Posted by Joshua on Monday, May 4th, 2009
[Landis Comment] The Netanyahu government has rejected peace talks with Syria in favor of those with Palestinians. Why has Netanyahu decided to put the Palestinian track before the Syrian track? Many analysts were predicting that he would turn to Syria first. Martin Indik argued that Netanyahu would sacrifice the Golan in order to keep the West Bank. He also argued that the Golan is comparatively simple to solve.
According to Oxford Analytica, Netanyahu is mischievous. He can more easily sabotage the Palestinian negotiations once he has begun them than talks with Syria. The Palestinians are easy to manipulate and problem is complex. The Golan issue is simple and most problems have already been worked out. Oxford Analytica’s analysts argue:
Netanyahu is unlikely to reject US regional policy outright, or say ‘no’ to the president. Instead, he is more likely to emphasise caveats, confronting the Obama administration with a frustrating set of obstructions, delays and diversions.
In short, Netanyahu will accept process and no peace. The Palestinian track has already proven to deliver lengthy process and little peace.
Aluf Benn , writing in Haaretz, argues that Netanyahu is not primarily Machiavellian, but genuinely fears a holocaust carried out by Iran. Thus, he will cede no land to Iran’s leading Arab ally, Syria. Benn writes:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions are shaped by a profound conviction that Israel will be in danger of extermination if Iran has nuclear weapons at its disposal. [This is why] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it her business to explain to him that the Arab countries will not stand with Israel against Iran if Israel does not advance the peace process with the Palestinians.
Lebanon: The US seems to be reconciling itself to the notion that it can live with a win by March 8 so long as Hizbullah remains largely invisible and Hariri’s people are given a veto in the cabinet. One surmises this because so many Israeli analysts are becoming apoplectic about Obama’s refusal to take more active measures to kill Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s leader, or provide more covert aid to anti-Syria forces in Lebanon.
Israel’s former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz “confirmed that Israel had attempted to kill Hizbullah chief” Hassan Nasrallah.
We tried to get to him, but couldn’t find him. I personally cannot accept that he is still free to shuttle between his bunker and his tunnels.
Obama seems to be preparing to return an ambassador to Syria. Feltman and Shapiro are due in Damascus this week for a second time. The Syrians are also asking for sanctions to be lifted or, at the very least, eased.
If Netanyahu continues to refuse to negotiate with Syria, there is no reason that Washington should hold off making concessions to Damascus based purely on US interests. So long as Israel is unwilling to pay to play, Washington should feel no obligation to shut down the gaming table.
News Summary follows:
“…According to Syrian sources, the U.S. will return its ambassador to Damascus before the end of May, and this will be resolved during the visit to Syria by Acting Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman and U.S. National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro. Also to be discussed during the visit are the developments in Iraq and Lebanon, the Middle East peace process, and U.S.-Syria relations. The sources added that Syria expects the U.S. to refrain from renewing the sanctions on Syria, or at least to reduce them..”
Israel Will Accept Palestinian State, Rejects Syria Peace Talks
By Gwen Ackerman and Jonathan Ferziger
May 4 (Bloomberg) — The new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu gave the strongest signal yet that it would accept a Palestinian state, while rejecting peace negotiations with Syria.
“We do want to see peace and do understand that long-term peace and stability will entail a two-state solution,” Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said in an interview.
Israel will honor the previous government’s commitments and accept the internationally backed 2002 peace plan, or road map, which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, Ayalon said, in the most explicit acceptance of Palestinian statehood since Netanyahu formed a government in March.
In an interview yesterday in his Jerusalem office, Ayalon, 53, said Iran is “vulnerable” and called for stronger sanctions against the country to halt its nuclear program. Iran’s links to Syria are “very, very worrisome,” he said.
Mark Lynch, “Imad Moustapha’s view on the future of relations with the US,” Mark Lynch for Foreign Policy
…. Like every other Arab official I’ve seen in the last few months, Moustapha praised Obama’s public commitment to working for a two-state solution and the appointment of George Mitchell….That sounds great, but…. at the same time, Moustapha continued to fall back on the old style in his own responses to questions and challenges — exactly the litany of complaints about Israel …. His low point came in his response to a Syrian man who asked him to speak about human rights abuses and repression inside of Syria. His response, equating the Syrian questioner with the Israelis and WINEP and then going on about Israeli war crimes, drew audible grumbling from the audience. If the Obama administration has indeed adopted such a fresh new style with Syria, it does not yet seem to be reciprocated in Syrian public diplomacy….
STUMBLING BLOCS by Elias Muhanna in The National
The formerly pseudonymous author of the excellent Lebanese politics blog Qifa Nabki — looks toward next month’s elections in Lebanon and concludes that the country’s era of high-stakes, zero-sum politics is over…..
