OneMideast.Org Written up by Ian Black and Joe Macaron

Syrian and Israeli bloggers try to resolve their differences online
Onemideast.org – a Website run by academics and activists aims to improve communication and negotiation between warring lands
Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 May 2010

Israeli tanks on manouevre on the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

Syrians and Israelis are crossing one of the Middle East’s great divides to co-operate – in cyberspace – to explore ways to advance peace between their countries.

The groundbreaking OneMideast.org website aims to bring together prominent Israelis and Syrian bloggers, academics and experts seeking ways to break the stubborn impasse in negotiations.

It will host the first Syrian-Israeli public online dialogue of its kind – a remarkable step for two countries which have been in a state of war for more than 60 years. The border between them – a UN-monitored ceasefire line on the heavily fortified Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967 – is closed. Nationals from each country are banned from visiting the other; there are no direct communications. But the authorities in Damascus have tolerated previous ad hoc internet exchanges and are thought to be happy with the launch of this permanent platform.

“It is the first time there’s been an organised effort on a specific issue between two enemies, and not only between Syria and Israel,” said Camille Otrankji, a Canadian-Syrian who is helping run the website. “This is an experiment. We hope it will take things a step further.”

Yoav Stern, an Israeli organiser of the site, sparked intense interest in both Syria and Israel when he reported on Syrian blogging in Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading liberal Hebrew-language daily. “We are used to looking at each other in demonic terms,” he said. “This is different.”

For the last year, academics, political analysts, journalists, businesspeople and consultants from both sides have been debating the issues in a private online forum. They produced a list of all possible objections to peace from both sides and voted for the 20 most commonly encountered in Syrian and Israeli societies. The group then produced effective counter-arguments to each of them.

Despite the emnity between the neighbours, negotiations between them have come tantalisingly close to a deal three times during the last 20 years before obstacles emerged to scuttle the process. Syrian officials say that 85% of the problems, including crucial security arrangements, were solved in negotiations with four Israeli leaders from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak. Turkey mediated four more rounds of inconclusive talks in 2008.

Still, many analysts believe Syria would never sign a peace agreement with Israel even if it secured the total return of the Golan Heights — unless it was part of a comprehensive peace settlement that included the Palestinian issue.

Syria is nervous about unofficial peace initiatives, such as one involving a retired Israeli diplomat and an American-Syrian businessman who proposed turning the Golan into a nature reserve. “We are making sure that these are not negotiations,” insisted Otranjki. “This is a communications exercise.” The organisers want to avoid the experience of Syria Comment,

a respected US-based specialist website that has been targeted by pro-Israeli bloggers seeking to pressure the Obama administration not to continue its cautious dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad.

The next step is for OneMideast.org to invite experts and opinion formers from both countries to discuss the peace process and to submit constructive feedback for publication on the site.Israeli media reported yesterday that Assad had turned down an offer from the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, under which Israel would return the Golan if Syria severed its ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Avatar-like Syrians and Israelis Set Groundbreaking Rules for Web Diplomacy
Joe Macaron
Huffington Post, May 18, 2010

Computer-generated actors, Syrians and Israelis, are coming together in unlikely times of warmongering. They are reopening a dim flashlight of discussions, yet this time on the virtual world of endless possibilities where the invisible hand of censorship cannot reach. They do not need a passport to move around in disguise for secret talks and they believe their story is worth telling.

On the front page of the website, OneMideast.org, you find the Grand Mosque of Damascus, the Carmelite Monastery in Haifa, the Aleppo Synagogue, and the Minaret in the Old City of Jaffa in a choreography of religious and touristic photos reflecting an ideal yet sober initiative launched by ten Syrian expats unrestricted by the official tone in Damascus along with ten Israelis who feels at exile in their own country.

The bipartisan group defines itself as an “online discussion arena intended for raising and debating ideas central to the Arab Israeli peace process” and affirms in a press release that the initiative is “seeking to propose solutions to break the impasse of the stalled peace process” and its role is “facilitating dialogue that would otherwise be impossible through traditional means of communication”.

The website unfolds in two parts, Israeli objections to peace with Syria and Syrian objections to peace with Israel, reflecting the popular mood on both sides in a communication exercise that offers a new approach to this conflict instead of the mundane common ground setting at traditional peace conferences. The group has a separate undisclosed online forum for simulation of tactics and ideas to come up with counterarguments that are more complex and touch the core of the conflict. ….

This online interaction started in June 2007 when Syrian Canadian blogger Camille Otrakji launched an initiative to keep the memory of the Golan Heights in the 40th anniversary of its occupation by Israeli troops, which was covered by Haaretz and prompted a traffic of over 5,000 Israelis on “Creative Syria”. Since then, Israeli intellectuals and figures have been attempting to approach Otrakji by email but he replied back by referring them to another site, Syria Comment, run by Joshua Landis. This ended up having a space for Syrians and Israelis to comment, resulting in what could be an indirect public dialogue…..the Lebanese American blogger Elias Mhanna, who runs Qifa Nabki website, represents his own Lebanese point of view in this complex online discussion. Mhanna talks about a personal rapport that was established over the years between members of the group “even if we never met, there are good intentions between us, we all want a reasonable peace deal”….

