمل«، معتبراً أن على الاميركيين »استثمار التقارب« السوري الإيراني من اجل »إيجاد تسويات لكثير« من المسائل الإقليمية.
وسُئل مصطفى عما إذا كان بإمكانه »طمأنة اللبنانيين بأن بلادهم لن تكون مرغمة على دفع ثمن باهظ بسبب ثقافة المقاومة التي ينتهجها حزب الله، بعد أن تبرم سوريا اتفاق سلام مع إسرائيل«. استغرب السفير السؤال وصوبه، فـ»بعض اللبنانيين« فقط هم من »قد يشعرون بالقلق« من خطابات الأمين العام لـ»حزب الله« السيد حسن نصر الله، وإليه »يجب أن يوجهوا أسئلتهم لا إلى مسؤول سوري… أو حتى إلى الأميركيين«، واصفاً بـ»السخيف« القول بأن الحزب ينفذ أوامر تأتي من الخارج.
ولأولئك اللبنانيين الذين لديهم »مشكلة مع ثقافة المقاومة«، ذكّرهم مصطفى بأن »هذه الثقافة تطورت نتيجة عقود من العنف الإسرائيلي المتواصل والمفرط ضد لبنان«. ولأولئك »الذين يصرّون على البقاء في حالة الإنكار والذين يرفضون بأن الحزب شريك في ما يسمونه لبنانهم« حذّرهم مصطفى من أنهم »يتسببون لأنفسهم وللبنانهم بأذى كبير«، وحثهم على »القبول بأن لبنان لجميع مكوناته«. ودعاهم إلى »فتح حوار وطني شامل في ما بينهم«.
وحول ما إذا كانت دمشق قد »نصحت« المقاومة بعدم الثأر من إسرائيل لاغتيالها القيادي الشهيد عماد مغنية، أجاب مصطفى »سوريا لا تقدّم نصائح للحزب… هم يعرفون ما هو الأمثل للمقاومة اللبنانية«، معرباً عن اعتقاده الراسخ بأن »الحزب، الذي نُجلّه بشدة، قادر على الدفاع عن لبنان وإلحاق هزيمة مذلّة أخرى بالآلة العسكرية الإسرائيلية، إذا ما قررت مجدداً الاعتداء على لبنان«، وهـي حقيقة »بسيطة يدركها الإسرائيليون تماماً«.
وحول مفاوضات السلام مع إسرائيل، شرح مصطفى بأن »المقاربة السورية تأتي في إطار المبادرة العربية للسلام. أي أن أي علاقة طويلة المدى مع إسرائيل تأتي حتماً في إطار خطة استراتيجية عربية أشمل«، ستساعد في تحديدها »قدرة إسرائيل على معالجة المسألتين الأكثر صعوبة (في الصراع مع العرب): القدس وحق عودة اللاجئين، إلى جانب إعادة الأراضي المحتلة«، إذاً من »غير المنطقي توقع أن يقيم العرب علاقات دافئة مع إسرائيل فيما هي تواصل احتلالها لأراضيهم وإذلال الفلسطينيين«.
واستنكر مصطفى سؤالاً تحدث عن أن »حلفاء سوريا لا يعترفون بحق إسرائيل بالوجود«، قائلاً إن »معاتبة المحتلة أرضه لعدم الاعتراف بحق المحتل أمر لا أخلاقي، ذلك أشبه بمعاتبة الضحية«، إذ قبل أن تسن إسرائيل شروطها المسبقة »عليها أن تعترف بمعاناة الفلسطينيين«، عليها هي أن تعترف بحقهم في الوجود و»بدولة لهم، مستقلة قابلة للحياة«.
