Syria Dresses Up

Simon Tisdall gets the story and analysis right. This week has been confusing because a number of the US visitors to Damascus arrived with tough words that raised Syrian hackles and reminded us of rhetoric from the previous administration — i.e. Syria must end support for terrorism, Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran, etc. if it wants the US to change its attitude. Such language, we all know, is a non-starter. Hizbullah, Hamas and Iran are not considered terrorist by Syria. On the contrary they are seen as vital allies who fight for a just cause and help Syria make up for its terrible weakness in the face of Israeli military power and desire to hang on to the Golan Heights. Syria has demonstrated for decades now that it will not cut relations with allies that America designates as terrorists to win US engagement. Indeed, for it to do so would be tantamount to giving up the Golan Heights and raising its hands in defeat in the face of US and Israeli pressure. Syria can only afford to change its regional strategy once the Golan is safely returned. To abandon its regional assets before negotiations are joined would be simple stupidity.

At any rate, many in Syria were concerned that Obama’s people were singing that same tune as Bush’s people. Imad Moustapha and others are assuring us that this is not true and that there remains good reason to be patient and hopeful. Senator John Kerry said the same thing. So in the words of Tisdall, we need to indulge a bit of old style rhetoric as Obama’s people work behind the scenes to finesse the many land mines set by the Bush administration.

Courting Syria
Policy advisers in Washington increasingly see improved relations with Damascus as crucial to peace in the Middle East
Simon Tisdall, Monday 23 February

As they review Middle East policy options, Barack Obama’s advisers face two fixed certainties. One is that there is no magic wand, no easy, pain-free way forward. Second, it’s crucial to distinguish between what you want and what you can get. As Bill Clinton and others before him discovered, they are not usually the same thing.

That said, all else is fungible. Analysts who assume Obama will somehow let Arab-Israeli peacemaking define his presidency overseas are firing wide. All the indications are that his will be a “realist” foreign policy guided by pragmatism and self-interest, as shown by the hard-nosed message Hillary Clinton in China has just sent to the “free Tibet” movement.

If in four years’ time, military confrontation with Iran has been avoided, the Iraq withdrawal has been managed honourably and without internal collapse and some kind of half-credible peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbours is in train, Obama’s people will probably call it a good result. Anything more would be a bonus.

As usual in the Middle East, these objectives are linked. What has been less evident until now is the degree to which improved US relations with Syria could hold the key to all three. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, certainly seems to think so.

During a weekend visit to Damascus, Kerry spoke optimistically of Syria’s role in reconciling Hamas and Fatah and promoting a Palestinian unity government withwhich Israel might be obliged to negotiate. He also claimed Syria was ready to help more on Iraqi security and on Lebanon, where the opening next monthof a controversialinternationaltribunal investigating the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri will be followed by summer elections. Syria has been accused of complicity in Hariri’s killing.

“I believe this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the US and Syria but in the relationship of the region,” said Kerry, who consulted Clinton before setting out.

Pro-western Arab states are making smiley faces, too. According to Syrian media reports, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief brought a message from King Abdullahstressing “bilateral ties and the importance of consultation and co-ordination” to a recent meeting with Assad. Riyadh may also return its ambassador to Damascus. Egypt is meanwhile doggedly hosting Palestinian unity talks.

Interviewed by the Guardian last week, Assad also seemed in the mood to talk. He stressed American indispensability in Middle East peacemaking and encouraged Obama to redeem his offer of resumed dialogue. He said he wanted actions, not words.

Officially Obama maintains the standard US positions that Syria must “change its behaviour” – meaning curb its backing for Hamas and Hezbollah, end political meddling in Lebanon and more closely support US objectives in Iraq and Iran.

But behind the scenes, it’s becoming clearer to Washington’s policy reviewers that better relations with Syria would serve multiple American purposes and that, with a bit of imagination and flexibility, previous sticking points might be finessed.

The US, for example, would not in practice demand an all-out Syrian break with Iran – an unrealistic aim. Rather it would look for a unilateral ending of some of their more objectionable joint activities, such as arms supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon, pending a mooted US-Iranian dialogue and a possible change of government in Tehran.

Other parts of this nascent two-way bargain could includeSyrian help in securing a smooth transition in Iraq; and bridge-building between Hamas and Fatah prior to the resumption of talks on a two-state solution. One theoretical offer in return is an easing of sanctions, a perhaps less judgmental view of the Hariricase, security guarantees and eventualdiplomatic and economic normalisation – increasingly important given Syria’s financial straits.

Most intriguing of all is the possibility that Team Obama, less than enamoured with a new rightwing Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu, could use improving US ties with Damascus as leverage to encourage moderate thoughts in Tel Aviv.

More than anything, Assad wants the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Netanyahu insists he cannot have it – but Obama, like some leading Israeli centrists, may feel less strongly. If, as seems likely, he obstructs the Palestinian track, the Likud leader may have to give ground elsewhere, literally.

Politically speaking, Obama cannot and will not turn his back on Israel. But he may be prepared to squeeze, more so than his predecessors, primarily in pragmatic pursuit of key US regional interests. If Assad is smart, and that’s another imponderable, he’ll seize the moment.

Bringing Syria In: The ECONOMIST

“…However, Mr Assad has delayed the appointment of an ambassador to Beirut, prompting speculation that he is looking for some form of diplomatic reward for taking this step—such as an assurance that the US president, Barack Obama, will appoint a US ambassador to Damascus…Mr Obama is likely to send an ambassador to Damascus in due course. He can also be expected to approve including Syria on the itinerary of US officials visiting the region. These would be likely to include, in the first instance, the assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, a post for which an appointment has yet to be announced (one of the names said to be in the hat is Jeffrey Feltman,… bête noire to Syria’s Lebanese allies). Mr Assad has also expressed interest in receiving David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, which suggests that he might be ready to offer some co-operation to the US in ensuring an orderly exit of its troops from Iraq….

The timing of an American ambassadorial appointment will be critical. Mr Obama could offer this move as an early gesture of goodwill. He could alternatively hold it back as means to maintain pressure on Syria in a number of sensitive areas. One of these is the Lebanese general election, which is scheduled to take place on June 7th. The election could see a shift in the balance of power towards Syria’s allies, led by Hizbullah, a Shia political and military group that the US wishes to be disarmed. If such a shift should occur as a result of what the US perceives to be Syrian interference, relations between Washington and Damascus could revert to their former coolness….

The US administration will also be looking at several other benchmarks of what it might describe as Syrian good behaviour. These include the negotiations about a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip; the US expects Syria to use its influence on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to secure a favourable outcome….”

Sami Moubayedsets out steps that both the US and Syria can take to improve relations in his article:
Syria confident of US detente By Sami Moubayed

Recommended steps would be:
Start a gradual three stage program to lift the Syrian Accountability Act. The Syrians realize that this cannot be done overnight, since once sanctions become embedded into American law, it becomes very difficult to lift them. The sanctions come in the form of a menu, where sanctions are “selected” by the US president. Bush approved some, and left others hanging. Step one would be to start a “de-ticking” process, where the approved sanctions are lifted, one-at-a-time, to show the Syrians good faith. Eventually, the Accountability Act will still be there, but it will be a crippled law found only on paper.Remove Syria from the State Department list of states that sponsor terrorism. Theoretically this would be easier since it doesn’t need Congress, but rather a decision from the secretary of state in coordination with the White House. Syria can condition that its name be removed before entering into the peace talks again, or wait until a peace treaty is signed then automatically its name will be crossed off.

Send an ambassador to Syria to fill a post that has been vacant since 2005. Unlike what most people believe, this cannot be done by Obama or Clinton alone; it needs the Senate which has to date not named a potential ambassador, nor has it suggested any potential candidates.

Help Syria deal with the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria’s territory, and publically acknowledge Syria’s cooperation with refugees and the security situation in Iraq, mainly border security. Under Bush, the US fully grasped Syria’s cooperation but refused to acknowledge it in public. That needs to come to an end.

Support Syria’s application to the World Trade Organization. It has already lifted the veto it once had on Europe signing the Association Agreement withDamascus. That agreement, frozen in 2005, was initialed by both sides last December and is expected to see final ratification in the first half of 2009, according to Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah Dardari.

Initiate an international peace conference, chaired by Obama, to bring all parties to the negotiating table with Israel in something that resembles Madrid II. Syria would condition, just as it did at Annapolis, that the Golan Heights be given top priority. Syria needs the US to broker a deal, but has stressed that it will not be accepting economic aid from the US, like Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. Strings come attached with such aid, the Syrians have always said, and the only requirement would be for the US to lift any kind of restrictions on Syria to enable investment, since the Syrian market is ripe and remains virgin. Syria can support itself, through commercial investment, banking, tourism and technology, and does not need American money.

As for Syria, it can:
Reopen the American Culture Center and the American school that were shut down after a US air raid on a Syrian town on the Syrian-Iraqi border last October.

Use its considerable influence with Hamas to bring an end to the fissure in the Palestinian Territories between the Islamic group and the West-backed Fateh party of President Mahmud Abbas. It has already done a good job at channeling messages back and forth between Hamas and the Europeans.

Take part in talks with Iran over its nuclear issue after the upcoming Iranian presidential elections next summer.

Continue to support the political process in Iraq, through Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki who has managed in recent months to restore a certain degree of normalcy to Iraq. This would require Syria to invest in its strong relations withheavyweight Sunnis, tribal leaders and former Ba’athists. Results were clear in the provincial elections, when Sunnis took part, even in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, unlike the elections of 2005, when they collectively boycotted.

Syrians want to be seen as problem-solvers rather than problem-seekers. They want to show the world – mainly the US – that just as they can deliver on Palestine, they can deliver in Iraq and Lebanon. Syria has said these words in every possible language, and it will continue to show the West that it can deliver in the Middle East. For years the Syrians have been saying that reforms cannot be made unless there are no regional and international threats threatening Damascus.

When regime-change was on the table in Washington back in 2005, reforms were slowed down on more than one level, politics included. The Syrians always said that reforms cannot be made only because they are a requirement of Europe or the US; they cannot be parachuted on the Syrians. If Syria feels comfortable, as it does now, then the reform process might be given a facelift.

Last week, speaking at the Arab Writers Union Congress in Damascus, Haitham Satayhi, member of the Regional Command of the ruling Ba’ath Party, announced that there were instructions to improve relations between the security services and Syrian citizens. There was a determination to combat corruption and “achieve more democracy in the political domain”.

Satayhiadded that a special committee has been set up to study and prepare a political party law in Syria to allow for more political pluralism, as promised by the Ba’athParty Congress of 2005. If anything, this shows that Syria feels very confident, and is not worried, as many in the Western press had speculated, about the internationaltribunal that will begin on March 1 for the murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafiq al-Harriri. …

The Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27 percent increase over January 2008 price

Drought blamed for food scarcity
Photo: Abigail Fielding-Smith/IRIN

The Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27 percent increase over January 2008 prices
DAMASCUS, 22 February 2009 (IRIN) – Two years of drought has left many farmers and herders without an income and has severely limited cereal production in Syria, pushing up local food prices and putting pressure on basic food supplies, according to UN and Syrian government officials.

In 2008, Syria had to import wheat for the first time after a shortage caused by a second year of drought, which the Syrian government says has affected about a million people so far. Emergency wheat stocks have been depleted though adequate supplies remain.

“There is still enough food in Syria to go round,” Abdullah Mawazini, Public Information Officer for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Syria, said. “But we are worried about the provision of basic materials. It is a dangerous indicator for Syria that last year we had to import wheat.”

Syria usually keeps three years’ worth of wheat stocks, Mawazini said, but in 2008 it agreed to sell supplies to countries struggling with a lack of food, including Egypt and Tunisia.
”There is still enough food in Syria to go round. But we are worried about the provision of basic materials. It is a dangerous indicator for Syria that last year we had to import wheat.”

Syria is usually self-sufficient in providing food for its 21.6 million population. UN agencies warn that the country could become more food insecure if rainfall over the next two months remains as low as it has been at the start of 2009.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that wheat production in non-irrigated areas of Syria dropped by 82 percent compared with the previous season, while the barley harvest in non-irrigated areas failed entirely. Overall wheat and barley yields dropped by 47 and 67 percent respectively compared to the previous year, said the FAO.

Because of a high level of subsistence farming in Syria, many families have lost not just their income, but their means of feeding themselves. “Many farmers’ crops failed entirely,” Abdulla Tahir Bin Yehia, FAO representative in Syria, said. “It hits them very hard. No crop means no income. And on top of that they need to buy food and seeds which are at higher prices because of the crop failure.”

Knock-on effects

The knock-on effects of reduced food production include a rise in food prices, malnutrition, migration from the countryside, an increased school dropout rate and added pressure on the job market as farmers seek other employment.

“The reduced availability of wheat and barley has contributed to increases in the prices of food items in the Syrian market,” Mawazinisaid. The Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27 percent increase over January 2008 prices. This, a joint UN report said, has outstripped household incomes and the purchasing power of the general population, especially in the drought-affected areas.
Failed crops have led to a higher school dropout rate and greater migration from the country to urban areas

Herders have also been affected. With reduced pasture, there is less space for their animals to graze. The cost of animal feed has soared. Some 59,000 small herders (those with less than 100 animals) lost almost all their livestock. This has led to drastic measures.

“Herders and farmers have sold off their assets: land, animals, houses, furniture, jewellery – all for low prices,” Bin Yehia said. “The poorest are affected most. These include many women-headed households.”

Many of those affected have migrated to urban areas, causing rural school dropout rates to rise. According to the UN, migration rates from rural to urban areas have increased by 20 to 30 percent year-on-year from 2007 to 2008.

Drought appeal

A drought appeal was launched by UN agencies in Syria in September 2008. A US$1.8 million emergency operation by the FAO identified 9,630 farmers to receive 300kg of wheat seeds or 150kg of barley seeds – enough for each farmer to plant a two-hectare crop. These were distributed in December and January.

It also helped stall migration. “Many farmers came back to the villages when they heard they were eligible for seeds,” Bin Yehia of FAO said. “It is imperative to future food security that they do not give up farming.”

The joint FAO-WFP response continues until May 2009. But if rainfall continues to be low, a new appeal will be launched.

US Senator: plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria dire

VIENNA – A U.S. senator says the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria is desperate.

Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland says he met some of the refugees this week on a visit to Syria and saw what they’re going through. He says he’s urging the U.S. and the international community to do more to alleviate what he calls a humanitarian crisis.

Syria has taken in the largest number of refugees fleeing Iraq and has long demanded greater international support to handle the strain on its housing, health care and educational system. Syria estimates there are 1.1 million refugees in the country.

