Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Syrian President’s 10 Years In Power See Engagement With West
2010-07-14 03:26:38.780 GMT
DAMASCUS (AFP)–After years of enduring intense international pressure, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has engaged in a process of rapprochement with the West the results of which remain unclear.
Assad, who celebrates 10 years in power Saturday, re-opened a dialogue with Western nations by making concessions on Lebanon, the smaller western neighbor over which Damascus held sway for three decades, analysts said.
That enabled Assad to return to the international scene, as he demonstrated by attending a 2008 reception in Paris by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
And relations with the U.S. began to improve under the presidency of Barack Obama.
The rapprochement continues, but “mistrust remains” because of the close ties that Syria forged with Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.
And so Obama renewed the sanctions that have been in force against Syria since 2004, accusing Damascus of supporting “terrorist” organizations. And the new U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, still hasn’t arrived at his post because Republican opposition to Obama has blocked his confirmation. Lebanon remains the keystone of the thaw in relations between Syria and the West.
It “gives a regional depth” to Syria, which continues to maintain “an important influence” there through its allies, Hezbollah, the Christian leader Michel Aoun and the Baath party in Lebanon, Salem said.
In parallel, since December, Assad has twice hosted visits by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who had accused Damascus of being behind the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafiq Hariri. Assad also has maintained his country’s traditionally close ties with Iran, ignoring calls by the West to move away from Tehran and closer to Turkey.
Assad follows a “median policy,” and is not entirely in the “trenches” of the vehemently anti-Western and anti-Israeli Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Salem said. In May 2008, Assad began Turkish-mediated indirect talks with Israel over the Golan Heights, which Israel unilaterally annexed from Syria in 1981, and backs direct negotiations in the long run.
But there is still much do be done to consolidate Syria’s opening to the West, and Damascus still “is not out of the eye of the storm,” said analyst Riad Kahwaji.
The possibility of a U.S. or Israeli air strike against Iran, which denies accusations it is building a nuclear bomb, raise “question marks” about Syria’s position said Kahwaji, who is based in Dubai. “Would it (Syria) side with its Iranian ally? Could its leaders avoid a war?” asked Kahwaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, or INEGMA.
Information from U.S.and Israeli sources about the installation by Iran of a radar in Syria to detect a possible attack means that Syria would be “the first target,” Kahwaji said. Moreover, Syrian leaders haven’t hidden their disappointment over the bleak chances for Middle East peace under U.S. leadership, demonstrated by the stagnant negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“When one does not obtain results, one is weak,” Assad said in Argentina earlier this month, during a Latin American tour. “Our experience with the United States is that they are unable to manage a peace process from the beginning to the end,” he said. At home in Syria, “the political hopes for reforms and democratization that were raised” by the accession of the young president, who was born in 1965, faded with the imprisonment of several opposition figures, Salem noted.
Syria is yet to play its cards
Ian Black, 2010-07-14 Guardian (GB):
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, can allow himself a moment of quiet self-congratulation this weekend when he marks 10 years in power. His father, Hafez, was a hard act to follow in a famously tough neighbourhood but Assad the son has gone a fair …
JERUSALEM (AFP)–An Israeli parliamentary committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill requiring a referendum prior to any possible withdrawal from east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, a committee spokesman said. “The draft law on the referendum was approved Wednesday by five votes against two,” he told AFP. The bill had passed a first reading in parliament in 2008 and now has committee approval to go for the two more readings needed before it can become law.
It aims to make it more difficult for the government to cede territory, saying that a public referendum or a special majority of two thirds of lawmakers, would be necessary before withdrawal from land under Israeli sovereignty.
This refers to east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in moves not recognized by the international community. Syria has demanded the complete return of the Golan Heights as a condition for peace with Israel, while the Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Syria on Wednesday circulated a letter to the UN Security Council, raising concerns over the UN’s role with Syrian-Lebanese relations, citing their continued attempt to “interfere” in the heels of the newest report on the region. The letter, which was delivered by Syrian UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari and dated July 7, comes in response to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report, which called upon Syria to ” cooperate” with such efforts with Lebanon to dismantle the Palestinian military bases that “straddle” the border of the two regions.
Ban’s report “continues the attempt to interfere in the development of Syrian-Lebanese relations,” said the letter, taking note that “continued interference” in the countries’bilateral relations would be “reprehensible.”…”The Syrian Arab Republic has nothing to do with the matter,” said the letter, reiterating the “competence” of the Lebanese government….