Also, check out the new blog at Mideastwire by Nick Noe. Here is a sample post:

US Pours More Money into Israeli Military

“US to Put $205 Million Towards Israeli Rocket Defense System – The US Department of Defense has said it would allocate $205 million to Israel to complete its development and deployment of a defense system designed to protect civilians against incoming short-range rockets and mortars. The system, dubbed Iron Dome, is expected to become operational by the end of the year. Washington said the funding was a gesture that the US was committed to safeguarding Israel’s security needs. The aid is in addition to the $3 billion in annual US defense aid to Israel. Most of that money must be spent in the United States, while the additional aid can be used to pay for the Israeli-built Iron Dome. The $205 million is reportedly the sum Israel spent so far on developing the one-of-a-kind system. When deployed, it will drastically reduce the threat of Kassam rockets fired at Israeli towns from the Hamas-held Gaza Strip and Katyushas fired from Lebanon.”

Comments (37)


1. George Ajjan said:

no comments yet? Congratulations and thanks to Camille et al for a terrific job!

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May 19th, 2010, 11:25 am

 

2. Akbar Palace said:

OneGreaterSyria.org

George,

I prefer Syria Comment. Professor Josh has done a “bang up” job as a former Co-Director of Peace Studies. I feel his pro-Baathist leanings have done so much to bring peace with the “Apartheid State” to the South.

A simple quote from the “Good Dr.” says it all:

“Syria’s strategy is going to be to try to isolate the US in the Middle East, and to hang Israel around America’s neck.”

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May 19th, 2010, 12:03 pm

 

3. EHSANI2 said:

Camille is a man you want to have on your team. He is a relentless turbo-charged machine. He put countless hours of work into this and it shows. Indeed, this is the case in every project this man agrees to take on.

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May 19th, 2010, 12:08 pm

 

4. Hassan said:

It looks like an interesting website. Gathering from the way they have designed it, it appears that they will be able to prevent it from being taken over by hard-line supporters of the regime in Syria.

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May 19th, 2010, 1:41 pm

 

5. Husam said:

Hassan said:

“…..it appears that they will be able to prevent it from being taken over by hard-line supporters of the regime in Syria.”

Hassan, it also appears as they have prevented a Stern Gang from forming and hijacking their constructiveness and goodwill that you and your A.P’s have been relentlessly trying to do on Syria Comment.

It also prevented ultra-zionist cowards and proxies naming themselves ‘whatever’ as though to appear Arab…or “poker palace” or “100 INSHALLAH-ING AHMEDS” all of which achieve nothing but dilution of SC’s image.

They also don’t burden the reader with worthless comments like yours.

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May 19th, 2010, 1:53 pm

 

6. Ghat Albird said:

5. HUSAM said:

I second and support your comments addressed to hassan.

The names used by these zionists and their published comments reflects their servile parasitic characteristics. Which is plainly read by both those who comment on SC and others.

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May 19th, 2010, 2:38 pm

 

7. jad said:

الغارديان تتحدث عن لقاء بين مدونين سوريين وإسرائيليين

سي ان ان العربية
19/ 05/ 2010
قالت صحيفة “الغارديان” البريطانية إن مدونين سوريين وإسرائيليين قرروا اللقاء على شبكة الإنترنت، وإجراء حوارات دائمة بهدف تحسين العلاقات بين الطرفين، وهذا يحصل للمرة الأولى.

وقالت الصحيفة إن أكاديميين ومحللين سياسيين وصحفيين ورجال أعمال من البلدين التقوا العام الماضي في مؤتمر بغرفة خاصة في منتدى على شبكة الإنترنت. وقام هؤلاء بإنجاز قائمة بأبرز عوائق السلام بين البلدين، كما وجدوا 20 شيئا مشتركا بين المجتمعين السوري والإسرائيلي.

وأما الخطوة القادمة للموقع السوري- الإسرائيلي، بحسب الصحيفة، فهي دعوة خبراء وصانعي الرأي من الدولتين لمناقشة عملية السلام ليتم نشرها لاحقا في وسائل الإعلام. إلا أن الصحيفة لم تنشر أي أسماء لمدونين سوريين موجودين داخل سوريا واكتفت باسم واحد قالت إنه يعيش في كندا وهو من أصول سورية.

http://all4syria.info/content/view/26482/96/

Please read this comment, for those who don’t know is Mr. Zouher Hamad, he is a General in the Syrian Secret Service, I’m not sure if he personally wrote this comment but from the language used I think he is.