أما الحديث عن أن حلفاء سوريا قد يعارضون مفاوضاتها مع إسرائيل، أو عن إمكان »تخليها« عنهم، فهو بالنسبة لمصطفى »سخيف«، لأن »حلفاءنا يدركون أن أولويتنا الوطنية هي استعادة الجولان المحتل… بأي وسيلة«. وإذا كانت »واشنطن تحتاج أن تخلق شرخاً بين سوريا وإيران مثلاً«، فهي مخطئة، إذ عليها أن »تستثمر علاقتنا القوية بطهران، وأن تدرك أن بإمكاننا إيجاد تسويات لكثير من المسائل في منطقتنا«.
وشدد على أن سياسة بلاده الخارجية »لم تتغير منذ عقود، وهي مرتبطة بشكل وثيق بالتوصل إلى سلام وفق مبدأ الأرض مقابل السلام«، بناء على حدود ٤ حزيران ،١٩٦٧ مذكّراً بأن دمشق أعلنت »مراراً وتكراراً أن خيارها الاستراتيجي هو السلام«، الذي باتت فرصه »نادرة جداً« ويجب عدم »إضاعتها«، وذلك لا يعني »أننا ننقض على أي فرصة«، فبعد ثلاث محاولات سابقة فاشلة »تعلّمنا الدرس«، ولهذا »نقوم بالمفاوضات عبر أصدقائنا الأتراك… لأننا في حال انتقلنا إلى المفاوضات المباشرة نحتاج إلى ضمان أن تكون احتمالات نجاحها أكبر (من سابقاتها). وإذا كان الإسرائيليون مهتمين بالعمـلية لا بالسلام، سيتحملون المسؤولية، معنوياً وسياسياً. والتاريخ سيكون أقسى حكم«. وعما إذا كانت إقامة شرق أوسط خالٍ من النووي أمراً محتملاً، أجاب مصطفى انه »أمر ضروري«، إذ لا يمكن لإسرائيل أن تكون طرفاً في السلام »فيما هي تواصل تخزين أكثر الأسلحة التقليدية تطوراً، إلى جانب أسلحة الدمار الشامل«، وعلى الدولة العبرية »معالجة هذا التناقض«، و»الإذعان للقوانين الدولية«.
واعتبر مصطفى أن مصطلح »متدنية المستوى« الذي استخدمته وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية كوندليسا رايس لوصف العلاقات السورية الأميركية، »لم يعد قائماً«، فرايس هي من »طلبت« لقاء نظيرها السوري وليد المعلم، الذي عقد أيضاً محادثات »معمقة« مع مساعدها ديفيد ولش، الذي تحدّث عن »مصلحة أميركية في نوع من إعادة الحوار مع سوريا«، وعن »اهتمام الأميركيين بالمفاوضات غير المباشرة مع اسرائيل، ونيتهم الانخراط فيها«، متوقعاً أن »نشهد مزيداً من هذه اللقاءات رفيعة المستوى في المستقبل القريب… إلا إذا حُظر ذلك من قبل مراكز قوى داخل إدارة بوش«.
(»السفير«)

