Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Middle Eastern disappointments are mounting and some of the Arab hopes in Obama have begun to fade. The Syrians are saying that in three months Obama’s policies in the Middle East should be clear. By that time elections in Lebanon and Iran will be over and the dust will have had time to settle. If US policy changes have not taken shape by then, they probably will not take shape at all. A number of Syrian officials got mud on their faces with the sanctions fiasco. They had supported the notion that Washington had indeed turned a new page.
Palestinian officials said they were disappointed that Monday’s round of U.S.-Israeli talks in Washington produced no clear progress on the removal of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank or other issues they feel are crucial to rejuvenating stalled peace negotiations.
Israel stood firm against demands from Barack Obama on Monday to cease the construction of Jewish settlements and embrace the “two-state solution” to achieving peace in the Middle East.
MJ Rosenberg in the PULSE, (via FLC) explains that Prime Minister Netanyahu is up to the same thing that Yitzhak Shamir was in 1992 when he had just been defeated by Yitzhak Rabin and announced that he wanted to drag out peace talks with the Palestinians for a decade while vastly increasing the number of Jewish settlers in Israeli-occupied territories.
Mr. Shamir reportedly said, ‘ I would have conducted negotiations on autonomy for 10 years and in the meantime we would have reached half a million people” in the West Bank.’ ” Shamir, of course, is one of Netanyahu’s heroes and mentors. Sixteen years later, he has the same strategy Shamir did. He says he will negotiate but he will not commit himself to Palestinian statehood.
Syria-US Thaw Awaits Concrete Steps
By Edward Yeranian, Cairo, 18 May 2009
Relations between the United States and Syria remain rocky after a series of recent developments, including the arrest of a Syrian man involved in terrorist activities in northern Iraq, coupled with U.S. accusations that Damascus is still not controlling its border.
U.S. President Barack Obama has been carefully seeking to improve ties with Syria, after several years of ostracizing Damascus by the Bush Administration and the world community.
Senator George Mitchell applied for Syrian visa, he may visit Damascus
Word that U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell may be visiting Damascus soon is raising speculation of a new U.S. push to jumpstart stalled peace talks on the Israeli-Syrian track.
Jordan’s King Abdullah indicated several days ago the United States was “preparing a new Middle East peace initiative.”
Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustapha revealed, last week, that Senator Mitchell had applied for a Syrian visa, although State Department spokesman Robert Wood indicated that such a trip is not necessarily imminent.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council Senior Director Daniel Shapiro visited Damascus earlier this month. It was their second visit to the Syrian capital since President Obama vowed in January to engage with all Middle Eastern countries, including longtime foes Syria and Iran…
Professor Joshua Landis of Oklahoma University’s Center for Middle East Studies, who authors the popular Syria Comment website, thinks the United States and Syria are frustrated:
“They have hit a wall. The Syrians were very upset about the way sanctions were renewed by the Obama Administration,” he said. “I think that they understood that there was going to be a renewal of sanctions, because talks have only just begun. But there was no change in language, and no softening of tone, and they were upset. Now, the Americans obviously want to see a number of things. They want to see good-faith measures being taken by Syria and they want action on this Iraqi border.”
Syria’s main issue: the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Height
“Syria wants linkage: they want America to send back an ambassador, they want peace talks to go forward,” added Landis. “So how do you proceed? That is the question. You know, Syria, of course, is very worried that America is going to ask it to take a lot of steps and it is not going to get very much in return. America is saying: “Trust us, you do these things and Obama is going to change the Middle East.”
Paul Salem, who heads the Beirut-based Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East, says Syria’s main ambition is the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights:
“The main issue for Syria has been restarting the peace track with Israel to regain the Golan Heights,” he said. “What has clouded that process is statements by the Israeli government that they do not seem interested in restarting the peace track with Syria. But if there is no life on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Syrian track, then I think Syria will probably reconsider its overtures and the United States and Syria would have to figure out how to manage their relations, while Israel continues to occupy the Golan Heights.”