Syria Will Double Gasoline Imports in August on Tourism Demand
By Brian Murphy
July 14 (Bloomberg) — Sytrol, Syria’s state-owned oil marketing company, will double gasoline imports next month as tourism boosts consumption, a company spokesman said.
Sytrol bought two 30,000-metric-ton cargoes of gasoline for delivery to the Mediterranean port of Banias in August, compared with one in July, the spokesman, who declined to be identified because of company policy, said today by phone from Damascus.
Syria consumes between 175,000 and 200,000 tons of gasolineeach month. It usually imports 30,000 tons to cover theshortfall from its two refineries, the spokesman said.
Turks in Tel Aviv Show Business Binds Israel to Muslim Ally in Gaza Crisis
By David Wainer and Ben Holland
July 14 (Bloomberg) — Five miles from the center of Tel Aviv, more than a dozen Turks wearing red shirts emblazoned with their national flag work to complete a 30-story residential tower.
Manager Nissim Gayus says it’s “business as usual,” six weeks after Israeli troops killed nine Turkish activists on an aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip. While the raid has strained a political alliance of more than half a century, commercial ties between the countries survive, according to Gayus, who works at Ankara-based Yilmazlar Construction Group.
“The private sector just hasn’t been influenced at all,” Gayus said at Yilmazlar’s Ramat Gan office outside Tel Aviv. “We’re not feeling any damage in our projects.”
“… At the Nixon Center, it will be Chas Freeman vs. Rob Satloff on the topic: “Israel: Strategic Asset or Liability?”…”
One State/Two States: Rethinking Israel and Palestine
By Danny Rubinstein in Dissent.
Of the 300,000 Arabs of East Jerusalem, tens of thousands of them have applied to the Ministry of the Interior for full Israeli citizenship. In 1967, when East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel, its inhabitants were given “temporary resident” status, not citizenship. This resembles the U.S. green card, except that it does not serve as a way-station to full citizenship. Temporary residents have all the rights and obligations of a regular citizen—they pay taxes and receive the benefits of the social welfare system. But they cannot vote in parliamentary elections or carry an Israeli passport.
That they can’t vote for Knesset members has not bothered the Jerusalem Arabs, nor has the lack of a passport—the government gives travelers an Israeli “Laisser-Passer.” The problem, from their vantage point, is that they can lose their temporary resident status if they don’t continue to live in Jerusalem. Indeed, the Interior Ministry has taken away temporary resident cards from thousands of Jerusalem Arabs who moved to areas in the West Bank or who have lived overseas for a few years.
Hence the growing number of requests for full Israeli citizenship. There are many difficulties in the way. The most serious is that such a request is considered as collaboration with the enemy, the conqueror, and therefore a betrayal of Palestinian nationalism. That’s why so few applied in the years after the 1967 War—and most of them were Jerusalem Arabs who married Israeli Arabs. The PLO and the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah have decided to fight the new trend. They sent representatives to the East Jerusalem office of the Interior Ministry and warned those standing on line not to request the citizenship application forms.
Despite the warnings, the number of applicants is growing. A spokesman for the ministry told me that in the last two years, about twelve thousand Palestinians from East Jerusalem have received Israeli citizenship. What is most significant here is that there isn’t any embarrassment about applying for it. A Palestinian journalist told me, “Not only are they not embarrassed, they are proud that they have succeeded in getting Israeli citizenship.” This is the strongest possible example of the low point that Palestinian nationalism has reached—at least in the eyes of the Palestinians of Jerusalem. They now believe that the Israeli (Jewish) presence in the eastern part of the city is so powerful that it cannot be shaken or dislodged. The city won’t be divided, and so they are adapting to a situation that will lead in the end to a single state.
In international diplomacy there is a pervasive idea that it is possible and necessary to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that will exist side by side with Israel. Many Israelis and Palestinians want this and believe in it. But the forces working against this possibility are many and powerful. Israeli governments have enabled the settlement of over half a million Jews beyond the 1967 borders. This represents almost 10 percent of the Jews in Israel. About 300,000 of them live in settlements in the West Bank and about 200,000 are in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. There are those among them who will fight with all their strength to prevent an Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state. But what is no less important is that on the Palestinian side as well a new situation has emerged. National unity has dissolved, the national movement has atrophied and declined, and the idea has become acceptable that if there won’t be two states for two peoples, it is better that there be one state.