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October 24th, 2008, 5:00 am

 

60. Alex said:

AND … in Syria too:

Champress:

http://www.champress.net/?page=show_det&select_page=1&id=31435

And it was also copied in full on All4Syria.org

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October 24th, 2008, 5:13 am

 

61. Shai said:

Innocent Criminal,

Just to make it clear – I don’t share my “enthusiasm” with Netanyahu either! The thought of voting for a man who more closely resembles an arrogant neocon than a peace-loving liberal leader is indeed horrific. But the absurd political reality in Israel is, and has been, that precisely those who preach and rally against peace have the best chance to deliver it. So I can stick to my beliefs and my principles, and support the Left, or other smaller parties, and then what? Wait another 30 years before I look back and call myself naive? Or I can be pragmatic, when the times may call for that, and take a chance on my conscience. For the past 8 years, I know who has failed us. In a democracy, you sometimes have to give the opposition a chance, even if you innately distrust them. We could have had another 3 wars with Egypt, had it not been for Begin’s courage to return the Sinai to its rightful owner. I can’t see Livni, Barak, or anyone from the Left of Center returning the Golan or the West Bank. I wish this wasn’t the case.

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October 24th, 2008, 5:18 am

 

62. Enlightened said:

Has peace broken out yet?

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October 24th, 2008, 5:39 am

 

63. Shai said:

Enlightened,

Depends what you mean by “broken”… 🙂

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October 24th, 2008, 6:20 am

 

64. Rumyal said:

Dear Norman,

(Can I call your ammo already? :-))

(It seems like your previous comment was cut mid-way.)

I am not sure as you are about what would be the correct order to do things. I do recognize the dangers to both sides of a bi-lateral peace agreement, instead of a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and all the Arab states. At the same time negotiating a comprehensive peace deal from the current state of affairs is close to impossible because (a) Israel is not ready to make the sacrifices it needs to do to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians (b) the Palestinians are divided, and no party has the moral authority to negotiate the future of the Palestinian people. You recognize that and you maintain that the deadlock would be broken by another war. I think that this prediction has a great chance of turning out true, but I really hope we will be proven wrong and I’m wondering whether a negotiated sub-optimal bi-lateral peace deal between Syria and Israel wouldn’t be a much better option than war?! If it gets to another war directly involving Syria and Israel (and Iran) it will be the bloodiest ever and we will not be able to look ourselves in the mirror and justify what we have done. I don’t think we ex-pats can be tacitly accepting the breaking of the status-quo using another war, as it’s not our rears that are on the firing line. We have two options: zip it and forget about it, or work to find a peaceful solution.

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October 24th, 2008, 6:58 am

 

65. Shai said:

Norman,

I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to empathize with your “enemy”, if you want to understand him, and certainly if you wish to make peace with him. Israel has never decided if the Palestinian territories are a part of Israel, or not. If it had, it would have either annexed it (like it did with the Golan in 1981), or gotten out. It did neither. In the meantime, it behaved de facto as if it owns the territory and built endless settlements, yet didn’t treat the majority of its residents (the Palestinians) like citizens of Israel. This in itself is one of the worst crimes we’ve committed over the past 40 years – caring for the territory as if it is ours, but not for its people.

Few Israeli PM’s have ever made public statements exhibiting “care” towards the Palestinians. The closest Rabin, Sharon, or Olmert have come, were statements such as “The Palestinians deserve their own nation”, or “This situation cannot continue forever…” But certainly no admission in any crimes we may have committed, or are still committing. This will come years from now, I believe.

As Rumyal mentioned, I just don’t see how Israel can reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians right now. The Palestinians are split into at least 2 parts right now, so who do we talk to? Multilateral negotiations could have been the ideal (comprehensive) solution. But how can it happen now, before Fatah and Hamas figure out their differences? Or before Israel is willing to sit with Hezbollah? This is why the Israeli-Syrian track was the only sensible one, which had any chance of succeeding. By all accounts, much progress was made during the 4 indirect meetings in Turkey, and there was every reason for optimism. Now with talks of the Arab Initiative again, I’m not sure anymore.

To include Iran in a peace agreement between the Arab world and Israel is probably unrealistic, certainly nowadays, I believe.

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October 24th, 2008, 10:18 am

 

66. Qifa Nabki said:

Rumyal,

Only high school kids like me get to call Norman “Ammo”.

Otherwise you will make him feel old.

Keefo Ammo ? 😉

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October 24th, 2008, 12:10 pm

 

67. norman said:

Shai, Rumyal,

I do not see any difference between Netanyahu and Hamas and between Cadima, Labor and Abbas and as shai keeps saying that only Netanyahu can make peace as the left and center will join him so can Hamas make peace and Fatah and the other will join , the only reason that Israel is not moving to talk to Hamas is because it is not really interested in peace , only in domination, and that is something will not happen , the Arabs always contrary to Bernard Lewis only compromised when they felt strong like after the 1973 war while rejected Israel after the 1967 one while Israel only compromised after defeat or stand still.