Imad Moustapha in the following article in Arabic explains that his invitation to talk at the State Department this week is a courteousinvitation and not a summons. He will be discussing various topics of mutualinterest to both countries and not being dressed down for failure to comply with the UN non-proliferation treaty.

عماد مصطفى: لا صحة لما تناقلته الفضائيات.. و مصدر امريكي يؤكد : دعوة السفير مصطفى هدفها التباحث في قضايا تهم دمشق وواشنطن أكد السفير الدكتور عماد مصطفى أنه لا صحة لما سوقته الفضائيات بشأن استدعاء وزارة الخارجية الأميركية له بشأن ما سمته المخاوف الأميركية من عدة قضايا بينها معلومات وكالة الطاقة الذرية و قال :” الصحيح هو أنه تمت دعوتي إلى وزارة الخارجية الأميركية للانخراط في نقاش حول جميع الأمور المتعلقة بالعلاقات السورية ـ الأميركي و أكد صدر أمريكي أن ما تناقلته وسائل الإعلام عن استدعاء السفير مصطفى إلى الخارجية الأمريكية غير صحيح. وأوضح المصدر الأمريكي أن ما تلقاه السفير السوري في واشنطن من الخارجية الأمريكية ليس استدعاء بل دعوة للقاء من أجل التباحث في قضايا تهم البلدين.

وحسب المصدر ذاته فأن كلمة استدعاء تحمل معنى احتجاجياً، في حين أن اللقاء سيكون لاستعادة الحوار بين سورية وأمريكا عبر القنوات الدبلوماسية المعتمدة

Katyusha Attack: Iranian Reaction or Message to Syria!

A weekend rocket attack on Israel from southern Lebanon was seen as an Iranian reaction to remarks by hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu who has named Tehran as Israel’s main threat.
The daily An Nahar on Sunday quoted high-ranking officials up-to-date with Saturday’s incident as saying that evidence show that the motive behind the rocket attack that injured three Israeli people was “an Iranian response to Netanyahu’s remarks.”

Netanyahu’s statement on Friday came after accepting the task of forming a new government in the wake of the tight elections.

“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’s official residence.

“The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” he said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hizbullah and Hamas.

The sources told An Nahar that the rocket attack could also possibly be a “message” to Damascus, which at the time of the assault was receiving U.S Senator John Kerry as the new U.S administration reviews its policies towards such states in the Middle East.

Syria willing to help on Palestinian unity says Kerry
Sat Feb 21, 2009, By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria has indicated it is willing to help bring about a Palestinian unity government that could restart peace talks with Israel, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Saturday.

Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions, hosts the exiled leadership of Hamas and has influence on the Palestinian group which controls Gaza.

“Syria could be, in fact, very helpful in helping to bring about a unity government,” Senator John Kerry told reporters after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.

“If you achieve that, then you have made a major step forward not only in dealing with the problems of Gaza but you have made a major step forward in terms of how you reignite discussions for the two-state solution … I think that Syria indicated to me a willingness to be helpful in that respect.”

Syria takes cautious path on stocks
From Institute for War and Peace Reporting

The Syrian authorities are hoping that the country’s first stock exchange will boost the emerging private sector, although it could hardly have started up under more adverse market conditions.

…The official inauguration is scheduled for March 9. The trial also gave the Egyptian-trained brokers and other staff an induction period, including opportunities to practice dealing with emergencies such as systems breakdowns.

As Syria attempts to shift from a centralized socialist system to a “social market economy”, the authorities have introduced legal and regulatory reforms to get the financial sector into better shape. Private banking was legalized in 2001, and more recently private ownership rights were increased. The stock exchange is the latest step in this process, and there are hopes it will stimulate investment in the private sector.

The way was paved for the DSE by a presidential decree issued in 2006, but it has been delayed repeatedly because of problems in acquiring the right technology. A report by Oxford Business group published last year said a United States economic embargo had hampered Syria’s attempts to purchase electronic-trading systems.

The DSE, which is operating under the aegis of the government, will trade only on Mondays and Thursdays, and will be subject to restrictions designed to restrict speculative trading and abrupt changes in share prices. “The Damascus stock exchange will not be open to gambling or risk-taking,” said DSE board chairman Ratib al-Shalah in remarks quoted by the SANA news agency. “Shares can only be traded by those who want to invest money, not for speculation.”

DSE deputy chairman Saqr Aslan has made it clear that the value of shares in any company listed on the exchange will not be allowed to rise by more than 2% in the course of a day’s trading. Nor can shares be bought and resold on the same day.

The pilot phase involves just five companies, most of them local banks withforeign capital. The DSE says that about 30 companies, half of them in the banking and insurance sectors, are at present eligible to take part once the exchange is fully up and running. For a company to qualify, it has to be at least one year old, have a minimum capital of 100 million Syrian liras and at least 100 shareholders.

The DSE’s Aslan told the Syria News website that he expected 15 companies to be listed, with totalcapital of some 28 billion liras.

Comments (62)

EHSANI2 said:

“The DSE will be subject to restrictions designed to restrict speculative trading and abrupt changes in share prices. “The Damascus stock exchange will not be open to gambling or risk-taking,” said DSE board chairman Ratib al-Shalah in remarks quoted by the SANA news agency. “Shares can only be traded by those who want to invest money, not for speculation.”

DSE deputy chairman Saqr Aslan has made it clear that the value of shares in any company listed on the exchange will not be allowed to rise by more than 2% in the course of a day’s trading. Nor can shares be bought and resold on the same day.”

The above statements are regrettable.

Stocks represent an asset class that is of very long duration. The price of a stock is supposed to represent the present value of a long future stream of dividends. By their very nature they are volatile and anything but stable. Restricting their move to 2% a day for each company listed is silly. Restricting those that buy them from selling them on the same day is even sillier. Regulating a securities exchange is one thing. Imposing draconian restrictions of the above type is not a credible strategy regardless of the current turmoil in global markets.

February 24th, 2009, 12:59 am


norman said:


Do you that they are trying to build confidence in the Syrian stock market then changing the rules when the economy improves and the investors feel comfortable and demand the change.

February 24th, 2009, 1:52 am


AIG said:

The Tisdall analysis shows very limited understanding of coalition governments in general and the Israeli one in particular. Only someone who does not understand how the Israeli political system works could write such things. You cannot “squeeze” a coalition government which if one party leaves, the most likely course is new elections. Since there are several parties right of Likud in the coalition, squeezing Bibi means toppling the coalition and his government. Even if Bibi is convinced, there remain much more right wing parties to convince such as Lieberman’s and the settlers party. There is zero chance of that happening. The coalition government’s weakness is sometimes its strength. You cannot “squeeze” it without breaking it.

Furthermore, the Syrian Accountability Act cannot be “finessed”. It has to be repealed by Congress. Good luck with that. Obama will pick his fights and unless Syria provides some huge benefit to the US, this is a fight Obama will not attempt. And let’s not forget the Hariri tribunal and the nuclear issue.

Of course, Tisdall is very vague about the benefits of talking to Syria except for isolating Iran. That is because there is no other benefit than that. There is only one chance of progress. That will happen if Asad decides that achieving economic goals is more important than getting the Golan. This is unlikely for mainly reasons but predominantly because it will put the regime in jeopardy.

February 24th, 2009, 1:58 am


Alia said:

Lat Evening, the French TV Chanel France 2 had a very nice reportage about Aleppo’s historical culture and religious diversity. Klick on Islam to watch the video

February 24th, 2009, 3:09 am


majedkhaldoun said:

I am sure the rules will change within six months,in DSE.
the increase in the price of bread is serious, Bread hummus fool,and yogurt,are essential in Syria,meat,oil and rice prices are already high, as imports increase,the value of LIRA will decrease,the prices will increase further,immigration will increase,just like Lebanon.
I doubt that USA will send ambassador to Syria in the next 2-3 months.

February 24th, 2009, 3:41 am


Joe M. said:

while I agree that these policies will likely change, I disagree with your assessment that these policies are regrettable. Your analysis takes for granted the highly dubious view that stock prices represent the “value” of a company. As we have seen in the global economic system these days, there is often very little relationship between price and value. Thus, it seems the Syrians are trying to protect against a wide spread between the “value” of a company and its stock price. You are quite the market fundamentalist, if even in these economic times you still apply the logic that got the world into this mess.

And additionally, these measures are an effort to make it a market for investing capital into companies, rather than the American model of commodifying speculation and other bubble creating behaviors, that distance the price from the value.

February 24th, 2009, 5:39 am


MAJID said:

I have always maintained that there will be little difference between Bush and Obama when it comes to foreign policy with regards to Syria. Events are proving that this is the case. As time goes by the Obama administartion will discover that talking to Syria , particularly under the current regime, is useless and a complete waste of time. There is very little that Syria can do in actual fact to advance US interests in the Middle East. Of course, Syaria likes to believe that it is indispensable and continues to posture such image – falsely of course. But history has shown Syria is becoming more and more irrelevant.

Syria must be held accountable for all its past misbehaviours in the region. In fact, there is urgent need to strengthen the Syria Acountability Act, especially now that the International Tribunal is becoming a reality. This tribunal is an ideal vehicle to relay the message to the regimes in the region as well as to the Middle Eastern people that the rule of law will be upheld and enforced by free nations and there will be no refuge to those who attempt to thwart it. If Democracy is to be advanced in the region, the tribunal would be the vehicle to do so. I made the prediction sometime ago, that come next summer, the current Syrian regime will be history. I stand by this prediction.

February 24th, 2009, 5:53 am


ugarit said:

What the DSE is doing is the right thing. No country should have unregulated capitalism. It’s dangerous. Let’s not forget what’s happening with the world’s economies.

February 24th, 2009, 11:55 am


ghassan said:

I wish that I can agree with Majid’s prediction! The Syrian regime will be history when the Syrian people are ready to topple its government! I doubt that any outside pressue whatever it is huge will get rid of the mafia regime. Keep in mind that Israel and even the US prefer the current regime than a regime they don’t know!

The International Tribunal is a fact and it is a matter of weeks if not days when the names of everyone involved in the crimes in Lebanon will be announced! Believe me (this is my prediction) the Syrian regime will give them up with a smile on their face!!!

February 24th, 2009, 12:05 pm


Nour said:


It appears that those who wish for the “rule of law” to be applied only wish it to be applied on Syria. The international tribunal was only a means used to increase pressure on Syria (not to truly apply the “rule of law”) and it failed miserably. But if you really want to see the rule of law applied, why don’t you demand an international tribunal against “Israeli” war crimes, or demand that Saudi Arabia be held accountable for its eggregious violations of human rights, or call on Egypt to stop its rampant arrests and torture of dissidents? Unless the only “rule of law” that applies is to be allied with the US.

In any case, your prediction that the Syrian regime will be toppled by next summer is quite laughable to say the least. According to most estimates, the regime was supposed to have been history by the end of 2005.

February 24th, 2009, 1:13 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Majid said:

Of course, Syaria likes to believe that it is indispensable and continues to posture such image – falsely of course. But history has shown Syria is becoming more and more irrelevant.


This is why I’m predicting either a “flare-up” on the Lebanese-Israel border or an increase in international terrorism, or both.

This is how ME foreign policy is conducted.

February 24th, 2009, 1:25 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Syria’s stock market launch is likely to suffer from illiquidity. Imposing restrictions such as those above will make liquidity even worse. Mr. Al-Shalah does not want the DSE to be open to gambling or risk-taking and he wants the exchange to be for investors and not speculators. Is buying and selling on the same day speculation while waiting an extra day is investing? This makes no sense. Suppose a company announces negative earnings and “investors” conclude that the company’s stock price should be 10 % lower. The daily limit of 2% means that this investor will have to wait 5 days before he unloads his investment. Would you want to invest in a securities market that restricts you from cutting your position when your analysis tells you so? Such rules will do nothing but add to illiquidity. This is not likely to build confidence in the market as some have suggested. Moreover, what is the guarantee that Mr. Al-Shalah will not change the goal posts by changing the one day limit on buying and selling to one week if a particular stock suffers from a sharp drop?

Syrian officials ought to educate the public that a securities exchange is by its very nature a speculative and risky enterprise. It must regulate it. It must ensure that the public trusts its governance rules. It must then believe in the free signals of markets. If the officials are as mistrustful in the market as they seem to be, why launch a securities market in the first place?

February 24th, 2009, 1:27 pm


SimoHurtta said:

The daily limit of 2% means that this investor will have to wait 5 days before he unloads his investment.

Hmmmm Eshani2 doesn’t it mean with your 10 percent drop example that on the first day the investor has the change to get 8 percent more (if somebody is enough crazy or misinformed to buy) than on normal markets. Then he waits four days and buys back the shares. He lost only 2 percent of value when on normal markets he would had lost near 10 percent. Also in a case of 10 percent price rice opportunity, if there is also the 2 % rule in that direction, the well-informed investors would be even more happier. I would say that 2 percent rule is a very “investor friendly” rule. 🙂

Well isn’t Syria’s stock market on a test phase and all mechanisms to prevent insider trading and price manipulation are still missing, so I would be not so fast to condemn the “limited” start. The rules will certainly chance when all the control systems are ready.

February 24th, 2009, 2:25 pm


EHSANI2 said:


What if the price ends up dropping 20% rather 10%?

The temptation to bring central planning to what is supposed to be a market-driven securities exchange is hard to stop. If the offcials are this worried and mistrusful of the idea, why start it?

February 24th, 2009, 2:46 pm


Alex said:

Al-Farah Choir will be performing at the Kennedy Center tonight at 6:00


Based in the Lady of Damascus Church in Syria, more than 100 children of the choir perform Byzantine, Muslim, and Arab songs.

You can watch it live at 6:00 here:

February 24th, 2009, 4:51 pm


Alia said:


You are surprisingly vague in your protests, they seem more directed by wishful thinking than any knowledge (surprise!)

1. There are no great mysteries in the Israeli coalitions. Uri Avnery has a good piece on the different scenarios that can be expected- I would say he is well-placed to understand Israeli coalitions.

Coalition Theory

“ACTA ALEA EST” – the die is cast – said Julius Caesar and crossed the River Rubicon on his way to conquer Rome. That was the end of Roman democracy.

We don’t have a Julius Caesar. But we do have an Avigdor Liberman. When he announced his support the other day for the setting up of a government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, that was the crossing of his Rubicon.

I hope that this is not the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy.

* * *

UNTIL THE last moment, Liberman held the Israeli public in suspense. Will he join Netanyahu? Will he join Tzipi Livni?

Those who participated in the guessing game were divided in their view of Liberman.

