Posted by Joshua on Monday, September 24th, 2007
Few seem to be enthusiastic about Rice's Peace Powwow. Washington plans to invite Syria (Ar) and in English to the Middle East conference. Th six countries invited are KSA, JR, EG, SY, LEB, and Qatar, as well as the Palestinian Authority – or Palestinian National Authority, as it calls itself.
The Reuters story and most of the others write that "Syria has said it was ready to take part in the conference which U.S. President George W. Bush called for in July to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking." It is hard to believe that Syria will be interested in participating in this venture today.
Not only has Israel just bombed it, but Washington is in no mood to promote Israeli-Syrian dialogue or the return of the Golan. The invitation seems to be a pro-forma one. America is holding its nose, inviting Syria, and hoping the reach-out will give the Saudis enough cover with their public to accept Washington's invitation.
The Palestinians are insisting that real progress has to be made and real issues addressed before they can agree to participate, but they are captives and will show up and smile whatever is on offer. The Saudis want to see beef as well and are temporizing. The Israelis however, are insisting that it is much too early to discuss substantial issues and the conference should be a getting-to-know-you affair. Syrian VP Sharra made it quite clear back in August that Syria would participate only if Washington presented a clear proposal and plan for the conference. That doesn't seem to be the case. I doubt Damascus will participate.
According to Alistair Lyon of Reuters,
Rice all but dismissed the idea [of Washington encouraging Syro-Israeli peace] when asked about Olmert's olive branch to Syria, saying it was up to the Israelis and Syrians to strike a deal if they could, but cautioning that such an effort was "no substitute" for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
"I think we haven't seen anything in Syrian behavior to this point that suggests Syria is doing anything but acting in a destabilizing way in the Middle East," she added.
Syria argues that Washington itself is a destabilizing force, citing its war in Iraq and its support for Israel.
"The last attack blocked the way to peace talks for the foreseeable future," said Alon Liel, a former director of the Israeli foreign ministry who has been involved in private efforts to promote renewed Syrian-Israeli talks.
"Not just because the Syrians are angry at Israel, but because the Americans have a very clear decision to leave Syria in an Iran-Hezbollah axis," Liel told Reuters in Jerusalem.
"As long as this is U.S. policy, Israel and Syria cannot sit down together. Israel cannot embarrass the Americans (by doing this) and Syria cannot get rid of Iran without an alternative."….
"We need Washington because it is the only power that can put pressure on Israel," said the [Syrian] official, who asked not to be named. "We also need witnesses, who could be European."
Only the United States can offer Syria the sweeping package deal it might need to make peace with Israel and loosen ties with Iran and militant Lebanese and Palestinian groups.
But the Bush administration, at odds with Syria over Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has sought to isolate Damascus diplomatically and punish it with sanctions.
It has paid little heed so far to arguments that drawing Syria and Israel into negotiations would influence regional dynamics and clinching a peace deal would transform them.
Damascus has long argued that it is futile to try to exclude it by focusing solely on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
"Peace in the region cannot come without Syria. Of course there should be a solution for the Palestinians, a Palestinian state, but everything should start with Syria, contrary to what has been done up to now," the Syrian official said.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying on Friday that talk of any peace deal with the Palestinians anytime soon was a "fantasy", in a challenge to U.S.-led efforts to revive negotiations.
In private conversations reported by Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Barak said he would not carry out plans by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remove roadblocks in the West Bank as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Syrian newspapers have accused the United states of being behind the assassinations in Lebanon.
Another Israeli argues that Assad is better than the opposition. The lesser evil: A weak Assad regime is better for us than the prospective alternatives
Guy Bechor, 09.23.07
Is Basher Assad, who has been starring in the headlines lately, an asset or a liability? What policy should Israel adopt vis-à-vis the Alawite regime in Syria? Would it serve Israel's purpose if Assad were toppled, strengthened, or weakened? …
Last week a "rescue" conference attended by the Syrian opposition, united in its hatred to Assad and his regime, convened in Berlin. Everyone
partook in the conference: Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who argued that Basher personally gave the oder to assassinate Rafik Hariri; the Syrian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which accused Basher and his father of the murder of thousands of civilians, repression and brutality; Kurdish movements, Sunnis, leftists, Christians, the representatives of other ethnic minorities and well-known exiles – the whole lot.