Rumyal,

you can call me Ammo if OK with QN , he might not want competition.

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October 24th, 2008, 1:05 pm

 

68. Rumyal said:

QN,

I thought you were still in junior high 🙂 I’m an uncle too in real life, guess I’m getting older (ok, I concede the point… my nephew is 3 years old…)

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October 24th, 2008, 4:23 pm

 

69. Qifa Nabki said:

Rumyal,

Well I suppose I’ll concede the point as well… I’ll be in high school next year. (Or at least that’s why I told my parents the past three years… inshallah this year I’ll finally pass.)

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October 24th, 2008, 4:26 pm

 

70. Rumyal said:

Dear (copy-paste no-compete clause with QN here) Norman,

In Imad Moustapha style: it is not for Israel to decide the outcome of the power sharing negotiations between Fatah and Hamas. We can have out-of-band discussions with both but official negotiations are only meaningful once the Palestinians reach an agreement on power sharing.

Suppose Hamas becomes the main and agreed upon representative of the Palestinians. If I recall correctly it was Hamas who didn’t want any sort of negotiations with Israel after having been elected. This doesn’t detract from your point that we should talk to them now or in the future, if they’re ready for that. However I can’t deny that in a very emotional level, as a “radical” secular person, it is hard for me to accept the fact that our neighbors have chosen such a religious and sectarian regime. I am not at all sure that the desegregation, equality and progress you so admire will ever be served in a Hamas country, quite the contrary. Sorry it is difficult for me to want to further empower them (but may be unavoidable).

What would Haniyeh and Bibi bring to the negotiations’ table? Only mutual contempt and deceit. More than promoting peace, it is likely to further poison the well. Still, they should negotiate but with modest tactic goals (as to not poison the well of the final status agreements) such as on terms for an extended Hudna, financial and humanitarian matters, prisoner exchange etc.

Again, I may be unrealistic but I believe the best way out of the deadlock is grass-root transformation of the public opinion of the populations that will empower moderate leaders on both sides to make true and lasting peace. Shai mentioned http://www.onevoicemovement.org/ a couple of days ago (thanks Shai!). I find their model of grass root transformation extremely interesting. What do you think?

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October 24th, 2008, 5:05 pm

 

71. Rumyal said:

QN,

You better keep your promise or they’ll ground you and you won’t be able to trot all around Lebanon with your buddy Abbas…

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October 24th, 2008, 5:07 pm

 

72. Akbar Palace said:

Alex –

Can I post a response to Post 38? Of course, everyone seems to be in agreement with it (as I’ve read many positive responses here), but I would like to challenge it and offer my comments as “food for thought”.

I couple of my responses either did not post are was considered “spam”.

Thanks,

AP

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October 24th, 2008, 6:26 pm

 

73. Shai said:

Rumyal,

I very much agree with your assessment that Israel cannot negotiate with the Palestinians at the moment, and even if Hamas regains its political stance of two years ago (which, let us recall, it achieved in free, democratic elections!), it is again unlikely that it will accept Israel as a partner for peace talks. If and when that changes, Israel must be there to discuss all matters with the elected representatives of the Palestinian people, whoever that should be.

I also agree that Bibi is unlikely to talk to Hamas anytime soon. But he did talk to the Syrians. And he did send his American buddy Lauder (head of the Federations), to offer Hafez Assad complete withdrawal from the Golan. And my hope is, that he can and will do so once more if elected. Our friends here on SC understandably disagree with anything “positive” I have to say about Bibi, and I occasionally get blasted for the notion of even supporting this arrogant neocon (see most of my exchanges with Joe M.) And I could have kept this internal conflict, between my conscience and my brain, to myself. But I chose to share my thoughts with others here, not only out of a need to explain the political absurd that exists in Israel, but in fact to test out my thesis.