Some of them said: Liberman is indeed what he pretends to be: an extreme nationalist racist. His aim is really to turn Israel into a Jewish state cleansed of Arabs – Araberrein, in German. He has only contempt for democracy, both in the country and in his own party, which consists of yesmen and yeswomen devoid of any identity of their own. Like similar parties in the past, it is based on a cult of (his) personality, the worship of brute force, contempt for democracy and disdain for the judicial system. In other countries this is called fascism.

Others say: that is all a façade. Liberman is no Israeli Fuehrer, because he is nothing but a cheat and a cynic. The police investigations against him and his business dealings with Palestinians show him to be a corrupt opportunist. He is also a friend of Tzipi. He cultivates a fascist image in order to pave his way to power. He will sell all his slogans for a piece of government.

The first Liberman would support the setting up of an extreme Right government by Netanyahu. The second Liberman could support a Livni government. For a whole week he juggled the balls. Now he has decided: he is indeed an extreme nationalist racist. As the Americans say: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

For appearances’ sake he told the President that his proposal to entrust Netanyahu with the setting up of a government applies only to a broad-based coalition encompassing Likud, Kadima and his own party. But that is just a gimmick: probably such a government will not come into being, and the next government will be a coalition of Likud, Liberman, the disciples of Meir Kahane and the religious parties.

* * *

SOME ON the Left say: Excellent. The voters will get exactly what they deserve. At long last, there will be an exclusively rightist government.

One of the proponents of this attitude is Gideon Levy, a consistent advocate of peace, democracy and civil equality.

He and those who think like him say: Israel simply has to pass through this phase before it can recover. The Right must get unlimited power to realize its program, without the pretext of being hindered by leftist or centrist members of the coalition. Let them try, in full view of the world, to pursue a policy of war, the overthrow of Hamas in Gaza, the avoidance of any peace negotiations, unfettered settlement, spitting in the face of world public opinion and collision with the United States.

In this view, such a government cannot last for long. The new American administration of Barack Obama will not allow it. The world will boycott it. American Jewry will be shocked. And if Netanyahu strays – even slightly – from the Right and narrow path, his government will fall apart. The Kahanists, up to then his full partners, will divorce him on the spot. After all, the last Netanyahu government was overthrown ten years ago by the extreme right after he sat down with Yasser Arafat and signed an agreement that gave (pro forma) a part of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority.

After the fall of the government, according to this prognosis, the public will understand that there is no rightist option, that the slogans of the Right are nothing but nonsense. Only thus will they arrive at the conclusion that there is no alternative to the path of peace. The voters will elect a government that will end the occupation, clear the way for a free Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and withdraw to the Green Line borders (with slight, mutually acceptable, adjustments).

For the public to accept this, a shock is needed. The fall of the deep-Right government can supply such a shock. According to a saying attributed (mistakenly, it appears) to Lenin: The worse, the better. Or, put in another way: it must become much worse before it can get any better.

* * *

THIS IS a seductive theory. But it is also very frightening.

How can we be sure that the Obama administration will indeed put irresistible pressure on Netanyahu? That is possible. Let’s hope that it happens. But it is not certain at all.

Obama has not yet passed a real test on any issue. It is already clear that there is a marked difference between what he promised in the election campaign and what he is doing in practice. In several matters he is continuing the policies of George Bush with slight alterations. That was, of course, to be expected. But Obama has not yet shown how he would act under real pressure. When Netanyahu mobilizes the full might of the pro-Israel lobby, will Obama surrender, like all preceding presidents?

And world public opinion – how united will it be? How much pressure can it exert? When Netanyahu declares that all criticism of his government is “anti-Semitic” and that every boycott call is an echo of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden” (“Don’t buy from Jews”) – how many of the critics will stand up to the pressure? How much courage will Merkel, Sarkozy, Berlusconi et al be able to muster? And on the other side: will a world-wide boycott not intensify the paranoia in Israel and push all the Israeli public into the arms of the extreme Right, under the time-worn slogan ”All the World is against us?”

* * *

IN THE best of circumstances, if all the pressures materialize and have a maximum impact – how long will it take? What disasters can such a government bring about before the pressure starts to take effect? How many human beings will be killed and injured in attacks and acts of revenge by both sides? Such a government would be dominated by the settlers. How many new settlements will spring up? How many existing settlements will be extended at a hectic pace? And in the meantime, won’t the settlers intensify their harassment of the Palestinian population with the aim of bringing about ethnic cleansing?

The components of the Rightist coalition have already declared that they do not agree to a cease-fire in Gaza because it would consolidate the rule of Hamas there. They seek to renew the Gaza War under an even more brutal leadership, to re-conquer the Strip and to return the settlers there.

Netanyahu’s talk about an “economic peace” is complete nonsense, because no economy can develop under an occupation regime and hundreds of roadblocks. Any peace process – real or virtual – will grind to a halt. The result: the Palestinian authority will collapse. Out of desperation, the West Bank population will turn further towards Hamas, or the Fatah movement will become Hamas 2.

Inside Israel, the government will have to confront the deepening depression and perhaps cause economic chaos. All the sections of the government are united in their hatred of the Supreme Court, and the crazy manipulations of Justice Minister Daniel Friedman will give way to even crazier ones. Under the catchy slogan of “regime change”, targeted assaults against the democratic system will take place.

All these things are possible. One or two years of a Bibi-Liberman-Kahane government can cause irreparable damage to Israel’s standing in the world, Israeli-American relations, the judicial system, Israeli democracy, national morale and national sanity.

* * *

THE POSITIVE side of this situation is that the Knesset will once again include a large opposition. Perhaps even an effective opposition.

Kadima came into being as a government party. It will not be easy for it to adapt to the role of opposition. That will require an emotional and intellectual transformation. For ten years I myself conducted an uncompromising oppositional struggle in the Knesset, and I know how difficult it is. But if Kadima manages to undergo such a transformation successfully – which is very doubtful – it may become an effective opposition. The necessity to present a clear alternative to the rightist government may lead it to discover unsuspected strengths within itself. Tzipi Livni’s games with the Palestinians may turn into a serious program for a Two-State solution, a program that will be strengthened and deepened by the daily parliamentary struggle vis-à-vis a government with an opposite program.

Labor, too, will have to undergo a profound transformation. Ehud Barak is certainly not the person to wage an oppositional fight – especially as he will not be the “head of the opposition”, a title officially conferred by law on the leader of the largest opposition faction. He will be second fiddle even in opposition. Labor will have to compete, and perhaps-perhaps this will lead to its recovery. The Bible tells us of the miracle of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37).

That is true even more for Meretz. It will have to compete with both Kadima and Labor to justify its place in the struggle for peace and social recovery.

A real optimist can even hope for the narrowing of the gap between the “Jewish Left” and the “Arab parties”, which the Left has until now boycotted and left out of all coalition calculations. The common struggle and the joint votes in the Knesset may bring about a positive development there too.

And beyond the parliamentary arena, the government of the extreme Right may change the atmosphere in the country and stimulate many well-intentioned people to leave the security of their ivory towers and start a process of intellectual rejuvenation in the circles from which a new, open and different Left must spring.

* * *

ALL THESE are theoretical possibilities. What will happen in reality? What will be the consequences of a “pure” rightist regime, if Tzipi Livni maintains her determination not to join a Netanyahu government? Will Israel set off down a suicidal road from which there is no return, or will this be a passing phase before the wake-up call?

It is a great gamble, and like every gamble, it arouses both fear and hope.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
2. On the issue of the Syria accountability act- there is a lot more going behind the scenes than we know.

Has anyone in Congress so far protested the Syrian shuttle diplomacy ?
The Hariri tribunal ? as sad as this may be, I tend to think that it will come back with inconclusive results. The Syrian regime has already been exonerated we all can see that…
The Nuclear issue is Israel’s pretext to fuel the paranoia of its people and retain the sympathy of its supporters. Even if there were more developments!!! along this line no one is going to do anything about them unless the Israeli led by their right coalition sign finally their death sentence as Avnery shows. Israel has lost its chance of a strike against Iran with the departure of the Cheney gang.

I cannot wait to hear the protests gathering about the Israeli nuclear arsenal in the next few years.
3.What you cannot see in the role of Syria in the region, luckily the U.S. goverment is seeing. The Turkey, Iran, Syria coalition is here to stay and the U.S. will deal with the 3 countries together. A tightening around Israel could hurt by fueling paranoia or help its people come to their senses.

February 24th, 2009, 5:31 pm


SimoHurtta said:

What if the price ends up dropping 20% rather 10%?

The temptation to bring central planning to what is supposed to be a market-driven securities exchange is hard to stop. If the offcials are this worried and mistrusful of the idea, why start it?

Well if the price ends up dropping 20% then you sell your shares on the next day and wait for 10 working days before buying back the shares and your loss is only the 2%. Every investor in the west would now in the present environment love such a rule. 😀

As said Eshani2 do you think that the present “training” system is the final system? It is clear when the marketplace develops such tight barriers will have to go. Also it is clear that new marketplaces on developing markets have to have more tighter rules than the biggest exchanges have. One big player can manipulate the markets to easily.

Without doubt the events in the US and western financing sector during the past years that some serious moral “central planing” is desperately needed. The notion that markets can regulate themselves has been shown incredible laughable. Greedy bankers and big investors should not be allowed to set the rules, it is the job of the legislative and administrative sector.

Surely Syria should learn what happened in Nordic countries in the turn of 90’s and what is now happening in USA, EU and other countries and build such a system that avoids the well known mistakes.

February 24th, 2009, 8:12 pm


Amos said:

Why is no one here talking about Syria’s problems with food and water supply that are the subject of the penultimate article in Josh’s post?

February 24th, 2009, 8:14 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Surely, you are not implying that these two measures somehow amount to superior regulation. The recent global economic problems did not come about from free markets. Lax lending and complete disregard for basic risk assessment has been at the heart of the problem. Investors buying instruments that they don’t fully understand did not help either. Indeed, the way the free stock markets have been able to work and operate in the midst of this turmoil has been remarkable. Liquidity has been key. Blaming free markets and capitalism for the crisis is clearly a tempting exercise. It is however, inaccurate.

February 24th, 2009, 8:51 pm


Akbar Palace said:

His aim is really to turn Israel into a Jewish state cleansed of Arabs – Araberrein, in German.

When a Jewish member of Knesset asks for a pledge of national loyalty, he’s a Nazi.

When a Palestinian leader (Arafat, Abbas, Hamas) requires all Jews to leave Palestine, he’s still a Palestinian. Even in the eyes of Jewish liberals like Avnery.

Israel isn’t Arabrein, but Palestine is Judenrein. No matter what Avnery says.

February 24th, 2009, 9:07 pm


Joe M. said:

“Blaming free markets and capitalism for the crisis is clearly a tempting exercise. It is however, inaccurate.”

This is an incorrect statement. “free” markets are the source of the current economic crisis. And your analysis that “Lax lending and complete disregard for basic risk assessment” are the cause of the economic crisis is a very shallow analysis. Because, the economic system created incentives for that “Lax lending and complete disregard for basic risk assessment”, which is what the Syrians are trying to avoid. They clearly want their stock market to be a direct market for investment in companies, and not a speculative market that incentivizes the creation of markets for indirect risk alleviation.

Also EHSANI2, I think your whole notion of a stock market is too limited by the standard created in American model. Why would stock price go down 20% in a week if the price actually reflected the value of the stock? There is no company that loses that much value in one week, unless the police come and seize all its assets. The fluctuation in price is a result of factors like incomplete information, re-assessment of strategic business plans and incorrect asset valuation. But even in the USA, the “Market” does a horrible job valuing the potential profit generating ability of a company. Why do you want Syria to allow uninformed speculation to determine the value of a company? Do you think Syrian transparency is high enough to properly value companies on the stock market?

Just look at the USA today, if there was transparency in the books of every financial company on the markets, they would be valued at ZERO! Syria wants to balance thore issues into its market mechanisms.

February 24th, 2009, 9:56 pm


Joe M. said:

Just to clarify a little, my point is that if a stock price goes down 20% in a week it is almost guaranteed that there is a problem with the market, not necessarily with the company. Major fluctuation in stock prices are strong evidence that companies have been falsely valued by the “market.” and thus, considering how volatile western stock markets are, there is plenty of evidence that there is a major problem with the way western countries have allowed their stock markets to operate.

You might counter argue that innovation is what creates value and drives economic growth, and putting major restrictions on how markets operate prevents innovation with harms wealth creation and growth. But, if you do argue that, first you should make sure to ask someone who knows something about subprime lending and hedging risk through derivative contracts whether they agree with you… I think the answer is pretty obvious.

February 24th, 2009, 11:01 pm


AIG said:

60 years the Arabs have been making predictions and threatening Israel. You would think that after such a dismal record, you would have the sense no to continue with this pathetic course of action. 60 years the Israelis have been planning and executing. It is clear where the wishful thinking is.

Quoting Uri Avnery just shows how much you do not understand Israeli society. He is read outside Israel more than he is read in Israel. The guy is completely irrelevant. If you want to challenge yourself, why don’t you read what mainstream Israelis write?

February 24th, 2009, 11:01 pm


EHSANI2 said:


I am a derivatives trader by profession.

February 25th, 2009, 12:11 am


Joe M. said:

then you should agree with me, without much of an issue…

February 25th, 2009, 12:17 am


ehsani2 said:

I don’t. I see things totally differently having lived the crisis 24-7

February 25th, 2009, 12:42 am


majedkhaldoun said:

I do not understand you, here in USA, if I buy shares in company A, I can not sell it before three days

February 25th, 2009, 12:45 am


ehsani2 said:

You can sell it after 3 minutes

February 25th, 2009, 12:48 am


ugarit said:

“Derivatives massively leverage the debt in an economy, making it ever more difficult for the underlying real economy to service its debt obligations and curtailing real economic activity, which can cause a recession or even depression.”

Syria should avoid derivatives and make sure that people invest in tangibles

February 25th, 2009, 12:56 am


SimoHurtta said:

Surely, you are not implying that these two measures somehow amount to superior regulation. The recent global economic problems did not come about from free markets. Lax lending and complete disregard for basic risk assessment has been at the heart of the problem. Investors buying instruments that they don’t fully understand did not help either. Indeed, the way the free stock markets have been able to work and operate in the midst of this turmoil has been remarkable. Liquidity has been key. Blaming free markets and capitalism for the crisis is clearly a tempting exercise. It is however, inaccurate.

Well Eshani2 you have obviously some serious reading difficulties. Sure I know my English is not good. I have tried to explain that the Syrian stock exchange test run is a start phase so no to far fetching conclusions and condemnations should be made. Anybody with basic knowledge of how stock markets operate knows that the 2% barrier is to low and will not be there when the system is fully operational. Also you know perfectly well, that stock markets is not only simply the stock exchange room, some wild eyed dealers and some programs running on computers. Behind the functioning markets there are numerous other “systems” (laws, regulations, monitoring etc) which make the market place possible to function and have trust among the public. Demanding that Syria creates a Nasdaq or NYSE at once is somewhat naive or at least over optimistic thinking.