Just like the case of the Iraqi opposition a decade ago, hatred of the president is their only source of unification. In the Syrian case, however, there is another unifying factor: The hatred for Israel. If we thought that this opposition would be democratic, pro-western, and that it would perhaps reach some peace agreement with us, it seems we were mistaken. Hence, conference participants attacked Assad for not maintaining "Syrian honor" and for not embarking on a war against Israel. In other words, no salvation will be forthcoming from there.
There is a nice Arabic expression which says "calculate your losses before calculating your profits." The rules of the game in the region have shown us that we should opt for the lighter damage over the heavier damage. When comparing the two options, clearly the damage posed by the Assad family is less than the damage likely to be inflicted by the opposition.
Israel must act as though the next war is right around the corner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday at the state's official commemoration of soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur War.
Barak said that the lesson from the 1973 war is that "on security matters, we cannot be deceived by apparent and imagined calm. We need self-control, vigilance, and an experienced and stable hand at the helm."
The defense minister also said that "on matters pertaining to our national security, the strength of Israel must be alert and fit at all times. We must always cultivate and enhance the decisive and quality advantage of this strength, along with the warrior spirit and the tools of war."
DAMASCUS, Syria – To hear about the millions of refugees from Iraq is one thing. To see them, and speak to some of them, is quite another. All have tales of chaos and death.
It is a refugee crisis unlike any other in modern times.
There are no dramatic pictures of massive camps with UNHCR tents lined up row after row. No starving children waiting for food hand-outs.
That's because the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who have flooded into Syria have melted into Damascus's already crowded streets. They live wherever they can, whole families crammed into tiny, seedy apartments with only the most basic of provisions.
|VIDEO: Plight of Iraqi refugees|
According to the UNHCR, they are mostly middle class. Nothing has prepared them for the life as a refugee. Many have already used up their life savings.
While Syria has generously welcomed them, and gives them access to education for the children and subsidized health care, they do not have residency rights nor are they allowed to work.
Children bear the burden
The result? Many children are becoming the family breadwinners because they can slip more easily under the radar.
We met Youssef, 15, in a hole-in-the-wall grocery store in a Damascus laneway. He says he works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He's been doing that ever since his mother, brother and sister fled Baghdad in 2004. They left after Youssef's older brother was shot and killed. His father died seven years ago.
So Youssef is effectively head of the household. He's remarkably cheerful, with bright brown eyes and an eager smile. I asked him what his dream for the future is. He told me he wants to go to university and become a doctor. Still so much hope, even though odds are he's probably not going to finish high school, never mind make it to university.
A potentially destabilizing force
The longer these child refugees linger in limbo, stateless and poor, the more likely they'll grow up angry and undereducated. A generation of Iraqis who feel alienated and disillusioned is hardly what the Middle East or the world needs.
The Syrians can see the dangers looming. Dr. Bashar Shaar, Syria's minister for Red Crescent Affairs, told me not only are the refugees a massive strain on the country's infrastructure, their presence could destabilize not only Syria, but the whole Middle East in the future. It is, he said, a ticking time bomb.
Ensuring the children of Iraqi refugees are cared for and get back in school seems as vital to the stability of region as fighting insurgents in Iraq.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian, The wait for a leader, is a very useful overview of Lebanese Presidential politics with bios of the most important candidates.
Israel: Man wasn't spying in Lebanon By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press
Israel said on Sunday that an Israeli man who has been arrested in Lebanon is not a spy, and his father said he had converted to Islam several years ago and immersed himself in Arab culture.