زهير حمد 2010-05-19 13:34:24
نعم لقد تابعنا اللقاء والمدون هو كميل – الكسندر قطرنجي .
وسيتم معاقبة المدونين الموجودين في سورية لخرقهم القانون السوري وبتهمة العمالة
كما تم توجيه تنبيه شديد اللهجة للسفير السوري في واشنطن الذي رعى عدة مقالات وحوارات في هذا المنتدى

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May 19th, 2010, 4:46 pm

 

8. Alex said:

George and Ehsani, … Thank you so much for your kind words. But this time there are two teams who worked hard on this project besides the four names who are speaking on their behalf. Some team members showed up occasionally, but others worked on it every week for the past eight months. They do not want to, and they don’t care to, be credited for their work.

This is only phase 1, there will be other interesting steps taekn .. perhaps some meaningful opinion poll in Israel, and surely a number of academic studies to test the potential effectiveness of the different communication strategies behind the many counter arguments to objections to peace that we proposed on the site. I am confident that the results will be quite interesting.

As for the the point that Hussam and Hassan discussed … the decision to moderate the comments section was consistent with the site’s mission .. to provide a practically complete list of objections to peace (or even to talking) with the other side, then a number of counterarguments to those objections. Nothing more.

We will publish any comment that adds something valuable that we did not pay attention to within the over 14,000 words we have there. But we will not publish repetitive comments since they carry no new information. OME is not an ongoing blog, you read it once (if you have the patience).

Syria Comment will remain the more fun place for all of us “Zionists” and “Baathists” and “Hamas supporters” to have our daily discussions : )

JAD,

I seriously doubt whoever wrote that comment above is the real person behind that name.

But we need to do an Arabic press release to explain the site’s mission .. what it is and what it is not. The CNN coverage was very brief, it leaves a lot of room for inaccurate interpretations.

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May 19th, 2010, 5:11 pm

 

9. majedkhaldoun said:

Akpar Palace said we are nickpicking on him.
He is oversensitive and paranoic,he wants to criticise others but he cries like a baby if he is criticised.

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May 19th, 2010, 5:11 pm

 

10. norman said:

To promote Arab-Israeli peace, Arabs and Israelis argue against it
The OneMideast project formally debuted online Wednesday at a time when hopes for Arab-Israeli peace are dim. The website asks Arab and Israeli participants to jump into tough issues in hopes of provoking new solutions.

The website, OneMideast.org, asks Arab and Israeli participants to jump into tough issues in hopes of provoking new solutions.
(screengrab from OneMideast.org)

——————————————————————————–

By Nick Blanford, Correspondent
posted May 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm EDT

Beirut, Lebanon —
Most grassroots peace efforts in the Middle East try to build on areas of mutual agreement, but one group of Israelis and Arabs has taken a different tack – looking for arguments against peace between Israel and Syria.

The OneMideast project, which formally goes public on Wednesday, is making its debut at a time of high tension between Syria and Israel, with gloomy prospects of resumed peace talks and very real fears of another war roiling the region. The effort drew together two teams of 10 Arabs – most of them Syrian – and 10 Israelis, each of whom who were asked to come up with a list of objections to peace between Israel and Syria.

“The dominant paradigm of peace process initiatives is to begin by searching for common ground, postponing discussion on problematic areas,” says Elias Muhanna, a Lebanese political analyst and author of the Lebanese affairs blog Qifa Nabki. “OneMideast turns this model on its head, beginning with the stickiest issues, and trying to see if they really are as insoluble as they seem.”

Grew out of heated exchanges
The idea developed a year ago from the heated daily exchanges in the comments section of the Syria Comment blog authored by Joshua Landis, director for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. As with many blogs dealing with contentious Middle East affairs, Syria Comment attracts devoted Arab and Israeli readers whose variant views provoke stimulating and sometimes impassioned arguments.

“As each new Israeli and Syrian would find the site and begin discussion, often they would start with the repetition of accusations and casting of blame, then little by little a shared humanity would emerge as would a shared interest in finding a way out of the cyclical insults,” says Mr. Landis.

Israel and Syria are in an official state of war, which makes personal contacts between Israelis and Syrians problematic. But the Internet allows citizens from both countries to penetrate the political wall separating them – and a dialogue to flourish.

“We want people to know that dialogue is possible, and that the Web offers new opportunities to learn firsthand about the human beings on the other side,” says Yoav Stern, an Israeli commentator and journalist.

Requirements for peace
The requirements for a peace deal between Syria and Israel are well known. Syria’s main stated priority is the full recovery of the Golan Heights, the volcanic plateau that was seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel’s chief priority is to ensure that Syria no longer poses a threat, either directly or through supporting radical groups such as Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hezbollah.

Although achieving a peace deal between the two countries theoretically is far less complicated than the Israeli-Palestinian track, there have been no direct bilateral negotiations for 10 years. The continuing impasse encourages grassroots efforts such as OneMideast to broaden the debate from the diplomats to the peoples of both countries.

The project began when some Israeli contributors to Syria Comment proposed a separate discussion to further explore the arguments raging on the blog.

Camille-Alexandre Otrakji, a Syrian and founder of Creative Syria, offered to build a private website dedicated to the dialogue – OneMideast.org.