Of course the the present problems of the world economy are caused by a seriously sick “system”. No doubt about that. The US “system” did allow an unhealthy level of indebtedness by the state and citizens to be created, sub prime mortgages which effectively poisoned much of the whole worlds banking system, Madoff’s investment operations, that recent Sir Stanford scandal, unbelievable corruptive rewarding systems which did grow from year to year to more absurd measures etc. Most of these serious mistakes were made in USA and from there the effects did spread around the world. Now almost everybody of us is paying the price of that “bankers know best and nobody should intervene” policy. Of course the US past regimes and FED bear 99 percent of the responsibility when they did allow this all to happen. It was their responsibility to keep monitoring and controlling the markets, that is one job of the governments. They allowed this to happen and did not do anything even they were warned. Blaming some individual bankers and banks is naive. They operated inside the room the governmental system allowed them to operate.

We are in a situation where the much of the US banking sector will be nationalized, the free trade is in serious difficulties when countries again invent means to favour own economies, the GDP in industrial countries will drop significantly, mass employment will be disastrous etc. USA is now de facto depending from the goodwill of China and oil producing Arab nations. I am afraid that we and especially USA have so far seen is only the beginning.

Sure capitalism and free trade are better than a soviet style economical model. But the dream of unregulated and uncontrolled capitalism and free trade is absurd naive thinking. That kind system is as possible to function well on longer term as communism (=everybody takes/gets what he needs) is. The old saying is that “the opportunity makes the thief”, that is true both in capitalism and communism. Capitalism and free trade need a very good legal security, monitoring and control system both on national and international level to function. Leaving developing of the financial control mechanisms needs to bankers and big investors/industrialists is as clever as letting the drug barons and dealers to call the shots what is the adequate level of society’s control for their “business sector”.

Let’s be clear Eshani2 I am not against capitalism and free trade, but I do not believe that underdeveloped countries could or should jump to that Bush’s propagandist “democracy, capitalism and free trade” world without carefully analysing the dangers and benefits. As I have numerous times pointed out the western economies were created behind custom barriers, state owned companies, governmental subsidies etc. Actually with all the means that now are not so in fashion. Joining the free trade club is clever when the own economy is enough strong to benefit from it, before that it is simply stupid because then there will never be a strong local economy.

I do not understand you, here in USA, if I buy shares in company A, I can not sell it before three days

In Finland the real ownership of the shares is transferred to the buyer after three working days, also the money transactions are made in that schedule. Naturally you can sell the shares you just bought after 3 seconds after the first transaction. But that would mean that you owned the shares for 3 seconds but only on that “third day”. That fast buying and selling is an opportunity created by the stock agencies. If the law would demand that “you” can sell only what is in reality “yours”, we could only sell stocks after the needed 3 working days.

February 25th, 2009, 1:28 am


ugarit said:

Doomed by the Myths of Free Trade

Doomed by the Myths of Free Trade
How the Economy was Lost


The American economy has gone away. It is not coming back until free trade myths are buried six feet under.

America’s 20th century economic success was based on two things. Free trade was not one of them. America’s economic success was based on protectionism, which was ensured by the union victory in the Civil War, and on British indebtedness, which destroyed the British pound as world reserve currency. Following World War II, the US dollar took the role as reserve currency, a privilege that allows the US to pay its international bills in its own currency.

World War II and socialism together ensured that the US economy dominated the world at the mid 20th century. The economies of the rest of the world had been destroyed by war or were stifled by socialism [in terms of the priorities of the capitalist growth model. Editors.]

The ascendant position of the US economy caused the US government to be relaxed about giving away American industries, such as textiles, as bribes to other countries for cooperating with America’s cold war and foreign policies. For example, Turkey’s US textile quotas were increased in exchange for over-flight rights in the Gulf War, making lost US textile jobs an off-budget war expense.

In contrast, countries such as Japan and Germany used industrial policy to plot their comebacks. By the late 1970s, Japanese auto makers had the once dominant American auto industry on the ropes. The first economic act of the “free market” Reagan administration in 1981 was to put quotas on the import of Japanese cars in order to protect Detroit and the United Auto Workers.

February 25th, 2009, 1:45 am


SimoHurtta said:

I am a derivatives trader by profession.

Good news Eshani2: Turkey’s derivatives bourse opens to US citizens

February 25th, 2009, 1:53 am


majedkhaldoun said:

Good Faith Violation Example 1

A Cash Account with Available to Purchase Securities = $0.00

On Monday morning, you sell XYZ and net $10,000 in proceeds
On Monday afternoon, you buy ABC for $10,000
If you sell ABC before XYZ’s settlement date on Thursday, you will incur a good faith violation, as the ABC would not be considered fully paid for prior to the sale

This is what I meant

February 25th, 2009, 3:52 am


Shami said:

Many thanks Alia for this nice Documentary on al shahba.

February 25th, 2009, 4:10 am


ehsani2 said:


Trade “settlement” takes 3 days. I think this is what you meant. This is different than what is proposed here

February 25th, 2009, 11:27 am


trustquest said:

Syrian human rights activists welcomed a Human Rights Watch report Tuesday that called on Syria to abolish its Supreme State Security Court, an institution founded four decades ago that the report said has been used to stifle opposition to the government.

February 25th, 2009, 1:06 pm


Akbar Palace said:

“Syria Dresses Up”?

Like I said before, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

I’m not impressed.

Now the Iraqi “Clothes”, well they’re in another league…

February 25th, 2009, 10:40 pm


Alia said:

In Memoriam Mahmoud Darwish: “The Pity and the Horror”, an essay and ” A nomadic conversation with Mahmoud Darwish”, a poem.

Breyten Breytenbach South African poet, anti-apartheid activist
The few days I’d spent in Palestine with the World Parliament of Writers delegation left me with a mixed bag of strong but conflicting impressions. How small the country is! How inextricably linked the two peoples are! The stones, the stones everywhere. The topography of names familiar from the Bible. The beautiful light. The attempts to make the place look like some Switzerland by planting out-of-place conifers. The inhospitality of the land, except for lush coastal plains. How abysmally sad the villages, reminding one of the lifeless and apathetic towns of East Germany. The green lights in the mosques and all the unfinished habitations. The ugliness of the architecture everywhere, the ubiquitous light grey limestone building blocks. The inanity of the invasion and the occupation – all those lit-up detour roads built for the exclusive use of settlers and Israeli citizens. The surly pettiness of the controls at checkpoints – having little to do with security and everything with the primitive urge to humiliate, frustrate, harass, and drive to insane rage a confined population. The extreme youth of the occupant soldiers, and sadly, that they are so obviously well cultivated boys and girls. The ruthless rapaciousness with which Israel destroys the possible Palestinian economy and steals their money and their goods. The ancient revenge: bulldozing houses, uprooting olive groves (I believe one can buy beautiful old trees for a song in Israel). The equally primitive sight of armed positions under camouflage netting and Israeli flags in commandeered houses. The defilement of Palestinian public places. The vaunted ‘democratic’ Israeli media knowingly lying to their own people, denying the war crimes carried out by their troops, haggling like soukh merchants about the exact number of houses flattened ‘accidentally’. The Berlin walls around the settlements in Gaza (and behind them university extensions, research institutes, American-linked hotels, golf courses: all the illusions of ‘normal’ opulence), and then the rubble of destroyed Palestinian quarters looking now like Ground Zero. The way little ‘refugee camp’ kids looked us straight in the eye, apparently uncowed, but then we were told they’re probably all traumatized not only by the hovering dogs of your gun ships, General Sharon, and your antediluvian tanks and your men in battle gear shooting at everything that moves, but as well by all the hyper-active adults surrounding them.

February 26th, 2009, 1:18 am


majid said:

Akbar said ““Syria Dresses Up”?

Like I said before, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

I’m not impressed.”

In fact I said a while ago someone has to tell the girl she’s below average. I don’t want to sound like I’m saying I told you so. But, with the constant bombardment by Syriacomment authors of the same monotonous theme about conceived Syria’s importance (does that sound like saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder?) leaves you no choice but to become repetitive.

February 26th, 2009, 6:36 am


jad said:

Very unusual article on Al Hayat today:

نحو اهتمام المثقفين السوريين بوطنهم في ما يتعدى يوميات السياسة العابرة
غيث نجيب الأرمنازي الحياة – 26/02/09//

“وفي هذا السياق قدم أحد الحضور، وهو مستشار أسقف كانتربيري المكلف ملف العلاقات مع الكنائس الشرقية، مداخلة قصيرة لفت فيها انتباه الحضور إلى تفوق سورية اقليمياً وعالمياً فيما تقدمه كنموذج للتآلف الديني والعرقي والثقافي، مشيراً إلى بلده بريطانيا والى المخاض العسير الذي عانت منه قبل أن تصل اليوم إلى مستوى «المجتمع المتعدد الثقافات» التي تتباهى به والذي سبقتها إليه سورية بمئات بل بآلاف السنين! وأضاف أن هذا الدور السوري الرائد يزداد قيمة في عالمنا المعاصر حيث تشتد النزاعات والتناقضات والتجاذبات الفئوية أكانت دينية أم مذهبية أم اثنية أم ثقافية، خصوصاً في المحيط المجاور لسورية، والتي تمثل خطراً على مستقبل الشرق الأوسط بل على العالم بأسره.
كلمات ذلك القسيس استقرت في ذهني وأثارت تساؤلات لدي حول مدى تقديرنا نحن السوريين – خصوصاً مثقفينا – لهذه القيمة الكبيرة والمضافة لوطننا التي يتوجب علينا التمسك بها بقوة وجعلها ركيزة اعتزازنا بذاتنا الوطنية. بل أن الظاهرة التي ألاحظها في البلدان التي ينتشر فيها المغترب السوري تعبر عن شبه فقدان لهذا الوعي وعن تردد خجول في تبنيه، خصوصاً لدى من نستطيع تصنيفهم ضمن شريحة «المثقفين». فنحن نجد على سبيل المثال قلة من الأقلام والأصوات السورية، التي لها حضور في المنابر الاعلامية تتناول مثل هذه الايجابيات في خطابها”

“لا بأس من المطالبة بالرفع من وتيرة الاصلاحات وتعميقها أو المطالبة بمجابهة الفساد المستشري في سورية والوطن العربي، وهي مطالب ينضم إليها صاحب هذا القلم، لكن الأمر الذي يؤدي إلى الأسف والاحباط أن الفئة التي نقصدها لا يهمها الانتقاد المشروع لجزئيات مسيرة الاصلاح. لقد قررت رفضها مبدئياً لأنها قد «تحسن» من صورة النظام وهذا ما لا يمكن تحمله! هذا النهج الخشبي والنمطي يذكرنا بما يحلو لتلك الأصوات قوله عن ادبيات النظام السوري.
ونأتي إلى ابلغ الأمور حساسية ودقة في مآخذ هؤلاء على النظام السوري، أقصد الوضع الأمني ووجود «سجناء سياسيين» في سورية. وبغض النظر عن الأعداد والظروف المحيطة بهذا «الملف» والتي لا تقاس بأوضاع «الأمس»، لا نستطيع ضميرياً إلا القبول بمنطق رفض اعتقال أي انسان بسبب رأي يحمله أو يروج له سلمياً. لكنني أود أن أشير الى الفارق بين فريق أنتمي اليه، يحاول أن يخلق حراكاً يؤدي – ولو تدريجاً – في خلق مناخ يؤثر ايجابياً على الحد من رواسب انتهاكات حقوق الانسان، وبين فريق آخر يتخذ من التهجم والاستقواء أحياناً بالخارج نهجاً ومدرسة، ففرص نجاح المجهود الذي يبذله الفريق الأول في تبديل الواقع ودفعه نحو الأفضل، أكبر في واقع الأمر بما لا يقارن مع ما يمكن أن تحققه المواجهة الخطابية المطلقة في عدوانيتها، والتي تثيرغريزة «مقابلة» من أطراف «أمنية» تصب حتماً في غير مصلحة المحكومين بجرائم تحت عنوان «التعبير عن الرأي». الفريق الذي ذكرناه أولاً يجاهد لجعل قوى المحافظة على النظام أقل تشنجاً وأكثر ادراكاً لايجابية الرأي الآخر، بينما الفريق الثاني يعمل برعونة لنسف جسور الحوار والتواصل ودفع القوى الأمنية الى المبالغة أحياناً في اجراءاتها الاحترازية الرادعة”

“من جهة أخرى ، يبدو مثقفونا المعارضون للنظام غير قادرين على فهم دورهم إلا في اطار المعارضة السياسية والاعلامية، متجاهلين حقيقة أن على القوى الأهلية، سواء كانت موالية أم معارضة، أن تهتم بمختلف جوانب الحياة في مجتمعاتها. فأين هم من الدفاع عن حقوق المرأة وحقوق المستهلك وعن شؤون البيئة والنظافة؟ وأين هم من حماية مواردنا الطبيعية وحماية وطننا من شح المياه والتلوث والاشعاعات وانقراض بعض الأجناس النباتية والحيوانية؟ وأين هم من تطوير التعليم والخدمات الصحية والثقافة والفن؟ أين هم أخيراً من قضايا تطوير البنية الاجتماعية والشؤون المدنية والتنمية الاقتصادية والفكرية في بلادنا؟ باختصار فإن المجتمع الأهلي أو المدني مفهوم متكامل يسعى إلى تقديم المقترحات المجدية التي تهدف الى ارشاد الحكومات إلى الطريق القويم في مواجهة مشكلات البلد، وعمله لا يرتكز على تحدي السلطة والتهجم عليها، بل على مقارعتها بالحجة والدليل في مختلف جوانب الحياة للوصول الى مجتمع أفضل.
ختاماً، ليت «مثقفنا السوري» يتمعن أكثر بما تحقق في وطنه وبما يمكن أن يتحقق لو نزل من «برجه العاجي» وشارك في مسيرة التنمية واقتنع بأنه من الأفضل بكثير التقدم نحو الأمام، ولو بخطوات جزئية تراكمية، في زمن يجتاز وطنه أدق مراحل التأسيس لمستقبل واعد. وإذا عدنا إلى كلام القس البريطاني فإن ما قاله يجب أن يشكل حافزاً لكل سوري وللطليعة المثقفة لتأخذ مكانها وتتحمل مسؤوليتها في حماية هذا المجتمع القدوة.
تراجع الطليعة عن هذه المسؤولية خسارة كبيرة لها وللوطن.”