I am willing to change my mind at an instant, if someone can convince me that another leader in Israel can bring us to peace faster. Or that by electing the Likud to power, we are bringing much worse suffering for the Palestinians and for the people in our region. As I’ve said time and again, the thought of choosing “Bibi” in the ballot box makes me quiver. But it may be a smarter choice than Barak or Livni. I honestly wish it wasn’t. I am still hoping Livni can pull something off. But judging by Shas’s declaration today (that they’re not joining her), by her own inability to form a government, and by her apparent support of the Arab Initiative and belief in reaching an agreement with the Abbas government, I no longer have much faith in her.

In a way, I also know that if I’m wrong, and if indeed we are doomed to go through another painful war (and I agree with you, the next one may be far worse than any previously), then perhaps I prefer to have the Likud run the country in that war. If we are to fail, let the Likud fail, and be replaced by a liberal government that will have to make peace with the Arabs, but will at last have support of our people, after suffering the terrible consequences of such a war. God forbid this should happen, but if it does, maybe it’s best under the Likud. I know I’m arranging all the scenario-pieces nice and comfortable, so that I can be more at peace with my decisions. I guess that’s part and parcel of my hypocrisy. I’m not particularly proud of it, as you can imagine…

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October 24th, 2008, 7:22 pm

 

74. Rumyal said:

Shai,

These are interesting thoughts. You’re thinking three steps ahead, to account for the contingency of war and what would happen after it. (I can only think one step ahead, on a good day :-))

I find two weaknesses in your argument.

First, Netanyahu is much less predictable than you want to believe. The fact that he wanted negotiations with Syria in the past tells us one thing: that it served his personal political interests at that juncture, nothing more. It doesn’t mean that it will be in his interest to pursue these negotiations in the future. If Netanyahu didn’t get heat from the Israeli people and the international community, would he enter negotiations? Probably not. If he is going to get wide support in Israel (due to you also Shai!) then the only pressure that will be applied to him will come from Washington, and only from an Obama administration. This means that in the Netanyahu scenario Alex is right—it does start at Washington… The other option is that he’ll enter negotiations to get the media off his back, in case he muddles with corruption again. At any rate not very reliable.

Second, what can I say Shai, it’s impossible to predict the future. In my personal life I tried a few times to act against my beliefs and emotions in order to optimize for some future goal, and it never worked, for me. Maybe it could work for more disciplined people but of course we are not talking about your individual vote Shai. Your best case scenario is that you will convince a sliver of the left to follow your logic and vote for Netanyahu and break the right/left tie. This scenario is dependent on so many factors that are out of your control that you might as well just buy lottery tickets and pledge the proceeds to the Golan Peace Park and it would be more of a realistic contribution to peace.

If I were to vote in the next elections (and I’m not going to, because I don’t feel I have the moral right to participate while I’m an ex-pat) I would just follow my conscience in the most straight-forward manner.

Tough choices ahead my friend!

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October 24th, 2008, 9:19 pm

 

75. Shai said:

Rumyal,

Indeed very tough decisions. And if I thought there was a better candidate, that has even a sliver of a chance in delivering peace faster, I’d vote for her/him. Let me be clear about Bibi – I have absolutely no idea what he’ll do or not as PM. I agree with you, he didn’t send Lauder to Syria because he’s a peace-loving man, who views Arabs and Jews as having equal rights. He’s an arrogant Israeli version of a neocon. But so was Begin. And so was Sharon (aka “Butcher of Lebanon”), who was the first PM to pull out of Gaza, and was planning to continue also in the West Bank. Olmert, too, “flipped”. In 1977, he was one of the Likud members who remained against the return of Sinai. And needless to say what his views were all these years about the Palestinian territories.