“This site is designed in a totally symmetrical way that does not give any side more time or space [by limiting the lines allowed for each side’s arguments and counterarguments] and therefore no one can complain that their side was the victim of biased moderation, like they do in other discussion forums, in the media or elsewhere,” Mr. Otrakji says.

The forum gathered a mix of academics, students, journalists, analysts, engineers, and business executives. The Syrian members were asked to come up with a list of objections to peace with Israel from the Syrian perspective. The Israeli members were asked to do the same from their point of view. The results were then swapped and both sides wrote two or three counterarguments. The results were posted on the website.

Sparring on Golan Heights
One of the Israeli objections accuses Syria of supporting terrorism against Israel. Among the three counterarguments, one notes that Syria’s support for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas is because Israel illegally occupies the Golan Heights.

“This support can change its form under a peace treaty guaranteeing the security of Syria and Israel,” it says.

A Syrian objection asserts that what was taken by force – the Golan Heights – can only be taken back by force. One of the Israeli responses says that the “objection sounds familiar because we Israelis have heard it from our own demagogues…. Those who said it were wrong.”

A second phase to the project is in the pipeline, says Otrakji, in which a large sample of political science students will be questioned on the list of objections to allow an analysis of the popularity of these arguments and counterarguments.

“This will help decisionmakers in Syria, Israel and elsewhere who are involved in the quest for a solution for that complex conflict,” Otrakji says.

Notes Landis, of the University of Oklahoma, “The cost of not finding a way out of this conflict is very high.”

The Israeli army has gradually come around in recent years to supporting a peace deal with Syria that includes the return of the strategic Golan. But, says Mr. Stern, the Israeli commentator, the Israeli public is losing interest in peace with a country that it views as a supporter of terrorism.

“Nevertheless, losing hope is bad, very bad,” he says, “and so we keep hoping that the atmosphere can eventually change.”

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May 19th, 2010, 5:27 pm

 

11. jad said:

Alex,
I agree, that website needs to explain itself in Arabic ASAP so people wont use it against the organizers in the usual mentality we are famous for, here is a taste of what we will be reading for a while, some ignorant already forget the idea itself and now it’s all about one person:

كميل مدعوم من القصر 2010-05-19 19:26:50
هذا ايجابي التفاهم مع الاعداء قبل الانفجار وكميل ينسق مع القصر في دمشق بشكل يومي ولا يعمل خارج القانون
رد
قطرنجي هو سوري وليس تركي
مطلع 2010-05-19 16:23:37
لقد تعرفت على كميل في حفل اقامته الجالية هنا بمونتريال وحضره السفير بامريكا الدكتور عماد مصطفى وكان حريص ان يبقى بالقرب من كميل فسالت السفير جميل صقر من يكون هذا الشاب فقال مدعوم من فوق !
رد
مجهول 2010-05-19 16:20:46
هؤلاء ليسوا سوريين ؟ قطرجي اسم تركي وليس سوري ؟
رد
ابن دمشق 2010-05-19 15:23:44
لك شو صاير ما عم افهم
قمت بزيارة الموقع التابع للسيد كميل قطرجي
ووجدت سخصيات معروفة بقربها من النظام السوري تكتب فيه وتتحاور مع مقالات يكتبها اسرائيليون ؟
غيث ارمنازي وسامي مبيض وعماد مصطفى ومرهف جويجاتي ووو فقط زوروا الموقع لتشاهدوا بانفسكم ؟
وبعد كل هذا عاملين علينا وطنيات اذا كتبنا خاطرة بمدونتنا بيحجبوها ولك تفي عليكم وعلى هالنظام

http://all4syria.info/content/view/26486/161/

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May 19th, 2010, 6:11 pm

 

12. Ghat Albird said:

Congrats on the OneMideast project and here’s a bit of surprising and most welcome news report about Palestenian girls winning a UN award.

Its a must read. One can only read it seems that kind of news on a non American website.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-05/20/c_13304384.htm

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May 19th, 2010, 6:22 pm

 

13. Alex said:

Thanks Jad

Using “Alex” is so much easier : )

The gentleman who constructed the theory that my website proves my closeness to the top, forgot that the first writer on that same site was the harshest regime critic, Ammar AbdelHamid.

Here is a sample:

http://www.creativesyria.com/discussion/thinktank.php?TopicID=31

And the person who quoted Syria’s ambassador to Canada is fabricating stories. Syrian ambassadors do not go out there telling people who is close to the top and who is not. I have never met our Ambassador in Ottawa by the way.

It’s ok. In a week from now, probably no one will talk about OME … only academics and specialists will download its PDF

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May 19th, 2010, 6:29 pm

 

14. jad said:

“It’s ok. In a week from now, probably no one will talk about OME … only academics and specialists will download its PDF”

I totally agree with you on that.

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May 19th, 2010, 6:47 pm

 

15. Innocent Criminal said:

congrats Alex, the website looks great. looking forward to seeing a lot of interesting debates.