February 26th, 2009, 8:12 am


Gullgamish said:

Well, thus far, and for no end in sight, the US policy towards the middle east and the conflict b/w Arab and Israel is a continuation of the same! The heavily favored, backed and supported Israel will at no time compromise for peace!
The US role in this conflict should be relegated to an observer, by Arab states refusing to negotiate, discuss or meet with any American politician on the subject. Terms and specific conditions should be put in place, by which U.S. shows it is no longer by acts or omissions assisting Israel in its expansion of settlements, wall building and intrusion on Palestinian lands, etc..
The best thing the US could do to further peace and democracy in the Middle east, is to get out of it.

February 26th, 2009, 11:15 am


Akbar Palace said:

But, with the constant bombardment by Syriacomment authors of the same monotonous theme about conceived Syria’s importance (does that sound like saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder?) leaves you no choice but to become repetitive.


Yes, you’re right. There’s nothing more important than propping up dictators and thieves.

Food for Thought



Wash., DC—159—0.5

West Bank—5640—2.4


February 26th, 2009, 12:12 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Alex, Professor Josh,

I come with Good News sure to bestow a ray of Hope & Change to your corner of Cyberspace.

The Obama Administration apparently has tagged Charles Freeman to direct the National Intelligence Council.

There may be hope for despots across the globe.

The “little people” may have to wait a bit longer…

February 26th, 2009, 12:58 pm


Alia said:


Gabriel Schoenfeld is hardly a disinterested party in this opinion. He is a senior editor at the Commentary ( a Jewish magazine) and one of his primary interests is Israeli security. He has had to his credit some positive achievements as a liberal American but his alliances are clear- I think ” Anti-semitism” is his last book. His persepctive that you are regurgitating needs to be taken into consideration when reading his opinion.

There are some who are calling for “democracy” in the middle-east not because they are democracy lovers but because they would like to see mayhem spread into each and every country around Israel- it must be scary when they see that Obama is not going to go the way of Bush in Iraq.

I would consider Schoenfeld’s opinion more seriously if he cleaned his plate from his association with AIPAC and Israel until then I do not even bother to read what he writes anymore.

February 26th, 2009, 2:12 pm


Alia said:

Oh AiG,

So what if Uri Avnery is not read in Israel, what does that have to do with the subject? Clearly what is going on in Israel is going to be directly influenced by what goes on outside of Israel since your country is completely dependent on financing and the vocal support of the West and would collapse without them.

People like Avnery along with the criminal policies of Israel will eventually erode the unshakable edifice that you thought you had built yourself. Keep repeating the mantra “60 years” may be it will protect you.

February 26th, 2009, 2:42 pm


Akbar Palace said:

…they are democracy lovers but because they would like to see mayhem spread into each and every country around Israel…


As if there isn’t any “mayhem”?;)

it must be scary when they see that Obama is not going to go the way of Bush in Iraq.

I would consider Schoenfeld’s opinion more seriously if he cleaned his plate from his association with AIPAC and Israel until then I do not even bother to read what he writes anymore.

As long as there is an IDF, I’m not too worried. The US will not be fighting for Israel. I’m just looking forward to the same recurring arguments:

Anti-Israel Cabinet Appointee: “Why don’t you get out of Occupied Terrortory!”

GOI: “Because you said 10 years ago if we left these Occupied Terrortories, we’d have Peace and now all we get are rockets, mortars, and a bunch of misprinted T-shirts.”

Anti-Israel Cabinet Appointee: “Yeah, well call me when you want peace. Meantime, we’re going to vote against you in the UN.”

Even the omnipotent AIPAC will somehow, miraculously, be rendered ineffective (again).

February 26th, 2009, 2:48 pm


AIG said:


Clearly you do not understand Israel even one little bit. Not politically, not economically and not technologically.

Just take one example. Look at how Netanyahu is building a coalition which will include ultra seculars and ultra religious, hard core socialists and hard core capitalists. Look at how the process of regime change is done peacefully in Israel. Look at how the Knesset fairly represents all minorities in Israel. Every single one has a voice. Look at how no one threatens violence and everyone plays by the rules. Now compare to your favorite countries. Who is about to collapse? Israel or the Arab countries?

Do you want to compare economy? Technology? Education? Be my guest. Israel has many faults, but it is very very far from collapse and does not depend on handouts like Lebanon. I look at what Israel has accomplished in the last 60 years and I am proud. Are you proud of what your country achieved in the last 60 years?

Why am I optimistic about the next 60 years? Simple. Israel is continuing in the same path that has lead it to success while the Arabs have learned very little and continue with the path that has led them to a dead end and most likely debilitating islamist regimes in the medium future.

February 26th, 2009, 5:55 pm


norman said:

Print | Close this window

Clinton says too soon to say if thaw in Syria ties
Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:34pm EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday it was too soon to say whether there would be a thaw in ties with Damascus, as a senior U.S. diplomat met with Syria’s ambassador at the State Department.

“We have regular interactions with the Syrians as a part of our normal diplomatic efforts,” said Clinton of a rare meeting at the State Department between Syrian ambassador Imad Mustafa and acting head of the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, Jeffrey Feltman.

“It is too soon to say what the future holds,” she added when asked whether the summoning of Syria’s ambassador indicated a thaw in frosty ties.

The meeting between Mustafa and Feltman, which took place as Clinton spoke, was the highest-level encounter between the two sides since the Obama administration took office last month and is part of the new team’s bid to reach out to its enemies.

The Obama administration is reviewing its relations with Syria as part of its overall policy overhaul.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out of Syria after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and a decision is expected soon over whether to send one back.

Clinton said she was working hard, as was the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to engage with Israel, the Palestinians and all of its neighbors in the region, including Syria.

“We are going to pursue the commitment that we stated when we appointed our special envoy to try to bring parties together for peace and stability in the Middle East,” said Clinton.

Mitchell was in Turkey on Thursday as part of his efforts to jump-start the stalled Arab-Israeli peace process which President Barack Obama has said will be a foreign policy priority of his administration.

Turkey has played a major role in bringing Israel and Syria to indirect negotiations but those talks have been stalled since Israel launched its invasion into Gaza in December.

Clinton is set to embark on her own trip to the Middle East this weekend, including stops in Egypt, Israel and the West Bank. Turkish officials said she would also visit Ankara where the Syria-Israeli negotiations will likely be high on the agenda.

(Reporting by Sue Pleming; editing by David Wiessler)

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Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.

February 26th, 2009, 6:36 pm


Alex said:


I always shared Ghayth Armanazi’s opinion that he expressed in Alhayat this week.

Alhayat is not as bad as many people think … Raghida Dergham is balanced by Patrick Seale and Ibrahim Hamidi (when he was there). Jihad Khazen is neutral, with mild Saudi bias (they own his newspaper)


look at President Obama’s team …

M14 Lebanese have a couple of friends in there (Mitchell, Feltman) the Saudis might have a friend too (Freeman), The Israelis have a dozen friends (Ross, Rahm, Hillary …), Syria has friends (indirectly, through Brzezinski, Carter, Kerry, and to a lesser degree: bob Malley, ADM and Kurtzer …) … if managed with sufficient authority by Obama, this could be a very constructive setup where the main players involved in the different conflicts out there have their representatives in the house (the white house) that has, and will continue to have, the power (and the will and the need) to interfere in their individual countries, like it has been doing with increasing intensity and frequency the past few years.

This can be (if the intention is indeed there) a more practical step towards “democracy” for the Middle East .. namely: allowing each country to influence decision making in Washington.

Although in Freeman’s case, I am not sure if Obama will be able to explain his appointment of “a China-coddling Israel basher .. with outlandish perspectives and prejudices.”

February 27th, 2009, 1:10 am


norman said:

أبو الغيط يشيد بموقف دمشق من المصالحة الفلسطينية: ليس غريباً عنها … سعود الفيصل: الخلافات العربية دُفنت
باريس، واشنطن، القاهرة – رندة تقي الدين، جويس كرم الحياة – 27/02/09//

–> أكد وزير الخارجية السعودي الأمير سعود الفيصل ان زيارة نظيره السوري وليد المعلم الى المملكة كانت «ايجابية جداً»، واعتبر ان الخلافات العربية «دفنت» وانه «لا عودة الى الماضي»، في حين اشادت مصر بموقف سورية من المصالحة الفلسطينية ورأت انه «ليس غريباً عنها».
وقال الامير سعود الفيصل في مؤتمر صحافي في باريس بعد محادثات مع وزير الخارجية الفرنسي برنار كوشنير «ان زيارة المعلم الى المملكة كانت ايجابية جداً، وكما ذكر خادم الحرمين في قمة الكويت عن الخلافات العربية، فإننا حفرنا لها حفرة ودفنّاها، ولا عودة الى الماضي لأن الحفرة عميقة».
ورداً على سؤال حول احتمال عقد قمة رباعية تضم السعودية ومصر وسورية وقطر، قال الفيصل: «لا أؤكد ولا أنفي». وذكر أن الحركة باتجاه المصالحة العربية بدأت بدعوة خادم الحرمين ومستمرة بها، مضيفاً: «وسنمضي في طرق أبواب المصالحة على قواعد سليمة ومنضبطة وفق ما تتطلع إليه الشعوب العربية في هذه الفترة».
وعلمت «الحياة» من مصادر مطلعة على اللقاء ان الفيصل قال لدى تطرقه الى موضوع العلاقات السعودية – السورية ان «الخلاف الأساسي بين البلدين كان يدور حول لبنان، لكن الاوضاع في هذا البلد تحسنت بشكل ملموس الآن، وهناك التزام من الجانب السوري بالسعي الى ابقاء الوضع فيه مستقراً، وطالما هذا الالتزام قائم فإن السعودية ملتزمة بطريق المصالحة».
وعن الحكومة الإسرائيلية الجديدة، رأى الفيصل انه «عندما تكون الحكومة ضعيفة لا تستطيع التقدم نحو السلام، وعندما تكون متطرفة فهي لا تريد السلام، وهذا ما نواجهه دائماً مع إسرائيل». واضاف: «هذا خيار إسرائيلي، وأياً كانت الحكومة التي ستتشكل، فسيكون عليها واجبات ومسؤوليات إذا كانت تريد السلام، ومن هذه المسؤوليات أن تتعامل مع الفلسطينيين كبشر وليس بأسلوب الحرب والقتل والاهانة، وعندها يمكنها أن تتوقع أن تعاملها المنطقة بالتطبيع».
ومضى يقول انه «إذا ارادت إسرائيل العيش بسلام في المنطقة، فعليها أن تعيش في أمن وسلام مع الفلسطينيين، وإذا لم تسع الى ذلك، فلا شك ان الأمور ستتطور الى مواجهة»، لافتاً الى ان فرنسا تلعب دوماً دوراً ايجابياً في هذه القضية.
وبالنسبة الى التصريحات الايرانية عن البحرين، قال الفيصل ان «تصريحي وزيري الخارجية الايراني والبحريني أنهيا المشكلة، والأمل هو الا تعود مثل هذه التصريحات الايرانية غير المجدية سوى في إيجاد جو يخل بمصلحة الجميع».
من جهته، قال كوشنير إنه تطرق مع الفيصل الى مواضيع مختلفة بينها افغانستان وايران والشرق الأوسط، واشار الى انه سيزور الرياض في موعد قريب، ربما في أواخر آذار (مارس) المقبل.
وحول المحكمة الدولية لمحاكمة المتورطين في اغتيال رئيس الحكومة السابق رفيق الحريري، قال كوشنير ان فرنسا والسعودية شاركتا في تمويلها منذ البداية، واضاف: «نحن ننتظر ان تتوصل الى نتائج لتحديد المسؤولين عن الاغتيال، ونحن متفقون على هذا مهما حصل من تقارب بين فرنسا وسورية، او بين الأخيرة والسعودية والذي نأمل بأن يتكلل بالنجاح». وأكد الفيصل انه لم يتطرق مع كوشنير الى موضوع المحكمة، كونها شأناً مرتبطاً بالأمم المتحدة.
وفي القاهرة، اشاد وزير الخارجية المصري احمد ابو الغيط بتصريحات المعلم بشأن المصالحة الفلسطينية ووصفها بـ «الايجابية»، وقال بعد محادثات مع منسق السياسة الخارجية للاتحاد الاوروبي خافيير سولانا انه «ليس بالغريب ان تقوم سورية بتعزيز أي جهد يبذل من اجل خدمة آمال وطموحات الشعب الفلسطيني»، مشيراً الى ان نظيره السوري سيشارك في المؤتمر الدولي لإعادة إعمار غزة الذي يفتتح الاثنين في شرم الشيخ.
وكان المعلم قال إن بلاده «بذلت كل جهد ممكن من خلال اتصالاتها مع الفصائل الفلسطينية لإنجاح الحوار الفلسطيني» الذي بدأ امس في القاهرة.
وفي واشنطن، عقد امس أول لقاء رسمي للادارة الأميركية الجديدة مع الجانب السوري، عندما استقبل مساعد وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية بالوكالة لشؤون الشرق الأدنى جيفري فيلتمان السفير السوري عماد مصطفى في مبنى وزارة الخارجية، وتطرق الاجتماع الذي يسبق اعلان واشنطن نتائج مراجعتها للملف السوري، الى محاور «الخلاف» بينهما، وبالأخص الدعم السوري لمنظمات «ارهابية» و»التدخل في لبنان» وبرنامجها النووي المفترض.
وعلقت وزيرة الخارجية هيلاري كلينتون على اللقاء بالقول «نقوم بالتعامل من حين لآخر مع السوريين في اطار جهودنا الديبلوماسية العادية». واضافت ردا على سؤال عما اذا كان ذلك يدل على ذوبان للجليد في العلاقات «من السابق لأوانه التحدث عما يحمله المستقبل».
وأكد السفير الأميركي والمستشار السابق للرئيس باراك أوباما دانيال كرتزر لـ«الحياة» أن اللقاء بادرة «لعودة الحوار بين البلدين، ومن المبكر القراءة كثيرا في فحواه»، وأن واشنطن «تعرف المطالب السورية لناحية العقوبات المفروضة عليها وفك العزلة».

©2006 Media Communications Group مجموعة الاتصالات الإعلامية

February 27th, 2009, 2:09 am


jad said:

Dear Alex
I to, do share Mr. Armanazi’s opinion and I also agree that Alhayat is not bad at all. I like Mr. Al khazen articles he is neutral when he writes.
The unusual thing I was talking about is reading something more realistic (at least from my point of view) than the usual articles I read there regarding Syria, the writers of such issue are usually Lebanese, Egyptians or Saudis telling Syria that it sucks, nothing works regardless of what we do and there is no hope whatsoever to improve or develop.

