Posted by Joshua on Thursday, January 31st, 2008
Posted by Qifa Nabki
Thanks to all of the excellent participants on Syria Comment for generating a stimulating debate about the prospects and shape of a future Israeli-Syrian peace deal.
The comment board, as of this moment, is nearing 300 posts, amounting to 75,000 words, which is equivalent to a printed book over 200 pages long. While not all of the musings may be ready for print quite yet, the sheer volume and quality of many of the exchanges demonstrate that there is a real desire on both sides of the border for a solution to this decades-old problem.
Of course, the debate contained many dissenters, perhaps best characterized by the posts of Joe M. and AnotherIsraeliGuy:
Joe M. said:
For there to be peace, Israel must recognize its crimes (including the crime of its existence), it must admit to them, and it must repent. In my view, the best way for this to happen is similar to the history of South Africa. Until Israel allows Palestinians the rights of citizenship in their own land, there will not be peace. There will not be peace with Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan… In the mean time, there will be periods without war, but there will not be peace.
It is up to Israel. Just as it was up to the whites of South Africa. The Jews have all the moral and political responsibility.
…There will not be peace until the Arabs stop living in denial and understand that history has no rewind button.
But don’t worry, we Israelis can wait. Let’s talk again after 50 years of Hamas rule in Gaza and 50 years of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Syria and Egypt and 50 years of Hizballah rule in Lebanon. There is no hurry. I am sure the Arabs will be in a much better position then. We waited 60 years for peace, we can wait another 50.
There were also many who expressed a cautious hopefulness, but pointed out the problems in Dr. Alon Liel’s proposal:
From all those discussions, I can summarize the most common objections to your plan in two lines
1) Peace Park implies partial Syrian sovereignty over the Golan.
2) Syrians Can’t allow their government to sell their friends or neighbors for their own selfish benefit.
To you those are the evil “Hamas” “Iran” and “Hizbollah” .. to the Syrian people they are really Half the Lebanese people, half the Palestinians, and … the 71 million Iranian people who consider Syria their best friend in the world.
…what Israel really needs is Peace with the Arabs, not Peace with Syria. Israel has Peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, but then what? Can an Israeli tourist walk Amman or Cairo streets with any sense of security?
So trying to do it by piecemeal is not a solution and would never produce results as long as the conflict is not put into its correct context. Land for Peace, yes, but with a full resolution to the main issue being the Palestinians. Peace with justice and without hegmony. That is what is needed. Peace, not Peace Treaties.
Mr. Liel’s attempt to guide the region to peace may be well-intentioned. But it certainly suffers from a few fatal flaws:
1) It links Damascus’ regional interests and activities as if they were based exclusively on territorial sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is in fact not the case since Damascus’ activities are influenced more by its positioning in a regional and international power dynamic rather than questions of territorial sovereignty.
2) In pursuing a road to “peace,” it asks of Damascus precisely what those on the road to war and isolation are asking: the isolation of Damascus from its regional allies (such as Iran, key Palestinian organizations, etc); a change in Syria’s “regional orientation,” which is a euphemism for the abandonment of what it perceives as its interests and independence; a false Syrian sovereignty which does not allow Syrians to live in the Heights, a Syrian military presence (something which Israel has never done, and nobody has ever dared to ask it to do) in the Heights, or even Syrian control of the natural resources on its own land.
3) Finally and furthermore, the only difference Liel’s approach has to that of the hawkish camps is that it seeks mostly non-violent means of eclipsing Syrian independence and sovereignty by bringing it under the wing of US and Israeli control (to serve the interests of those two powers), rather than a mostly violent military confrontation. These are superficial differences at best which might mean no loss of life in the immediate future, but are certainly not a resolution to the current situation.
With these considerations in mind, several of the participants began debating particulars, and an important discussion emerged between Alon Liel, Shai, Alex, Sami D., and others. While most everyone seems to agree that what is needed is a “comprehensive peace”, it is still possible to detect two different approaches to the problem, on the Syrian/Arab side. The first is expressed by Sami D., who believes that Dr. Alon Liel’s proposal (which is much more progressive than the mainstream Israeli line) is still highly unrealistic. This approach makes it very difficult to imagine a Syrian-Israeli peace that is not accompanied by a complete solution to the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
Sami D. said:
Almost the entire presentation of Mr. Liel requires that Syrians commentators accept the Israeli propaganda portrayal of the conflict, which necessitates a reversal of cause and effect: That Israel came in peace, but that the Palestinians and Arabs are the aggressors, perhaps out of “their anti-Semitism.” Not only that, but a continuation of Israeli theft of water resources is expected to be respected and abetted by Syria!! “The Syrian window of opportunity is wide open” indeed, and has been since the beginning, to bow to Israeli conquest and US hegemony. And Syria might just do that, an indication of weakness.