….Power-sharing will help insulate Lebanon from civil unrest (if March 14 wins) or from a disruption in economic ties with the West (if March 8 wins), but it seems likely to provide yet another pretence for both coalitions to obstruct or avoid any far-reaching reform efforts. The systemic problems that cripple Lebanese politics – sectarianism, widespread corruption, massive public debt – are unlikely to be addressed without a strong executive mandate. The weakening of coalition ties may augur the end of an era defined by the rivalry between March 14 and March 8 – but merely reshuffling the existing sectarian alliances will do little more than prolong Lebanon’s paralysis.
Report From Damascus (May 3, 2009)
by Thomas Strouse, Georgetown graduate student in Damascus
Two critical elections will take place in early June that could potentially shape the direction that the Middle East region moves in the near future. Parliamentary elections will be held in Lebanon on June 7 and a presidential election will be held in Iran on June 12…..
The upcoming elections will also be Hizballah’s first major test of public support following its conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006. Any win by the current opposition will be portrayed in the West as a victory for Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian supporters. Without getting too far into the complexities of Lebanese politics, it is not this simple.
Despite Hizballah getting tagged as the leader of the March 8 alliance, the party itself only won 14 seats in 2005. Hizballah’s two major allies in the broader alliance, the Amal Movement (Shi’a) and the Free Patriotic Movement (Christian), also each won 14 seats. Saad Hariri’s Future Movement won 36 seats. The second largest faction in the March 14 alliance along with Hariri’s Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party led by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, won 16 seats. Other minor parties filled in the rest of the allotted seats.
In the upcoming election, Hizballah has decided to only run 11 candidates, three less than the number of seats that it holds in the current parliament. These candidates are likely to easily win their respective races, given the movement’s overwhelming support in these particular Shi’a districts. However, this demonstrates that much of Hizballah’s success depends on the success or failure of the other parties in its alliance. Specifically, Hizballah is relying on the success of its Christian allies in Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which finds itself in some highly competitive races.
Hizballah … still has much ground to make up against the March 14 alliance…..
Jerusalem Post: One civilization clashing, 2009-05-01
On June 7 Hizbullah will likely take over Lebanon and formally bring the oldest Arab democracy into the Iranian axis. Iran’s stalking horse will not become the ruler of the largely pro-Western, non-Shi’ite majority country through a violent…
Elie Elhadj, 5/1/2009
For Israel and the United States to deny responsibility for having helped create the environment that allowed jihadism to grow in the Arab street is as deluded and dangerous to all concerned as the Al-Saud rejection of a connection between the Wahhabi way of life and the murderers of September 11.
PARIS (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad urged the United States on Sunday to reach out to militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah as part of the search for Middle East peace, in an interview with French television.
Speaking to France 3, Assad welcomed what he said was a new willingness in Washington to listen to Syria’s views since President Barack Obama took office, and said Damascus was ready to help broker contacts with the groups.
The United States regards both Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas as terrorist movements, and does not recognise them, a stance which Assad said was counterproductive if Washington wanted to seek regional peace….
“I think if you want to solve the problem you can’t go about saying: ‘This is good and this is bad, this is evil and this is democratic, this is human rights and this is not politics’,” he said.
“Politics is when you deal with reality. When you deal with influential parties to influence the position in a positive or a negative way,” he said, calling on the United States to talk to both Iran and the militant groups.
“Hamas has influence and you can not ignore them. You can’t achieve peace while Hamas is outside this peace or against the peace,” he said, adding that the same was true of Hezbollah.
May 1, 2009 – Prof. Barry Rubin (GLORIA) – Suddenly, the United States has awoken to the fact that in one month Lebanon is likely to be taken over by a radical government and hijacked into the Iran-Syria alliance. Unfortunately, this apparently doesn’t mean it—or European states—are going to do anything about it.
In early June, the odds are—though one can still hope otherwise—that the parliamentary majority will be held by a coalition backed by Tehran and Damascus. Hizballah is not going to “take over” the country politically and that is a point no doubt which will be used by governments and media to prove that there’s no problem.
Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, not generally identified as an alarmist and activist, has just started sounding the alarm, “The threat that armed groups and militias pose to the sovereignty and stability of the Lebanese state cannot be overstated,” he said.
The new government is likely to consist of traditional Syrian-backed politicians, the Christian forces of Michel Aoun, Hizballah, and Amal, along with various independent figures. It will take power thanks to the money and guns paid for by Iran and smuggled in by Syria. It will be anti-American and anti-Western, though it won’t go out of the way to advertise that fact in English. And, most important of all, it will be a new base for the spread of Iranian influence as well as a signal as to who’s winning in the Middle East.
President Michel Sulayman who was, people seem to forget, the Syrian candidate for that post, will go along with this new situation, though in Western eyes he will still appear to be moderate. The Lebanese army is not a reliable guard against it, though it is likely to continue receiving Western military aid.
The Obama Administration’s words may be formally proper but what was and is needed is a massive effort by the United States in coordination with Europe and moderate Arab states, including covert assistance to the Lebanese independence forces, the May 14 coalition. That group is, of course, daily accused of receiving such help by Hizballah and company— Sometimes with the help of the New York Times—but has received little help.
Time: Clinton’s Beirut Blitz, by Andrew Butters, 2009-05-09
This U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s lighting trip to Beirut was straight from the standard American playbook….