February 27th, 2009, 3:39 am


Alex said:

سفيرنا في واشنطن عماد مصطفى لـ «الثورة»:الوضع تغيـر.. ونفتح صفحة جديدة مع إدارة أوباما
طباعة أرسل لصديق
هيثم يحيى محمد
26/ 02/ 2009
الحوار مع السفير السوري في واشنطن د. عماد مصطفى له نكهة خاصة هذه الأيام ولاسيما بعد رحيل بوش الابن وإدارته الحمقاء التي مارست كل أنواع الضغوط على سورية دون أن تتمكن من تغيير ثوابتها الوطنية والقومية.
وبعد مجيء إدارة جديدة برئاسة أوباما واستقبال دمشق للعديد من المبعوثين والموفدين الأميركيين.‏‏
وبعد الدعوة التي وجهتها وزارة الخارجية الأميركية له للقاء والاجتماع من أجل بحث القضايا المطروحة بين سورية والولايات المتحدة الأميركية.‏‏
قضايا وموضوعات عديدة كانت محور اللقاء الذي أجريناه في دمشق بعد ظهر أول أمس الاثنين مع السيد السفير الذي غادر أمس إلى واشنطن لمتابعة مهامه والبدء بعقد اللقاءات مع الخارجية الأميركية بناء على الدعوة الموجهة له فماذا كانت نتائج حوارنا معه؟.‏‏
قانــون المحاسبــة وضــع لابتزازنــا ونحــن لــم ولــن نتفـاوض مــن أجلــه‏‏

شوشرة إعلامية على الدعوة‏‏
الأمر ببساطة شديدة أن الخارجية الأميركية اتصلت بالسفارة السورية في واشنطن ودعت السفير للقاء مع القائم بأعمال مساعد وزيرة الخارجية لشؤون الشرق الأدنى (نظراً لعدم وجود مساعد أصيل حالياً) وعندما استفسرت السفارة عن أجندة اللقاء كان الجواب جميع الموضوعات ذات الأهمية بالنسبة للطرفين وهذا أمر عادي وروتيني يحدث دائماً.‏‏
وعندما بدأت الشوشرة الإعلامية حول الدعوة قمنا بتجاهلها لأننا لا نعتقد أن العمل السياسي والدبلوماسي يجب أن يرتهن لأغراض مشبوهة في وسائل إعلامية ذات انتماءات تثير الكثير من التساؤلات.‏‏
على أي حال يبدو أن رئيس لجنة العلاقات الخارجية في مجلس النواب الأميركي هارود بيرمان قد وصل إليه من السفارة الأميركية في دمشق هذا اللغط الإعلامي فجاءني شخصياً وطلب مني بشكل واضح وضوحا مطلقا ألا أهتم بما تردده وسائل الإعلام، وأكد أن الهدف من الاجتماع هو البدء في حوار جدي حول جميع القضايا المطروحة بين سورية والولايات المتحدة فقلت له إنني لم ألق بالاً لهذه الطروحات.‏‏

لا نتفاوض على قانون المحاسبة‏‏
بافتراض النيات الحسنة لدى إدارة الرئيس باراك أوباما للحوار مع سورية وتطوير العلاقات معها، ما الإجراءات التي ينبغي لهذه الإدارة اتخاذها في هذا الاتجاه ولاسيما من خلال علاقتها بالكونغرس، وبما يخص قانون محاسبة سورية الذي أقره سابقا؟‏‏
نحن في سورية لا نرهن سياستنا الخارجية بردود الأفعال على أي تصرفات أو تشريعات تقوم بها دول أخرى.‏‏
من هذا المنطلق نرفض رفضاً تاماً مناقشة ما يسمى بقانون محاسبة سورية مع أي موفد أميركي ولا ننوي القيام بذلك مع إدارة أوباما وعلّة ذلك أن هذا القانون قد وضع لابتزازنا فإذا تفاوضنا حوله نعطيهم فرصة لابتزازنا وإذا تجاهلناه نفوت عليهم هذه الفرصة.‏‏
لكن رغم ذلك فالكرة في ملعب إدارة أوباما فطالما تريد تصحيح مسار العلاقة مع سورية فإنها تعرف ما الذي يجب أن تفعله أما إذا كانت تريد أن تسير بمسار إدارة بوش فهذا خيارها.‏‏

إجراءات الإلغاء‏‏
مع ذلك أود أن تحدثنا عن الإجراءات الواجب اتخاذها لإلغاء قانون محاسبة سورية؟‏‏
القانون شرعه وسنه الكونغرس الأميركي فلا يستطيع الرئيس أوباما إلغاءه ولابد من إحداث قانون جديد من الكونغرس يقضي بإبطاله ولكن يحق للرئيس أوباما تجميد أو إبطال تنفيذ بعض بنوده أو جميعها.‏‏
وهنا أقول: هناك كتلة صهيونية متطرفة ضمن الكونغرس ولا يجوز الاستخفاف بعدائها لنا .. لذا يجب أن نركز جهودنا على إقناع إدارة الرئيس أوباما بتغيير جذري في السياسة الاميركية تجاه المنطقة.. لاننا نعتقد أن العمل الاميركي الدؤوب والجاد من أجل إنهاء الاحتلال وتحقيق السلام في المنطقة سيؤدي بصورة طبيعية وتلقائية إلى زوال مثل هذه القوانين التي سنت أصلاً لممارسة الابتزاز السياسي على سورية – كما ذكرت-.‏‏

دبلوماسية الموفدين‏‏
إلى أي مدى تؤثر دبلوماسية الموفدين والمبعوثين الاميركيين إلى سورية في إعادة بلورة القرار السياسي الاميركي تجاه سورية؟‏‏
د. عماد: هذا سؤال مهم جداً.. والاجابة عليه تتعلق بالدرجة الاولى بخلفية الوفود ودوافعها وأهمية الاشخاص المشاركين فيها إذ لا يمكننا أن نجمل عموماً.. فقد يأتي أشخاص نواب أو شيوخ بهدف استطلاعي صرف في محاولة لتحقيق فهم شخصي أفضل لقضايا الشرق الأوسط .. وقد يأتي موفدون آخرون بنوايا غير طيبة بل وخبيثة .. والبعض يأتي تدفعه رغبة عارمة لإيجاد قواسم مشتركة مع سورية وللانخراط في حوار عميق وجدي مع البلد الذي يعتبرونه بلداً محورياً في منطقتنا.. ويمكنني القول إن الغالبية العظمى ممن جاؤوا إلى سورية في الشهر الماضي وهذا الشهر إنما جاؤوا بحثاً عن طرق لإعادة الانخراط السياسي والدبلوماسي مع سورية ولاسيما الزيارتين فائقتي الأهمية لرئيسي لجنتي العلاقات الخارجية في مجلس النواب والشيوخ فهما أهم شخصيتين مؤثرتين في الكونغرس (بمجلسيه) على السياسة الخارجية الأميركية.‏‏

نقلة نوعية‏‏
ما انطباعاتك عن جو اللقاء بين السيد الرئيس بشار الأسد وهذين الموفدين؟‏‏
د. مصطفى: أستطيع أن أقول بدقة وموضوعية أنني لم أشهد من قبل أبداً رغبة لدى أعضاء الكونغرس الأميركي في أن تتسم حواراتهم مع السيد الرئيس بالعمق والجدية اللذين شهدتهما اللقاءات الأخيرة، ومن هذا المنطلق يمكنني القول إنهما قد يشكلان نقلة نوعية في طريقة مقاربة الولايات المتحدة للمسائل الخلافية بينها وبين سورية.‏‏

نوعية المبعوثين‏‏
وهذه الوفود التي تأتي إلى سورية هل تأتي بتكليف من أحزابها أم من الإدارة الأميركية أم من خلال موقعها في الكونغرس برأيك؟‏‏
هي تأتي من منطلق المهام المكلفة بها ضمن اللجان الفرعية التي تعمل فيها .. فوفد الكونغرس الذي تزعمه عضو الكونغرس ( آدم سميث) متخصص بقضايا مكافحة الارهاب والاخطار غير التقليدية… جاء إلى سورية للتباحث حول هذه الامور وللعمل على إيجاد طرق لتقريب وجهات النظر بين البلدين في هذه المسائل… أما اللجنة التي يرأسها السيناتور/ بنيامين كاردن/ فهي تدعى مجموعة هلسنكي وهي تختص بقضايا الامن والتعاون الدوليين… لكن رئيسي لجنتي الشؤون الخارجية في مجلس النواب والشيوخ جاءا بالدرجة الأولى بسبب موقعهما الخاص لدى الادارة الاميركية… فعلى سبيل المثال لا يستطيع الرئيس أوباما تعيين وزير للخارجية أو مساعد له أو حتى تعيين سفير في إحدى الدول دون موافقة اللجنة التي يرأسها السيناتور /جون كيري/ ..وأيضاً لا يستطيع أن يصرف نفقة أو ميزانية لتغطية نفقات مبعوثه ميتشل.. أو مصاريف للسفارات.. دون موافقة( هارود بيرمان) ولجنته فهما مفتاحان أساسيان من مفاتيح السياسة الخارجية الاميركية… صحيح انهما ليسا في الذراع التنفيذية لكن نفوذهما كبير على هذه الذراع.‏‏

آلية صنع القرار‏‏
ما الفرق بين آلية صناعة القرار الاميركي جمهورياًوديمقراطياً …هل المؤثرات في كلا الحزبين هي نفسها أم هناك فوارق؟‏‏
آلية صنع القرار متشابهة وليست متباعدة ..لكن العقائد والمنطلقات التي تدفع وتحرك الغالبية من الحزبين مختلفة على جميع الاصعدة السياسية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية… فالجمهوريون يميلون إلى التشدد السياسي والمحافظة الاجتماعية وفرط التحرر الاقتصادي- والديمقراطيون يميلون إلى الاعتدال السياسي وفرط التحرر الاجتماعي ..والاعتدال الاقتصادي.. وهذا هو الفيصل في التمييز بين الحزبين..‏‏
مستقبل العلاقات‏‏

د. عماد .. ما رؤيتك لمستقبل العلاقات الاميركية -السورية؟‏‏
تعتمد الاجابة على هذا السؤال بالدرجة الأولى على رؤية الرئيس الاميركي أوباما لموقع الولايات المتحدة في العالم ولدورها في حل أزمة ساهمت هي بدرجة كبيرة جداً في صنعها( أزمة الاحتلال الاسرائيلي للأراضي العربية وحرمان الشعب الفلسطيني من حقوقه الاساسية).. فإذا كان الرئيس أوباما وإدارته يرغبان حقاً وبشكل جدي بإيجاد حلول لهذه المسألة، فالمنطق الحتمي للأمور أن تتحسن العلاقات بين البلدين … أما إذا كان يريد إدارة الأزمة على غرارما قام به جورج بوش الأب وبيل كلينتون فلن تحصل تغيرات جذرية في طبيعة العلاقة بين سورية والولايات المتحدة لكن حدة العداء و شراسة المقاربة ستختفي بسبب الطبيعة والمزاج المعتدلين لمجمل إدارة الرئيس أوباما.‏‏

سفير أميركي بدمشق‏‏
متى تتوقع إرسال سفير أميركي جديد إلى دمشق أو إعادة السفير الذي تم سحبه؟‏‏
هذا الامر لا دلالة له بالنسبة لنا إطلاقاً ..فلا يهمنا إن أرسلت أميركا سفيراً لها أم لم ترسل إلى دمشق .. إنما الذي يهمنا هو هل ستغير أميركا سياستها تجاه قضايانا أم لا.‏‏
أما بالنسبة لمسألة السفير وعودته فإن السفير عادة يمثل مصالح الدولة التي أوفدته، ففي حال غيابه تتضرر مصالح تلك الدولة في حال قيامه بدور فاعل على الساحة السياسية التي يعمل فيها.. تخدم مصالح دولته. وعندما يغيب السفير الاميركي عن ساحة سياسية ما فهذا يضعف من قدرة أميركا على التأثير في هذه الساحة، بالتالي فإن عودةالسفير إلى دمشق وعدمها تخدم أو تضر المصالح الاميركية وليس السورية… وهذا ينطبق على جميع دول العالم وليس أميركا وحسب!‏‏

مهمة ميتشل صعبة‏‏
هل تتوقع نجاح المبعوث الاميركي ميتشل في مهمته التي كلفه بها الرئيس أوباما؟‏‏
ميتشل مكلف بمهمة صعبة جداً جداً.. ولكنه رجل يتسم بالاعتدال والمنطق والانصاف ولا يعرف عنه وجود حسابات سياسية خاصة به… محركه الاساسي اليوم هو سمعته السابقة في تحقيق السلام بإيرلندا ورغبته الانسانية في ألا تخيب امال رئيسه الذي كلفه بهذه المهمة رغم صعوبتها…‏‏
طبعاً ستكون يده مقيدة بالتاريخ الطويل للانصياع السياسي الاميركي لرغبات إسرائيل وهذا سيحد كثيراً من قدرته على التحرك والتحدي الحقيقي ، هل سيتمكن بما له من رصيد- ومن ثقة الرئيس أوباما من تجاوز أغلال وقيود اللوبي الصهيوني في أميركا.. أم سيهزم أمامه؟‏‏

دور الجالية العربية‏‏
بالنسبة للجالية العربية في الولايات المتحدة هل تحسّن دورها عما كان عليه عام2004 عندما التقيناكم في واشنطن في إطار تغطيتنا للانتخابات الاميركية؟‏‏
وضع الجالية بشكل عام شائك معقد… الامور تتحسن لكن الطريق طويل للغاية… إذا نظرنا إلى الواقع كما هو فهو لا يسعد المحب لنا كعرب.. لكن إذا نظرنا إلى مسار تطوره خلال السنوات الأربع الماضية فعلى الاقل هناك معطيات تشير إلى تحسن مضطرد لدور الجالية العربية… غير أن الصعاب كثيرة والتحدي كبير في هذا السياق وأهمها غياب تقاليد وثقافة العمل السياسي الجماعي لدى هذه الجالية في الولايات المتحدة الاميركية .‏‏
وهل تحسنت إمكانات سفارتنا البشرية والمادية في واشنطن للتواصل بشكل أفضل مع أبناء الجالية والعمل مع فعالياتها المؤثرة هناك لتطوير دورها في المجتمع الاميركي؟‏‏
د. مصطفى: سفارتنا تحظى بالدعم والرعاية لتمكينها من القيام بدورها.. لكن لاتستطيع أي سفارة أن تقلب المعادلات السياسية القائمة بين البلدين إنما تستطيع أن تبذل جهداً كبيراً في التهيئة للوصول إلى واقع يسمح بتغيير هذه المعادلات.‏‏
لايوجد نقص لدى سفارتنا بالامكانيات بحيث تعجز عن القيام بدورها المطلوب لكن كما هي سنة الامور في الحياة فإن تزويد السفارة بمقومات وامكانات أكثر لتمكينها بعملها سيؤدي بشكل منطقي وطبيعي إلى حصول تحسن بأدائها.‏‏

كانت المقاطعة اجتماعية‏‏
يبدو أن مقاطعة الخارجية الاميركية لكم قد انتهت مع رحيل بوش وإدارته؟.‏‏
د. عماد مصطفى: المقاطعة كانت عن المناسبات والولائم التي كانت تقام للسلك الدبلوماسي.. وهذا لم يكن يزعجنا لانه لم يكن من اللائق على السفارة السهر مع إدارة كإدارة بوش الابن ،والحقيقة لم نكن ممنوعين بالاصل إنما كنا مقاطعين اجتماعياً.‏‏
الآن الوضع تغير… ونحن نفتح صفحة جديدة مع إدارة الرئيس أوباما… وحتى هذه المقاطعة الاجتماعية انتهت ومنذ فترة قصيرة تمت دعوتي وزوجتي لحضور وليمة إفطار أقامها الرئيس أوباما وزوجته بحضور نائبه وزوجته .. على شرف السلك الدبلوماسي.. علما اننا لم نتلق مثل هذه الدعوة منذ(4) سنوات . ورغم ذلك فإن تلبية هذه الدعوة لم يتعد المجاملات الاجتماعية اللطيفة… ولم يؤد إلى تغيير جدي في جوهر العلاقات .. والمهم إذا لم ادعَ لا كارثة على السفارة ..لكن الاصول تقتضي الدعوة لكافة السفراء…‏‏

February 27th, 2009, 5:25 am


Alex said:

Netanyahu to U.S. envoy: I’ll honor Israel’s previous commitments
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Tags: Barack Obama, Israel News

Likud Chairman and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday told the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, that as Israel’s prime minister he will honor all commitments or international obligations taken on by previous Israeli administrations.