The Israeli window of opportunity for real peace, on the other hand, has also been open for quite some time. Israel has the opportunity to make real peace by stopping its conquest and quest to dominate the region, on behalf of itself and the United States. Another important thing on the path of peace is for you Mr Liel, as for genuine peace-loving Israelis to, at minimum, respect the intelligence of the adversary.
Exchanging Israeli control and domination for a different means to achieve the same Israeli control and domination, using the required Orwellian language (“nature reserve” and “not depriving” Israel of Syrian water, etc) is not only an affront to peace, but an insult to the intelligence of the Syrians people. You make no obligations on Israel to stop any of its aggression, even basic gestures like ending its denial of Palestinian rights. In other words, what you propose is occupation in sheep’s clothing.
To achieve real peace there has to be basic parameters that both sides will agree on: Namely, basic human rights and international law – nothing novel about that. Occupation and subjugation of another people must end, land must get returned to its owners, resource theft ceased, right of return for refugees granted. We can’t dismiss these basic parameters as “impractical” or “not pragmatic” just to allay Israeli people’s insecurity, real or imagined, while in the process watching Israeli state conquer and take other people’s land and resources – the original reason of its supposed insecurity.
Alex presents a slightly more hopeful approach, content to make headway toward a “comprehensive peace” through the example of a successful Syrian-Israeli deal. He addresses the obstacles below:
I understand Israel’s fears from Ahmadinejad’s Iran. He is not very friendly, and Iran is a powerful nation hwhich is in the process of acquiring nuclear technology. But I share Halevy’s opinion that dealing with Iran should not be through the use of force or even through sanctions. You should try to gain Iran back as a friend. You can… but only when you also try to gain, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians as friends… comprehensive peace, not separate deals. I’m afraid Israel is not close to agreeing with this suggestion.
Kicking Mashaal out of Damascus has one probably outcome … relations between Syria and the Palestinians will deteriorate. Syria worked for decades to become perhaps the most trustworthy Arab country in the minds of the Iranian and Palestinian people, and Israel is asking Syria to “drop those cards”…
So what will Israel get instead of “flipping Syria”?
1) Hizbollah will easily convert itself into a political party and turn its weapons to the Lebanese army…
2) Hamas will accept to moderate its views. It will practically agree to not interfere even if it officially does not accept Israel’s right to exist. Hamas will agree to a 50 year truce for example if Israel agrees to respect UN resolutions 242 and 338.
The Iranian threat has been highly exaggerated. It is more likely that there is a need in Washington and Israel to teach the Iranians a lesson for their daring to openly challenge both countries.
Confidence building measures:
Both countries need to produce some CBM’s. Syria is not the only side which needs to reach out.
The Syrians can try this one:
Organizing a large event to honor Syria’s Jews. Large numbers of Syrian Jews would be invited to Syria to participate in the festivities. it will show Israelis that Syria is proud of its Jews even though they are now outside. Syrian Jews would be very happy to come back to Damascus and Aleppo for few weeks to participate in such a festival.
Israel can simply start to use a different tone from the one used in Washington the past few years. There are no closed doors but … Treating Syria as an equal is a prerequisite to a successful start, or finish, of the peace process… Keep that part in mind and you will know how to get Syria more motivated.
In an effort to further instrumentalize this productive dialogue, I would like to challenge Syria Comment contributors to weigh in on the following questions:
1) If the only viable peace is a comprehensive one, do you believe that Syria should lead or follow? In other words, is it even useful to begin talking about a Syrian-Israeli deal, or must those details wait until the Middle East has transformed completely? (AIG and others would like to see democratic Arab regimes before peace, and Sami D. would like to see Israeli atonement and recognition for crimes committed against the Palestinians, before a regional deal is reached.) What do you believe?
2) Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s): A few CBM’s have been raised; can people suggest others that would help to pave the way for bolder policy initiatives?
3) Peace Park: The Israelis remind us that it was our idea in the first place. The Syrians don’t seem to think much of it. What do you say?
4) Hamas & Hizbullah: Alex and others have suggested that Hamas and Hizbullah can be moderated (or will moderate themselves) once a peace deal is reached. Do you believe this? How will this work?