I’m not suggesting Bibi is a good choice – he’s not. But can you suggest a better choice? If the once-in-30-years scenario were to happen again, and a peace deal (with Syria, for instance) could be delivered, who that you know of might deliver it better? Would 50.1% support Livni? I doubt it. She can’t even form a coalition with the tiniest majority (61 seats), how will she convince Israelis to get off the Golan? And by the way, when it was leaked to the media, Bibi denied offering the Syrians any such withdrawal. It was Itzik Mordechai, his then Defense Minister, who confirmed the behind-the-scenes offer.

If I had to guess who the Syrian leadership prefers to sit across in negotiations, it would also be Bibi. They know he can deliver (if he chooses to). Livni cannot. Not now, in any case. If I followed my conscience, I would enter the world of politics, and try to influence things from within. My brain, however, tells me to do otherwise… 🙂

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October 24th, 2008, 9:50 pm

 

76. Rumyal said:

Shai,

>> She can’t even form a coalition with the tiniest majority (61 seats), how will she convince Israelis to get off the Golan?

If Livni can’t form a coalition she should go to elections on a platform of peace, get lots of people such as yourself to vote for her and then she’ll have the mandate to deliver. If she isn’t elected or if she wins by a narrow margin and is again at the mercy of Shas then the nation is not ready for peace and we shall pay the price.

If Bibi wins the elections then it’s a Russian roulette. He might give you peace in the Golan or he might give you some ingenious plan such as maybe, I don’t know, building a metal dome around Nablus.

This is what *they* would do. A separate question is what would *your vote* do. Your calculations are based on the assumption that there are many other folks who would follow your exact logic and that the margin is going to be narrow enough such that it would be you that will give Bibi the priemership. If Bibi wins by a wide margin without your help then you might as well give your support to the left, to counterbalance him. If the left wins by a wide margin then you might as well make it even more decisive. So your scenario only matters if there is a stalemate and it’s up to you to break it. VERY unlikely. In all likelihood your vote will crown neither one. More than anything else it should be, in my opinion, a declaration of your beliefs.

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October 25th, 2008, 12:40 am

 

77. norman said:

Rumyal,

By the way QN calls me Ammo because he is my nephew ,

I do not think you should denounce Hamas for being religious based while all the state of Israel is religious based where non Jewish citizens are persecute and have less rights ,
The only way for Israel to survive on the long run is to have a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem , until then many wars will take place ,

Syria will never abandon the Palestinians and as long as Israel keeps trying to divide and conquer it will fail , It is simple ,

Full peace or endless wars and sooner or later Israel will lose.

The Israeli leaders need to lose a war to convince their people to seek peace , that might be the only way.

This was the ending from another note,

After the agreement is reached these countries should start a marketing campaign to sell the deal , I think that people are tired of wars and would love peace if it was presented to them well.

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October 25th, 2008, 1:25 am

 

78. norman said:

Shai, Rumyal,

Look at this,Bibi might be comming soon,

Israel’s Tzipi Livni faces early election after coalition talks fail
Israel appears to be heading for early elections after a key coalition partner refused to join the government of prime minister-designate, Tzipi Livni.

By Carolynne Wheeler in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 1:26AM BST 25 Oct 2008

Ms Livni, the ex-spy and foreign minister who last month was elected head of the ruling Kadima party, had set a deadline of Sunday to either form a coalition or ask Israeli President Shimon Peres for new elections, after stubborn previous partners were reluctant to sign up to the new government.

But now the religious-nationalist Shas party is testing her resolve by announcing it will not join, angered by her refusal to rule out talks with the Palestinians concerning the future of Jerusalem.

The move will make it nearly impossible for Ms Livni to form a long-lasting coalition, forcing the country into elections and jeopardising efforts at peace talks with Syria and Palestine.

“Shas cannot be bought and Shas will not sell out on Jerusalem. This has been our consistent line throughout negotiations,” Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, who is trade and industry minister, told Israeli media, though he hinted a change of heart could not be ruled out.

Of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Kadima holds just 29 and relies on the support of several other parties to carry government decisions. The 19-seat Labour party under Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has already signed on as a senior partner.