This remark is unusual for Netanyahu, and the event marks the first time he voiced such a sentiment since the Feb. 10 elections. Apparently, Netanyahu aims to communicate a message to the U.S., and to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, of his moderate approach to the peace process with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is currently negotiating to form a government with Kadima, whose chairwoman, Livni, has made the final-status talks a condition for her entry into the coalition. Hence Netanyahu’s statement was seen as a nod toward her as well as Washington.

February 27th, 2009, 5:27 am


Alex said:

Lieberman: I support creation of viable Palestinian state
By Haaretz Service
Tags: Israel news, Lieberman

Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman published an article on Wednesday in the New York weekly newspaper The Jewish Week in which he stated that he advocates the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In the article, Lieberman expresses puzzlement at the fact that he is widely viewed as extremist, and that he has been labeled a member of the “far right” and an “ultra-nationalist.”

“I want the State of Israel to remain a Zionist, Jewish and democratic state. There is nothing ‘far’ or ‘ultra’ about those ideals. I also advocate the creation of a viable Palestinian state,” Lieberman wrote.

February 27th, 2009, 5:28 am


norman said:

Israel will not leave the Golan until Syria fights for it,

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update – 10:29 27/02/2009
Can Israel make peace with Syria without leaving Golan?
By Aluf Benn

U.S. President Barack Obama wants to create a new order in the Middle East, one based on diplomacy and dialogue, not on boycotts and bombs. Israel wants to shatter the threatening “axis of evil,” which is headquartered in Iran and has branches in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and is opposed to withdrawal from the territories. Syria wants to improve its relations with the United States and strengthen its control of Lebanon, without bowing to Israel.

Is there a formula that can satisfy Israel, Syria and Obama’s United States? Is there any point in trying to move ahead on the Syrian track, after prolonged stagnation and all the disappointments and failures?

Close associates of prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu are tossing around the idea of an interim agreement between Israel and Syria, in which the two countries would declare a “state of non-belligerence” in return for an Israeli withdrawal from a small part of the Golan Heights.

On the eve of the election, while visiting the Golan and planting a tree for Tu Bishvat (Hebrew Arbor Day), Netanyahu declared that, “Gamla will not fall again” and “the Golan will remain in our hands.” According to him, “For 35 years this has been the quietest border we have because we are on the Golan, not below it.” On other occasions, he has declared that withdrawal from the Heights would turn it into “an Iranian base.” He sees the indirect negotiations Prime Minister Ehud Olmert conducted with the Syrians as having offered concessions without recompense, as a useless move that served only to extricate Syrian President Bashar Assad from international isolation. An agreement that would include only a limited withdrawal, however, in which Israel would “remain on the Golan,” does not contradict Netanyahu’s principles.

All efforts to achieve peace between Syria and Israel since the 1991 Madrid peace conference have been based on the same formula: Israeli withdrawal from all of the Golan Heights in return for peace, normalization of relations, and security arrangements that would distance the Syrian army from the border and would afford Israel early-warning intelligence.

That formula seemed simple, in comparison with the complex negotiations with the Palestinians. In the Syrian track, there is no doubt that “there is a partner,” one that is capable of making and following up on decisions. Furthermore, there are no fraught emotional and religious issues with the Golan, unlike the situation with the Palestinians, with thorny issues such as Jerusalem, the refugees and the Jewish settlements that have been built on biblical sites in the West Bank. The strategic benefit of the accommodation with Syria also seemed obvious: Shifting that country from the “resistance camp” into the group of moderate nations in the region would once and for all obviate the danger of “the big war” between Israel and its neighbors, and would also afford Syria an opportunity for modernization and economic development.

Nevertheless, all efforts to achieve a settlement have come to naught. Six Israeli prime ministers have negotiated directly or indirectly with Syrian presidents Hafez Assad and his son Bashar: Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Olmert. Only prime minister Ariel Sharon did not want to enter into talks. With the exception of Shamir, all agreed in principle to withdrawal from the Golan; indeed, in Barak’s day, the dispute over the border boiled down to a 200-meter-wide strip. But the gap was never closed.

The common denominator of all the failed attempts was that both sides hesitated to take the final step that would burst through the psychological barriers, but also put them in great political danger. Israel refused to withdraw to the line that the Syrians demanded, which would have given them control of the northeastern shore of Lake Kinneret. Damascus refused normalization measures and public diplomacy, which might have softened Israeli opposition to a withdrawal.

In 1998, Netanyahu held secret negotiations with Hafez Assad, while seeking a route that would bypass talks with the Palestinians. There is disagreement concerning the proposals he conveyed to Assad via his envoy, American businessman Ronald Lauder. Netanyahu and his aides say he received Syria’s agreement to allow Israel to remain on the “cliff line” (overlooking the Hula Valley), though this too would necessitate evacuation of all Israeli settlements on the Golan.

Associates of Barak, who succeeded Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office and saw the relevant documents, assert that Netanyahu was more generous, and that he proposed that the border with Syria be drawn “on the basis of the international boundary and the 1967 lines” – a rather vague formulation that leaves a lot of wiggle room for both sides.

According to both versions, Assad asked to see a map, Netanyahu refused, and the negotiations thus ended inconclusively. Their talks were not publicized, and came to light only on the eve of the 1999 election, in the television debate between Netanyahu and the defense minister he had dismissed, Yitzhak Mordechai (at the time also a candidate for prime minister), who said to him, “Bibi, look me straight in the eye,” in reaction to Netanyahu’s response to a question about the Golan. The details came to light only after Netanyahu fell from power. It is clear that despite his declarations, however, he was prepared for a significant withdrawal from the Golan in return for necessary security accommodations.

In the latest attempt to negotiate with Damascus, during Olmert’s tenure, the two sides made do with indirect exchanges via Turkey. The efforts reached a peak during Olmert’s visit to Ankara just prior to the start of Operation Cast Lead, when his counterpart, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke to Bashar Assad by phone and tried to figure out a formula for direct talks. Erdogan claims that he nearly succeeded, but the operation in the Gaza Strip ruined those chances.

Olmert sought a Syrian commitment to cool relations with Iran and to end its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. The Syrians refused, hinting that, at most, this stipulation could be an indirect result of an agreement, but not a precondition.

An interim agreement would bypass the obstacles that thwarted negotiations in the past, without breaking the basic rules of the Israeli-Arab peace process. Each side would simply postpone making its maximum demands and make do with less. Israel would, for the meantime, give up “the plate of hummus in Damascus” and the Syrians would give up “wading in Lake Kinneret.”

Ground rules

How would such an arrangement look on the ground? Israel would withdraw from all or some of the Druze villages in the northern Golan. Syria could then claim it was repatriating citizens “liberated from the Israeli occupation,” after having encouraged them “to resist” in recent years. The apples grown by the Druze would be transported to markets in Damascus without having to pass through United Nations checkposts, and without Red Cross mediation, as is presently required. To add to the credibility of the Israeli withdrawal, perhaps the possibility of evacuating a Jewish settlement or two would be considered. This would be harder for the right-wing parties to digest. Mount Hermon and its early-warning apparatus would remain under Israeli control, and the territory Syria would receive would be entirely demilitarized, the way Quneitra has been since Israel withdrew from it, in 1974. Israel would certainly offer citizenship to those Golan Druze who might prefer to remain within its territory.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics data from September 2008, there are 40,000 people living on the Golan Heights: 21,500 Druze in four villages (9,300 in Majdal Shams), and 18,500 Jews (6,500 in Katzrin and the rest in the 31 settlements of the Golan regional council).

The entire area is located in sovereign Israeli territory under the Golan Heights Law of 1981, but Israel has desisted from implementing some large-scale development and settlement plans, apparently because the idea of withdrawal is discussed every few years. There are no diplomatic pressures on Israel to “freeze the settlements on the Golan.” The annual rate of population growth in the regional council, according to the CBS, is 3.6 percent – higher than the national average. This amounts to several hundred people, and in a peripheral area where there are few jobs.

The Golan Referendum Law of 1999 requires a majority of 61 Knesset members to agree to any concession involving sovereign Israeli territory, and confirmation of such a decision by national referendum, in accordance with rules that were to be established in separate legislation (which has not completed to this day). However, it can be assumed that if Netanyahu agrees to an interim arrangement, he will obtain a majority for it in the Knesset, with the help of the left-wing parties – as prime minister Menachem Begin did for the withdrawal from Sinai, and Sharon did for the pullout from Gaza.

Achievement of an interim agreement and its success would depend on Syria’s willingness to distance itself from its “natural partners” in Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinian organizations, and to relinquish its central position in the “resistance camp” vis-a-vis Israel. It also would depend on the willingness of the United States to offer Syria sweeteners, in the form of recognition of its status in Lebanon, seeing to the closing of the international investigation of Syrian involvement in the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and provision of economic aid.

Such a move has a clear precedent: the 1975 Israeli-Egyptian interim accord, in which the two countries initially agreed that the conflict between them, and in the entire Middle East, would not be resolved by military force, but rather via peaceful methods. They also affirmed they were “determined to reach a final and just peace settlement.” Israel withdrew from key strategic points in Sinai – the Mitla and Gidi passes, which control the routes to the Suez Canal, and the Abu Rodeis oil field. Security arrangements were made in the evacuated areas, among them an important early-warning station operated by American crews (a precedent suggested later vis-a-vis Mount Hermon, in negotiations with Syria).

Ford’s ‘reevaluation’

The interim agreement was a natural continuation of the 1974 separation of forces agreements that ended the Yom Kippur War in Sinai and the Golan Heights, and included a small-scale Israeli withdrawal (from the Suez Canal and from Quneitra) and security arrangements, but no political requirements. The negotiations that preceded the agreement with Egypt were indirect, and carried out via the shuttle diplomacy of then-U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

The negotiations were difficult and circuitous, and spurred a severe crisis in relations between Israel and the United States, when Kissinger announced a “reevaluation” of America’s policy in the Middle East as punishment for Israel’s intractability. Prime minister Yizhak Rabin had difficulty dealing with his defense minister, Shimon Peres, who represented the hawkish line in the government. The right, headed by opposition leader Menachem Begin and the Gush Emunim settler organization, led the protest against the agreement, which involved insulting remarks about Kissinger (who was described as a traitor to the Jewish people).

The disappointment in Israel was profound. Even Haaretz reporters Matti Golan and Dan Margalit, who wrote a detailed postmortem about the negotiations and the agreement, lamented that, “Egypt received nearly everything it wanted, at a minimal price. The passes and Abu Rodeis are gone – and there is no trace of the cancellation of the state of war or elements that bring this cancellation any closer or advance a state of peace.”

The accord effectively moved Egypt from the Soviet bloc into the U.S. camp, and the Soviet Union punished Egypt by canceling outstanding arms deals. From Israel’s perspective, as well, the 1975 agreement presaged a step up in U.S. military aid and strategic cooperation, which was especially important to Rabin.

One of the sweeteners then-president Gerald Ford offered Rabin at the time was described in a famous letter, where he promised that the United States would “give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.” In his second term as prime minister, Rabin went back to the idea of drafting interim accords as a prologue to peace. He obtained such an agreement from Jordan’s King Hussein (the Washington Declaration), in which the two undertook to end the state of war between their countries, a few months before a final agreement was cemented, in October of 1994.

When the negotiations with the Syrians stalled, Rabin brought up the idea of “Majdal Shams first” as an interim step. However, Hafez Assad would not hear of it, and reminded the Americans of “how Kissinger had deceived him” when luring him into believing, in 1974, that after the separation of forces agreement, he would eventually be given all of the Golan.

Prof. Eyal Zisser, head of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, believes that the younger Assad, like his father, will also refuse a partial deal. He thinks Bashar Assad will not be willing to give up the alliance with Iran, and at most would want to improve relations with the West while maintaining a close connection to Tehran. In Assad’s view, there is no justification for interim measures that would only perpetuate and legitimate the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. Syria would agree to taking the big step toward rapprochement with Israel only if it receives in return a full withdrawal to the lines of June 4, 1967.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Uri Saguy – who as head of Military Intelligence identified a turnaround in Syria’s position and a willingness to make peace with Israel, and was involved in talks with Damascus and in other unofficial contacts – is also not enthusiastic about an interim agreement on the Golan. Saguy believes that a peace agreement with the Syrians is possible today, and finds it hard to see how Israel would benefit from a partial move. Such a move would be difficult to push through politically, because the public would prefer to support a comprehensive package including normalization, he observes.