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May 19th, 2010, 7:24 pm

 

16. aron said:

Excellent idea, and a very nice site. Well done!

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May 19th, 2010, 8:32 pm

 

17. Off the Wall said:

Good work to all participants on onemideast.org congratulations

Ghat # 12
Thanks, positive is always better than negative. However, let’s wait and see what some “insightful” pipes will say, he is probably pissed off that the three Palestinian girls won such a huge competition.

Week of Arab women, beauty and brains. Go girls.

Alex and Jad
Fully agree, the site needs an Arabic press release.

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May 19th, 2010, 9:13 pm

 

18. Majhool said:

Attacks on Alex are Unwarranted. Creative Syria could only be a product of love to Syria.

Although I disagree with Alex on many issues, his work and love to Syria are unique, genuine , and must be congratulated.

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May 19th, 2010, 9:15 pm

 

19. jad said:

Seriously!?
Don’t they know that the whole new project website is not a ‘blog’ for chitchat, socializing and normalizing? It’s for an ACADEMIC DISCUSSION between ACADEMIC PERSONNEL what’s wrong with those idiots who write such stupid news, don’t they use their brains (I doubt they’ve got any) to think about the consequences of what they write???? It’s going in the wrong direction in less than 24hrs of the story.

بعد قصة المدونين : مرسوم بعودة السفير السوري من كندا

مراسل المحليات – كلنا شركاء
20/ 05/ 2010
صدر مرسوم بعودة السفير السوري المعتمد في اوتاوا السيد جميل صقر وذلك بعد ان انهى خدمة خمس سنوات …….وتزامن صدور المرسوم مع الضجة التي حصلت بنفس اليوم واثارتها المقالة البريطانية التي كشفت عن لقاءات وحوارات بين مدونين وشخصيات سياسية وديبلوماسية واكاديمية سورية مع نظرائهم الاسرائيليين والتي كانت مستمرة منذ اكثر من سنة حيث يقوم بتنسيقها وادارتها الشاب كميل قطرنجي المقيم في كندا .
وقد ربط البعض بين صدور قرار اعادة السفير في كندا وعدم التمديد له لمدة عام اضافي وبين هذه القضية , وقد منح السفير صقر مدة شهرين لانهاء التزاماته والعودة لدمشق .

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May 19th, 2010, 11:45 pm

 

20. Akbar Palace said:

Sleeping hours have been extended

The “Cycle of Violence” continues as dozens of Palestinian homes have been destroyed:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i9hjnsHoq-6wtLVvjTQkKLn2G8eQD9FO41100

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May 20th, 2010, 2:26 am

 

21. BillyBeik said:

It is amazing to see the spin on the intent and the explanations that people can find for any activity done. I wonder if they even spent the time to go over the onemideast.org site and its content.

A couple of comments for the designer of the site:

1) I thought I read in one of the articles (or is it from JAD above) that people could download a pdf of all the arguments. That would be great even it is a misinterpretation of my reading.

2) I would love to be able to see the comments people give on the arguments without having to click the 40 arguments individually. In other words, if there is a way to put the number of comments per argument, one can monitor the changes (in the same line as the counterargument numbers).

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May 20th, 2010, 2:28 am

 

22. norman said:

News
Russia shows US how to deal with Syria
James Denselow: Syria’s relationship with Russia – which is cultural as well as strategic – highlights how US non-engagement has failed

Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Tags: International News
This has been a busy month so far for the Syrians. The US Congress blocked Obama’s attempt to appoint Robert Ford as ambassador following reports of Syrian Scud missiles being transferred to Hezbollah, and on 3 May Washington renewed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria that have been in place since 2004.

While the US remains unwilling or unable to reach out to Damascus, the Russians have no such worries, prompting concern that the first visit of a Russian leader to Syria since 1917 could trigger a new Middle Eastern cold war .

The actual trigger takes the form of Russian arms supplies to Syria with a deal being struck to provide the Damascus regime with MiG-29 fighters, truck-mounted Pantsir short-range surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery systems and anti-tank systems.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman criticised the deal, arguing that “weapons sales don’t contribute to an atmosphere of peace” (despite his country spending over $15bn annually, on arms in comparison to Syria’s $6bn). An editorial in the Lebanese Daily Star bemoaned the arms deal as a “tragic waste”, arguing that the Syrian government was wasting money on arms that could be far better spent dealing with the estimated one million people who have been displaced by drought in the past 18 months.

Yet the weapons deal is just the tip of a far greater relationship between the two countries. Since the 1950s, tens of thousands of Syrians have been educated in Russia, while Russian expertise has created much of Syria’s infrastructure, with the Syrian ministry of economy estimating that the Russians are responsible for 90 industrial facilities and pieces of infrastructure, one-third of Syria’s electrical power capability, one-third of its oil-producing facilities and a threefold expansion of land under irrigation – aided in part by assistance with building the massive Euphrates dam.