Salem thinks that the United States is cautiously “biding its time and not rushing” to resume ties with Syria:
“The United States is not completely positive in its orientation towards Syria. It has a lot of misgivings and a lot of things it is not happy with,” said Salem. “But I think President Obama understands that in order to make a real change in terms of Syria’s regional policy will require some concessions from Israel.”
Salem stresses that Syria’s positions are connected to the issue of the Golan Heights. Everything else depends on it, he says, and ” it is hard to get something for nothing.”
The following article by David Rose is excellent. The same deals as were struck with the Iraqi Sunnis could have been struck with Syria, which should have been part of a larger “awakening” in the region. The US Defense Department’s refusal to work with Syria was ideological. Even after the Bush administration had accepted the necessity of working with the Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province and elsewhere, it could not bring itself to do the same with Syria.
Heads in the Sand
By David Rose in Vanity Fair. May 12, 2009
The so-called Sunni Awakening, in which American forces formed tactical alliances with local sheikhs, has been credited with dampening the insurgency in much of Iraq. But new evidence suggests that the Sunnis were offering the same deal as early as 2004—one that was eagerly embraced by commanders on the ground, but rejected out of hand at the highest levels of the Bush administration…..
Peres: If Assad wants Israel-Syria peace, why is he shy?
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press
President Shimon Peres on Sunday urged his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, to agree to engage in direct peace negotiations with Israel.
“The Syrians should be ready to talk. If President Assad wants peace, why is he shy?” Peres said after participating in an international economic meeting sponsored by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.
“We suggested many times direct talks,” he added. “[Assad] thinks direct talks is a prize to Israel. It’s not a prize. It’s normal.”…
Just a few days ago, Netanyahu said he would not return the Golan.
Peres said a gesture by Syria would be more important than all the negotiations. “Change the air,” he said. “There stands the president and he said he doesn’t want to meet. Why? You want us to give back something, but he doesn’t suggest to give us back anything.”
Please, with might
By Gideon Levy
17/05/2009, Haaretz Commentary
……Now is the time for the occupier to end the occupation, immediately, unconditionally, moments before the two-state solution draws its final breath and passes beyond the realm of possibility, if it hasn’t already. Which is why Obama should be standing with a stopwatch, too: Time is running out.
There’s one message that should emerge from Washington: Israel is beginning to act, not to talk but to act, to end the occupation. Freeze the settlements without any lies, dismantle the outposts without tricks, give Palestinians freedoms without feints, and establish a rigid agenda to dismantle the entire settler enterprise. Anything less will be seen as failure, any move less daring will ensure a deadlock that will bring more bloodshed and the eventual establishment of a permanent binational apartheid state.
Does it sound big and pretentious? Well, there’s a big, pretentious president now sitting in Washington. The Arabs have already learned that Israel understands force and force alone; all its limited concessions were carried out after bloodshed, never before. It’s time Washington learns the same lesson: Please, with might, Barack Obama, because there is no other way…
Syria upset over ‘big stick’ diplomacy
Published: May 18, 2009 at 4:04 PM
WASHINGTON, May 18 (UPI) — Damascus was deeply insulted by a Washington decision to renew economic sanctions while U.S. diplomats pursued an engagement strategy, a scholar said.
U.S. President Barack Obama renewed diplomatic sanctions against Damascus in early May for its support of militant organizations in the region and other actions, following a visit by acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, U.S. National Security Council senior director.
“The national emergency with respect to Syria remains in effect because Syria continued to not meet its international obligations,” Feltman said. “We continue to have serious concerns about Syria’s actions.”
University of Oklahoma Assistant Professor Joshua Landis, author of the revered Syria Comment blog, described Syria as being “at the center” of Washington’s Middle East policy, saying it lies at the crossroads of issues pertaining to Lebanon, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Damascus reacted with outrage to the renewed sanctions, calling Washington’s actions “foolish.” In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Landis said the sanctions’ renewal ran counter to Syrian hopes for engagement.
“They want the United States to stop treating Syria like a rogue state and start showing it respect,” he said. “Give us some hope; don’t just use the big stick.”