In a situation, though, in which regional diplomacy is focusing on restraining Iran’s mounting strength, and in which Israel will have a government that has reservations about a comprehensive withdrawal from the Golan, an interim agreement might be “the third way” that would reduce the danger of a conflagration and create a platform for progress. Especially in light of the fact that the comprehensive track has been tried again and again – and has always failed.



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February 27th, 2009, 12:27 pm


Chris said:

Bringing Syria in

Feb 23rd 2009
From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

A new phase in relations between Syria and America

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is being bombarded with successive visits by senior US congressmen, setting the scene for a new phase in relations between Damascus and Washington. However, as Mr Assad himself has acknowledged, the process of détente is still in a period of gestures and signals. The Obama administration has made clear that it is interested in direct discussions with Syria about Middle East policy, but seems to be reluctant to make the first move. Mr Assad, for his part, has indicated that he sees no need to make concessions, as he views the US shift towards accepting the need for high-level dialogue with Syria as a correction to the discredited policies of the Bush administration.

The congressional caravan got off to a bad start. The first visit, on February 18th, was from Benjamin Cardin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, who provoked some negative comment when he said at a press conference after being received by Mr Assad that “Syria had isolated itself by its partnership of terrorism”, in reference to the presence in Damascus of offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian groups that advocate armed resistance against Israeli occupation. Wadah Abed Rabbo, the editor of Al-Watan, a newspaper owned by a group of well-connected Syrian business people, described Mr Cardin’s remarks as being “far from the Arab, international and American reality and very close to Israel’s logic and agenda”, and he accused him of appearing to be intent on dictating to the Syrian government rather than listening or even engaging in a dialogue. He wrote that if the subsequent delegations from the US Congress held the same views “it would perhaps be better if they didn’t bother making the trip”.

The next visitor will be John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is scheduled to be in Damascus on February 21st (it is not yet clear when the final planned delegation, led by Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will arrive). Mr Kerry will have had the benefit of having had greater exposure to the region’s realities, having visited Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and, most importantly, the Gaza Strip before he arrives in the Syrian capital. Mr Cardin was taken to task by Mr Abed Rabbo for presuming to give advice on the Palestinian question without having witnessed the results of Israel’s recent onslaught against the Gaza. However, Mr Kerry made clear in remarks prior to his arrival in Damascus that the US administration expects Syria to reciprocate for any positive diplomatic moves from the American side, an expectation that clearly rankles with Mr Assad. Mr Abed Rabbo was undoubtedly reflecting official Syrian thinking when he wrote that “the Syrians are today looking forward to a change in American policy, not to a change in Syrian policy”.

An ambassador for an ambassador
The first change that the Syrian government can realistically expect is the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus. The previous ambassador, Margaret Scobie, was withdrawn in 2005 after the assassination in Beirut of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister. By recalling Ms Scobie, the US was clearly signalling its suspicion that Syria was implicated in Mr Hariri’s murder. Syria has engineered an improvement in its relations with the EU, and France in particular, through making selective concessions to longstanding Western demands for it to respect Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty. This process culminated in October last year in an agreement for Lebanon and Syria to establish formal diplomatic relations for the first time. Since then, embassies have opened in both Beirut and Damascus, and Lebanon has appointed an ambassador to Syria. However, Mr Assad has delayed the appointment of an ambassador to Beirut, prompting speculation that he is looking for some form of diplomatic reward for taking this step—such as an assurance that the US president, Barack Obama, will appoint a US ambassador to Damascus.

Syria has also appealed to the new administration to review the Syria Accountability Act, which was put into effect by the Bush administration in May 2004 and which provided for the imposition of economic sanctions. The sanctions have entailed a ban on the export of US goods and services (excluding food, medicine and some other specified items, such as aircraft parts needed to ensure the safety of flying, but including products by non-US companies that contain more than 10% US-made content) and a severing of all ties between US firms and the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria. The sanctions have hampered operations in Syria’s oil and gas sector to some extent, and they have prevented Syrian Arab Airlines from upgrading its fleet. In a possible indication of a more lenient approach by the new administration, a request to import spare parts for the national airline’s Boeing 747s (from a Boeing affiliate in Saudi Arabia) was approved by the US Department of Commerce in early February, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.

Mr Obama is likely to send an ambassador to Damascus in due course. He can also be expected to approve including Syria on the itinerary of US officials visiting the region. These would be likely to include, in the first instance, the assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, a post for which an appointment has yet to be announced (one of the names said to be in the hat is Jeffrey Feltman, a former US ambassador in Beirut and something of a bête noire to Syria’s Lebanese allies). Mr Assad has also expressed interest in receiving David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, which suggests that he might be ready to offer some co-operation to the US in ensuring an orderly exit of its troops from Iraq.

The timing of an American ambassadorial appointment will be critical. Mr Obama could offer this move as an early gesture of goodwill. He could alternatively hold it back as means to maintain pressure on Syria in a number of sensitive areas. One of these is the Lebanese general election, which is scheduled to take place on June 7th. The election could see a shift in the balance of power towards Syria’s allies, led by Hizbullah, a Shia political and military group that the US wishes to be disarmed. If such a shift should occur as a result of what the US perceives to be Syrian interference, relations between Washington and Damascus could revert to their former coolness. The US would also look askance at any moves by Syria’s allies to subvert a pro-Western government if the Hizbullah-led opposition were to fail to secure a majority in the new Lebanese parliament.

The US administration will also be looking at several other benchmarks of what it might describe as Syrian good behaviour. These include the negotiations about a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip; the US expects Syria to use its influence on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to secure a favourable outcome. The US has also declared its full support for calls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Syria to co-operate further in the investigation of the September 2007 Israeli bombing raid that destroyed a building suspected of being a covert nuclear reactor. The IAEA has said that it has found evidence strongly suggesting that the building did house such a reactor, but that it requires more documentation from Syria and more access to that and other sites before it can reach a definitive conclusion. Syria maintains that the target of the Israeli attack was a conventional military building. Another awkward event for Syria will be the opening of a mixed international/Lebanon tribunal in The Hague on March 1st.

Israeli carrot
Mr Assad’s trump card is the role that Syria can play in an overall Arab-Israeli peace settlement. He has already gained some diplomatic traction in the West through engaging in indirect peace talks with Israel since May 2008, although this initiative was suspended after Israel attacked Gaza. Once Israel’s newly nominated prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, finishes the laborious process of stitching together a coalition government, these talks are likely to resume. Mr Assad had indicated prior to the Gaza war that he was ready to move to the phase of direct talks. Mr Netanyahu pledged during his election campaign that he would not countenance an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. However, he has been involved in direct talks with Syria before, during the Clinton era, and he could see some advantage in reviving the Syrian-Israeli peace process, if only as means to ward off US pressure on the Palestinian issue.

February 27th, 2009, 1:35 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Although in Freeman’s case, I am not sure if Obama will be able to explain his appointment of “a China-coddling Israel basher .. with outlandish perspectives and prejudices.”


If Obama can explain $1 Trillion+ in spending, he can explain anything. Obama, because he’s new, can pretty much do anything he wants. At some point, the American people will turn on him if they don’t see results (like they did with Bush).

I gave Obama a month, and already I’m sick of him.

But my prediction is there still will not be a peace agreement between Israel and the remaining stalwarts. And if there won’t be a peace with Obama as president, then there just won’t be a peace.

February 27th, 2009, 2:34 pm


Alia said:


I do not appreciate Mr. Freeman’s position on the chinese handling of Tiananman square but his appointment would not be a bad thing for the Arabs esp. since the recent Assad-Saud rapprochement- let see if the right wing cum AIPAC muscleflexing is going to be effective.

I must say that I more than chuckled reading his 2006 infamous speech :;

February 27th, 2009, 3:08 pm


Chris said:

Akbar Palace,
“But my prediction is there still will not be a peace agreement between Israel and the remaining stalwarts. And if there won’t be a peace with Obama as president, then there just won’t be a peace.

I agree. I have my doubts as to whether the regime sees peace and reconciliation as in its interests.

February 27th, 2009, 10:59 pm


norman said:

Syria upbeat after first talks with Obama team

Syria sounded upbeat on Thursday after holding its first high-level talks with the US since US President Barack Obama took office, saying the “very constructive meeting” will pave the way for more. Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustafa told reporters that he discussed “the way forward” between the two countries at his meeting on Thursday in Washington with Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. US-Syrian ties were especially tense during former US president George W. Bush”s administration, which accused Damascus of supporting terrorism. “I… …

February 28th, 2009, 2:31 am


norman said:

Ap > Headlines
Focus in Hariri assassination shifts to courtroom

Sheik Husam Qaraqirah, center, who heads the Association of Islamic Philanthropic Projects, an orthodox Sunni Muslim group in Lebanon also known as the Habashis, holds up the hands of Lebanese brothers Mahmoud, left, and Ahmed Abdel-Al, right, as they celebrate their freedom at the headquarters of the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash group in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009. Three men jailed for more than three years in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were set free on bail on Wednesday, days before an international tribunal was to begin trying the case. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Tawil)
Published: Saturday, February 28, 2009 3:45 AM CST
BEIRUT – Investigators have pored over evidence for four years _ a human tooth found at the bombing site, a suicide truck that was stolen in Japan and made its way to Lebanon, reams of phone records and hundreds of interviews.

Now the focus in one of the Mideast’s most dramatic political assassinations is shifting to prosecution, with the convening Sunday of an international tribunal on the slaying of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Despite the start of proceedings in the Netherlands, it is still not known who will be accused in the suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people on a seaside street in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

Also unknown is the most politically explosive question _ whether the proceedings will implicate Syria’s government, which many Lebanese believe was behind the murder of a man who led opposition to the long Syrian military occupation of Lebanon. Syria has denied any involvement.

Most likely the first defendants before the court will be four pro-Syria generals who led Lebanon’s police, intelligence service and an elite army unit at the time of the assassination. They are the only people in custody, though they have not been formally charged.

Some in Lebanon doubt the court will ever bring out the full truth, believing it might avoid digging deep to ensure Syria does not react by stirring up trouble in Lebanon and other parts of the region.

Trials could also further polarize Lebanon’s politics, feeding the power struggle between pro- and anti-Syria factions. The U.N. Security Council had to impose the mixed Lebanese-international Special Tribunal after Lebanon’s parliament was too divided to approve it.

Edmond Saab, executive editor of the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, contends the tribunal will be immune from politicization. “Being an international court is a guarantee in itself against that, and the United Nations’ credibility is on the line,” he told The Associated Press.

Administrators have said the tribunal will take up to five years to finish its work, and the top U.N. prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare of Canada, said in a statement Saturday that it will be thorough.

“We will not be deterred by the obstacles or the size of the challenges,” Bellemare said. “We will go wherever the evidence leads us. We will leave no stone unturned.”

As prime minister, Hariri, a billionaire businessman, was credited with rebuilding downtown Beirut after the 1975-90 civil war, and with trying to limit Syria’s influence.

In a country known for political assassinations, his killing stands out for its far-reaching impact. It galvanized opposition to Syria and helped force the end of a 29-year military presence that dominated Lebanese affairs.

But his death also threw Lebanon into turmoil. Anti-Syria factions supported by the West won control of the government but were unable to exert any authority while locked in a struggle with Syria’s allies, led by the Hezbollah militant group.

The first U.N. investigator into the killing, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, said the assassination plot’s complexity suggested a role by the Syrian intelligence services and its pro-Syria Lebanese counterpart. Lebanon’s pro-U.S. government detained the four generals.

But the two chief investigators who followed Mehlis have worked quietly and have not named any individuals or countries as suspects.

Last April, Bellemare said investigators had evidence Hariri’s killing was done by a “criminal network” also linked to a series of bombings and shootings that have killed seven anti-Syria figures and caused other deaths since Hariri’s assassination.

The U.N. team worked under tight security for fear of attacks or intimidation, living in fortified compounds in Beirut and traveling in heavily protected motorcades.

The team also kept tight control of information about the investigation.

One piece of evidence is the tooth of the suicide bomber. Forensic examinations determined the truck’s driver was a man in his 20s who was not from Lebanon, according to Bellemare’s predecessor as top investigator, Serge Brammertz of Belgium.

Investigators interviewed hundreds of people, including the presidents of Lebanon and Syria. They acquired records listing more than 5 billion telephone calls and mobile phone text messages. They determined the truck used in the bombing was stolen in Kanagawa, Japan, in October 2004 and purchased two months later near the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

The probe has also seen numerous twists.

Husam Husam, a Syrian barber and self-proclaimed intelligence operative, at first implicated Syrian officials in testimony to investigators. Then he left Lebanon for Syria and appeared on TV, recanting and saying the Hariri family paid him to frame Syria. Lebanon’s government dismissed the claim.

Another purported Syrian intelligence officer, Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, was at first said to be a key witness, then a suspect _ then he vanished while under house arrest in France.

A Lebanese man who was questioned about the sale of cell phone chips allegedly used for communicating in the bombing was found dead in what was ruled a car accident.

Syria’s interior minister, Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan, died in his Damascus office in late 2005 about a month after speaking with investigators. Syrian officials said he shot himself to death, but some in Lebanon believe he was killed. Kenaan ran Lebanon for two decades until 2003.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)

Copyright © 2009 –

February 28th, 2009, 1:07 pm


norman said:

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update – 14:59 28/02/2009
Netanyahu: Palestinians should govern their own lives, but not threaten ours
By Haaretz Service

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu says he believes in the Palestinians’ right to self governance, The Washington Post has reported.

In his first interview with the foreign media since he was chosen to head Israel’s next government, the Likud chair told The Washington Post: “I think there is broad agreement inside Israel and outside that the Palestinians should have the ability to govern their lives but not to threaten ours.”

Netanyahu further said he would continue peace talks with the Palestinians, while at the same time advancing “the economic development that has begun” in the Palestinian Authority.

The Likud chair added: “I personally intend to take charge of a government committee that will regularly address the needs of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.”

Asked about Israel’s achievements in its three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip and whether he thought that Hamas should be toppled, Netanyahu said only that “Hamas is incompatible with peace.”

“I hope that the Palestinians in Gaza find the ability to change this regime because we want to have peace with all the Palestinians. Right now, what we should do is enable humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza but not in such a way as it enables Hamas to buy more rockets.”

During his interview, Netanyahu referred to recent reports about future dialogue between Israel and Syria, saying “Syria so far has been talking peace but has enabled Hezbollah to arm itself in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions.”

“I would talk to Syria about abandoning these courses of action and building confidence that they really want to move toward peace. So far they’re not giving that impression,” he said.

Related articles:

Netanyahu: Livni refused my offer for unity

Netanyahu vows to honor Israel’s ‘international commitments’

U.S.: No normal Syria ties until it stops backing Hamas, Hezbollah



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February 28th, 2009, 1:14 pm


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