Syria’s military ties with the Soviet Union were consolidated in the 1950s, during which time future president Hafez Assad travelled to Moscow in 1958 to take a night-flying course on Russian MiGs. The Soviets would become what biographer Patrick Seale called “the principal ally of his presidency”, in which arms sales were part of a “framework of trust and consultation”. Support only tapered off towards the demise of the Soviet Union, and Syria’s pragmatism was confirmed when it joined the US-led coalition to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

Now the Russians are back. Following a spate in 2008 over Israel’s support to Georgia, the Russians have been steadily increasing their supply of weapons to Syria. In addition, the upgraded naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus has significantly boosted Russia’s operational capability in the region, allowing the warships based there to reach the Red Sea through the Suez canal and the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar in a matter of days.

Regarding economic ties, Russia’s transportation minister is reported as saying that they may open a direct maritime connection between the Syrian port of Latakia and Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea to ship cargo directly, while the Russian gas giant, Gazprom, is also expanding its presence in Syria with additional oil exploration. Russian energy minister Sergei Shmatko, who accompanied President Medvedev to Damascus, even promised the possibility of nuclear energy co-operation.

In March, cultural ties were improved between the two countries with the visit of Russian culture minister Alexander Avdeyev who described how “Syria can show Russia its folk bands and paintings, while Russia can show Syria its intellectual cinema and museums”. In addition to agreements in the fields of air services and information and communication technology, two more agreements on technical scientific and environmental co-operation, as well as a joint work programme to implement the agreement of tourism co-operation in 2010-2012, were signed at the Syrian foreign ministry.

Yet, crucial to understanding the situation today, is how in 1970 Assad played upon the ideas of Syria’s “strategic importance” to make simultaneous overtures to the US and the Soviets. In the words of historian Eberhard Kienle, he succeeded “in inducing them to outbid each other”. Such a dual strategy was reflected by Assad signing an agreement on economic co-operation with the Soviets while pursuing a western-orientated policy of infitah (economic opening up).

Today, Assad the younger is once again reaching out in all directions to pursue what he sees as Syria’s interest. This pragmatism should be acknowledged by an institutionally obstinate US that must by now realise that its policy of non-engagement has simply brought it no reward over the past six years, whether it is in weakening Syria’s relations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran or improving the country’s human rights record.

Syrian-Russian relations, which go beyond arms deals to a range of trade and cultural ties, are not a challenge to the US but rather should be a prompt to Washington to accept that almost a decade of policies have failed and that a new course must be adopted.

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May 20th, 2010, 2:37 am

 

23. Alex said:

Thanks IC. Thank you Majhool for your kind words.

BILLYBEIK, yes there will be a PDF of the full content that will make it easier to print and read off-line.

Will also upload a podcast : ) .. don’t expect a 100% professional production there, but it is not bad at all.

Jad

I won’t comment on that stupid story.

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May 20th, 2010, 6:00 am

 

24. Elie Elhadj said:

To Alex,

Congratulations on onemideast.org., an important public service.

I am confident that your effort will contribute to replacing politically convenient demagoguery and sloganeering that pervade the Middle East region by intelligent thinking and calm reasoning. Like your other work, the site is also attractive, a feat for the eye to enjoy.

At the risk of being naive, may I suggest that those involved in this courageous forum consider revealing their real names.

Elie

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May 20th, 2010, 9:37 am

 

25. Innocent Criminal said:

Alex,

i love how they are calling you الشاب. if only they knew :p just kidding

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May 20th, 2010, 10:33 am

 

26. Akbar Palace said:

Iranian Largese

A special thanks to the Iranian government for keeping the Jewish State alive and well:

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, said Wednesday that if Israel attacked Iran it would be destroyed within a week.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3891781,00.html

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May 20th, 2010, 10:49 am

 

27. Ghat Albird said:

Those on SC who always propragandize the freedoms of the only so-called democracy in the Middle East have friends in the US that organiza to deny individual freedom of speech to others.

Rabbi Fischer, the national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, is on record as stating that, “If we Jews are anything, we are a people of history … Our history provides the strength to know that we can be right and the whole world wrong.” At the present he continued, “we are right and the Russians, Africans, Arabs and even the Vatican are wrong”.

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/98231-jewish-dems-want-buchanans-column-nixed

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May 20th, 2010, 1:15 pm

 
 

29. Akbar Palace said:

John Mearsheimer’s Utopian NewZ

Ghat,

Yes, it’s very bleak indeed. It’s been bleak since God knows when. Hanging by a thread; just barely hanging on, on the verge of extinction.

But thanks to the Iranian mullahs, we’ve been given a reprieve for another day, week, month, year, decade … century?

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/immigration-to-israel-hits-16-244-highest-jump-in-10-years-1.1274

http://www.jewishagency.org/JewishAgency/English/Home

http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2002/10/Aliyah

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May 20th, 2010, 2:49 pm

 

30. Hassan said:

The dictators have succeeded. All anyone discusses on “Syria Comment” is how terrible Israel or the Jews are. When does anyone have time to critique the policies of the Baathist regime in Damascus? Of course, no one has time for that because it is far more important to bash the Zionist entity on Syria Comment. This is sad because Israeli policy really has very little impact on the well being of everyday Syrians. So, here we are fully distracted from what Bashar and his shilla do in Syria. I can think of nothing better for a dictatorship than knowing that even foreigners are too distracted by the conflict with Israel than to focus on what he doing to his own people. This is why there will never be peace with Israel.