Feds toss out charges against pro-Israel lobbyists
Federal prosecutors moved Friday to dismiss espionage-related charges against two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused of disclosing classified defense information, ending a tortuous inside-the-Beltway legal battle rife with..
Is this the Palestinians’ Last Chance?, by Patrick Seale
Will the Palestinians seize the slim chance of statehood offered by President Barack Obama’s pledge to work for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or will they throw it away because of unresolved inter-Palestinian conflicts? These unspoken questions lay behind the talks which Fatah and Hamas held in Cairo this week, in a last ditch attempt at reconciliation…..
…The Palestinians are not alone in missing an opportunity. The ongoing ‘Cold War’ between regional states – and particularly the clash between Iran, Syria and Qatar, on the one hand, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, on the other, means that the chance to make their collective voice heard in Washington is being lost.
Egypt, in particular, finds itself trapped in contradictions. It wishes to assert its leading role in the region against new challengers such as Iran and Qatar, while at the same time pursuing an ‘Egypt First’ policy. It is fearful that Hamas might radicalise Sinai’s Bedouin population and encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to rise against the regime. It accuses Hizballah of mounting terrorist operations within Egypt on Iran’s behalf. Above all, it dreads the thought that Israel might seek to dump Gaza and its problems in Egypt’s lap.
While the Arab states are crippled by their disputes, the Europeans are little better. Divisions remain inside the European Union over the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly over how to deal with Hamas. The EU may applaud Obama’s engagement in the Middle East, but it remains reluctant to play an independent role. It therefore condemns itself to insignificance.
As for the Palestinians, not for the first time in their history they remain fatally absorbed in their quarrels, as if unaware that their national cause is in acute danger of extinction.
Nadim Shehadi, a fellow at London’s Chatham House, linked faith in the tribunal with faith in the outside world’s ability to protect Lebanon, which he said had been badly dented by the failure to halt Israel’s 2006 war on Hezbollah guerrillas…”
BMW sales soar to 116% in Syria, 2009-05-02
Syria’s exclusive BMW distributor, Bahi Motors has reported a 116% growth in BMW sales for Q1 2009, compared to its performance in 2008 during the same period. BMW 7 Series is the top selling model achieving 423% increase in sales, followed by the BMW 3 Series with a 127% sales increase.
Nasrallah: Israel assassinated Hariri, 2009-05-02
Hizbullah Chief Hassan Nasrallah charged over the weekend that Israel could have assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a claim which an Israeli government spokesman dismissed Saturday as ‘complete rubbish.’
Syria tightens control on media, Internet
Khaled Yacoub Oweis, May 03, 2009
DAMASCUS, May 3 (Reuters) – Syrian authorities have tightened their “mighty grip” on the media and Internet since ties improved with the West last year, the author of a new report on censorship in the Arab country said on Sunday.
“With Syria breaking free from its isolation, the need is greater than ever to ease the mighty censorship and grip over the media, which have only contributed to spreading ignorance and corruption,” Mazen Darwich, head of the Syrian Media Centre, told Reuters.
“Last year, however, was worse than the previous one. Internal and external conditions combined to make it easier to violate individual rights, which reflected on freedom of press and expression,” he added.
Western nations have intensified contacts with Damascus, after several years of strained ties, and backed efforts to reach a peace deal between Syria and Israel.
The United States and most European countries have also toned down their criticism of Syria’s human rights record and curbs on freedom of expression, which the government says are necessary considering a technical state of war with Israel.
The report, entitled “Syrian pens fall silent”, said 225 Internet sites were blocked last year, up from 159 in 2007. The sites include several Arab newspapers and portals, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube.
Twenty one percent of the sites banned were Kurdish — Syria has around one million Kurds, including tens of thousands without citizenship — and 15 percent are run by Syrian opposition groups.
Bans on a few sites, such as the Arabic language Wikipedia, were lifted, but the Internet remains under the monitoring of the security apparatus, Darwich said.
“We are a long way away from a free cyberspace, but at least supervision should be in the hands of the government, not security, and subject to a law,” he said.
The authorities also shut down eight publications last year and licensing remains difficult, the report said. A state agency holds a monopoly on advertising.
“We have seen some improvements on the margins, such as the possibility of lifting travel bans on some journalists, but there is no structural change,” said Darwich, whose centre is one of a few private organisations dealing with human rights allowed to operate in Syria….
The Artist In Syria, by Etel Adnan.
I just read Miriam Cooke’s “Dissident Syria” and feel that this work has to be brought to the attention of specialists of Arab and Middle Eastern studies, students of literature and the general public. We all have known for about 40 years that the Syrian regime is an authoritarian one, to say the least, and that in addition to the armed opponents that would be prosecuted in any country, Syria systematically tortures and imprisons intellectuals for long periods of time for no other reason than their having criticized the regime. Arab intellectuals in general, as well as those from the other countries of the world, pay little attention to the plight of Syrian intellectuals either out of fear, discouragement or indifference. More…