However, Shas’s 12 seats were critical in the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the party had set a high price to stay – the removal of Jerusalem’s fate from peace talks with the Palestinians and the promise of large increases in child allowances as a support to the large families which form Shas’s political base.

Ms Livni had hoped to begin the Knesset’s winter session on Monday as prime minister. However her spokesman, Gil Messing, said her Sunday deadline would stand.

“This is the time for decisions for all of us – either a government or elections,” Ms Livni was quoted as telling her Kadima party on Thursday. “I am not willing to pay any price or to cross a line that I think will be irresponsible.”

An election is a risky move for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process restarted at Annapolis, Maryland nearly a year ago.

Polls suggest the likely winner of an election now would be Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud party. A Teleseker/Maariv poll last month showed Likud would finish with 29 seats in an election now, compared to 25 for Kadima headed by Ms Livni and 14 for Labour.

Mr Netanyahu has pledged to end the Annapolis process in favour of a programme of economic development, and has sworn never to divide Jerusalem or give up the Golan Heights, central issues in talks with the Palestinians and in recently resumed Turkish-mediated talks with Syria.

An end to the Palestinian peace process would be an especially difficult blow for Ms Livni, who was led negotiations as Israel’s foreign minister and pledged to continue the process as prime minister.

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October 25th, 2008, 1:31 am

 

79. Rumyal said:

Norman and QN,

>>> By the way QN calls me Ammo because he is my nephew

I didn’t know that! I was thinking this was all just jest on behalf of QN. You guys have a special and gifted family.

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October 25th, 2008, 3:52 am

 

80. Rumyal said:

Norman,

You said:

>>> I do not think you should denounce Hamas for being religious based while all the state of Israel is religious based where non Jewish citizens are persecute and have less rights

I denounce them both for the treatment of minorities but they deserve different types of scorn for different types and levels of bigotry.

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October 25th, 2008, 4:06 am

 

81. Innocent_Criminal said:

Norman & QN,

are you guys really related????

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October 25th, 2008, 5:03 am

 

82. Qifa Nabki said:

Innocent_Criminal

We are all related.

We are part of the Arabosyriaramaiphoenician family.

You too are Ammo Norman’s nephew.

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October 25th, 2008, 12:09 pm

 

83. norman said:

It is ashamed that ((QN is my nephue did not last more than two comments,))

He is acualy older than me ,

QN,

Can you add Hebrew to the word (( We are part of the Arabosyriaramaiphoenician family )),

That will satisfy my one nation stand ,

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October 25th, 2008, 1:38 pm

 

84. Akbar Palace said:

I think the Arab Peace Initiative is a non-starter. I am sorry to say that because I wish it were possible to achieve. It provides a sane and just solution — but I fear the “facts on the ground” have left it in the dust.

Professor Josh,

What “facts on the ground” left the Arab Peace Initiative in the dust?

I would like to respond to your Post #38, but it seems I’m stuck in you anti-spam filter.

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October 25th, 2008, 1:56 pm

 

85. Syria Comment » Archives » Flipping Peace Tracks Again? said:

[…] week Syrian ambassador to the United States, Dr. Imad Moustapha, was asked about the way he sees Israel’s future role in the Middle East after the end of the […]

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October 29th, 2008, 7:45 am

 

86. Syria Comment » Archives » Bush’s Final Violent Outburst Causes Exasperation said:

[…] motives in raising it as a new initiative. As Ambassador Moustapha made quite clear in his interview on SC: “It is important to understand that any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under […]

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November 4th, 2008, 4:07 am

 

87. Syria Comment » Archives » Yoav Stern discusses his coverage of Syrian affairs said:

[…] for the selective quotes in Haaretz from Ambassador Mustapha’s interview on Syria Comment, I think that he was extremely cautious in choosing his words in the interview. It […]

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November 9th, 2008, 3:27 am

 

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