“Israel’s Bleak future”
This is what the Palestinians thought in 1947. Don’t be delusional. You will only harm yourself.

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May 20th, 2010, 3:00 pm

 

31. norman said:

As we can see , the migration to Israel was the lowest during the Eighties at the time of the first INTIFADA , while was most during the Nineties during Oslo which prove that Israel uses peace talks to expand settlements and migration ,

Immigrants by
Continent
1948-1996

Europe 58%
Africa 18%
Asia 15%
America & Oceania 8%
Unknown 1%
Immigrants by
Year of Immigration
1948-1996

1948-51 688,000
1952-59 272,000
1960-69 374,000
1970-79 346,000
1980-89 154,000
1990-96 737,000

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May 20th, 2010, 3:38 pm

 

32. Akbar Palace said:

The Baathist Pied Piper and the Venting Process

Hassan said:

All anyone discusses on “Syria Comment” is how terrible Israel or the Jews are. When does anyone have time to critique the policies of the Baathist regime in Damascus?

Hassan,

Well said. Of course what else can you expect from a pro-Baathist American “academic” married into a Syrian Alawite family who recently stated:

“Syria’s strategy is going to be to try to isolate the US in the Middle East, and to hang Israel around America’s neck.”

OTOH, when you have no say in your own government and no freedom of speech, and no one to complain to, Syria Comment provides an invaluable service to those who need to vent the anger (and “rage”)…

Thank you Professor Josh.

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May 20th, 2010, 4:09 pm

 

33. Hassan said:

Norman,

You wrote:
As we can see , the migration to Israel was the lowest during the Eighties at the time of the first INTIFADA , while was most during the Nineties during Oslo which prove that Israel uses peace talks to expand settlements and migration

The correlation between an intifada or ongoing peace talks with trends in Israeli immigration proves nothing. The conclusion you’ve drawn is an example of the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cum_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc). You shown a correlation, not causation. I could say, “the sun rises and Bashar tortures his own people.” Of course, the sun rising has nothing to do with Bashar torturing his own people, that is merely a correlation as the sun rises every day, and Bashar, well, we know.

More to your point though, the figures you’ve given us are for each decade (except the 1990s, for which we see only 6 years). The first intifada began in December 1987, therefore it couldn’t have had an impact on immigration during the period of 1980 to November 1987. Moreover, the spike in immigration in the 1990s probably had more to do with the dissolution of the USSR and the resulting freedom of movement afforded to Jews of the former Soviet Union than anything related to Oslo. Don’t you think?

The number of Russian Jews who came to Israel after 1987 until the late 1990s was was greater than 600,000. (http://books.google.com/books?id=RJHFK7wQUckC&lpg=PP1&pg=PR12#v=onepage&q&f=false)

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May 20th, 2010, 4:17 pm

 

34. almasri said:

Thank you Norman @31. The data speaks for itself. Arabs who abandoned resistance will achieve nothing. In fact, the non-resistant Arabs are in a pathetic state of delusion.

There is only one way forward – another intifada that will go on until every zionist goes back to where he came from.

I have to say it one more time. There is no room for zionism or zionists in the middle east regardless of the name of a website or how artistic it can be made.

P.S. Egyptian professional associations of all stripes (artists, medics, …) made it clear. There is absolutely no room for israeli participation (whether from the left or from the right) in activities taking place on Egyptian soil, and they force the government to comply. Egyptian professionals also do not participate in dialogs with zionists anywhere else in the world. Egyptians know this is futile and counterproductive to say the least other than treason. Long live the people of Egypt – the new throbing Arab heart and the mother of ALL the Arabs.

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May 20th, 2010, 4:23 pm

 

35. Akbar Palace said:

Times Square or Bust

Arabs who abandoned resistance will achieve nothing.

Al Masri,

Besides your heroic effort here on Syria Comment, what is your next favorite method of resistance? Please make us proud…

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May 20th, 2010, 5:31 pm

 

36. Alex said:

Thank you Elie!

IC … go away! : )

Here is one in Arabic, finally!

From France24

http://www.france24.com/ar/20100520-site-dialogue-syria-israel-conflict-war-internet-peace-middle-east-otrakji

And another one in French

http://bart.france24.com/fr/20100520-onemideast-site-dialogue-syrie-israel-conflit-guerre-internet-paix-moyen-orient-otrakji

سوريون وإسرائيليون يتحاورون على الأنترنت
للمرة الأولى تحتضن الأنترنت مبادرة للحوار بين سوريين وإسرائيليين، هدفها إزالة العوائق التي تحول دون قيام السلام بين دمشق وتل أبيب.
سيباستيان سايبت (نص)

شريط من الصور، منارة حيفا، قلعة حلب، دمشق القديمة، شاطئ تل أبيب… تجده على صفحة استقبال موقع الكتروني جديد أطلق في 17 مايو / أيار تحت اسم “شرق أوسط واحد”، وهدفه كما يقول المشرفون عليه توفير منبر حوار بين السوريين والإسرائيليين.

وكما هو معروف فأن الاتصال والحوار المباشر بين مواطني سوريا والدولة العبرية ممنوع من حيث المبدأ وهذا ما يطمح الموقع الجديد إلى تجاوزه، ولا يخف كميل اوطرقجي، المدون الكندي السوري الأصل وصاحب فكرة موقع “شرق أوسط واحد” هدفه من المشروع في حديث لموقع فرانس24 حين يقول “نريد قبل الحديث عن حلول للصراع بين الدولتين أن يعرف الناس لماذا فشلت في كل مرة المفاوضات”.

ما أخذ بالقوة لا يسترد بغير القوة

والنتيجة كانت لائحتين، واحدة سورية وأخرى إسرائيلية، من 20 عائقا تمنع قيام السلام بين الدولتين، ففي اللائحة الإسرائيلية اتهام لسوريا بدعم الإرهاب، ورد من سوريا يقول بأن الدول بوسعها أحيانا ترويض تطرف بعض المنظمات والحد من تشددها، كما تؤكد اللائحة السورية على المقولة العربية الشهيرة “أن ما أخذ بالقوة لا يسترد بغير القوة” وعلى حاجة الدولة العبرية لهذا الصراع كي تستمر في الحياة.

ويطمح الموقع حسب كميل اوطرقجي أن يكون “مرآة تعكس صفحتها بصدق مواقف الشعبين من قضية السلام”، مضيفا أن استخلاص العبر لا يحصل بين ليلة وضحاها. ومن المبكر التكهن بمستقبل “شرق أوسط واحد”، رغم أن صدور الموقع يعتبر نجاحا في حد ذاته.

وقد بدأت فصول هذه القصة في العام 2007، حين نشر اوطرقجي مقالة في صحيفة “هآرتس” الإسرائيلية في الذكرى الأربعين لاحتلال الجولان، ويتذكر جوشوا لاندس وهو من المدونين المشاركين في الموقع وصاحب مدونة “سيريا كومنت” أن مقالة اوطرقجي أثارت شهية المعلقين، الذين تابعوا نشر تعليقاتهم على صفحات مدونته بشكل مواظب. وفي سبتمبر / أيلول 2009 قرر البعض الذهاب بعيدا في هذا الموضوع، ما اضطر المشرفون على الموقع إلى غربلة التعليقات وتنظيمها وحذف التعليقات الكثيرة غير النافعة أو تلك التي تدعو إلى العنف حسب كميل اوطرقجي.

“كنت على قناعة بأننا سنفشل”

والتقت هذه المجموعة الصغيرة من البشر والتي ضمت جامعيين وصحافيين ومدونين في منتدى خاص تتطلب المشاركة فيه استعمال كلمة مرور، وأمضت المجموعة 8 أشهر من النقاشات “المفيدة” حسب اوطرقجي حتى توصلت إلى وضع اللائحتين ويضيف الرجل “كانت المرة الأولى التي يحصل فيها هذا النوع من التواصل بين الطرفين”.

ولكن نشر كل ذلك لم يكن بالمسألة الهينة، يقول المدون جوشوا لاندس “كنت على قناعة بأننا سنفشل” ويضيف بعض السوريين كانوا خائفين من عيون نظام دمشق، والعديد من الإسرائيليين كانوا يتخوفون من الظهور بمظهر “اليهودي السيئ” أمام مواطنيهم. وفي النهاية قررت المجموعة التكتم على أسماء المشاركين وأعلنت بأن “شرق أوسط واحد” يضم 10 من المهاجرين السوريين و10 إسرائيليين، وأن الناطقين باسمها هما كميل اوطرقجي و جوشوا لاندس.

ولم يخف هذا الصحافي السابق في “هآرتس” انزعاج البعض من الأطروحات المدرجة على الموقع خصوصا السلطات السورية التي حاولت أكثر من مرة إغلاقه وعطلت إمكانية دخوله من أراضيها.

ولكن ما الفائدة من موقع كهذا في ظرف يبدو فيه السلام حلم بعيد المنال؟ كميل اوطرقجي يأمل في التأثير على مواقف صناع القرار والرأي العام ويتابع “لو فلحنا في ذلك بوسعنا التحدث عن نجاح” ولكن زميله جوشوا لاندس أقل تفاؤلا “الظرف الحالي صعب للغاية، ولكنه ليس سببا للبقاء مكتوفي الأيدي”.

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May 20th, 2010, 5:40 pm

 

37. Husam said:

Congrats Alex, you inspire us all!

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May 21st, 2010, 12:51 am

 

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