Posted by Joshua on Monday, January 26th, 2009
Syria is being asked to get Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel as a test of its power and good will to the Obama administration, explains Khaled Oweis, who has spoken with diplomats in Damascus.
Aaron David Miller, says naming George J. Mitchell as the new special envoy for Arab-Israeli issues shows the Obama administration at this early stage is substituting ” process for substance.” He says the administration has “no intention of making major changes in America’s approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, because right now, the prospects of any sort of conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palenstinians are slim to none.” … “the truth is, because you are on the eve of a new government in Israel–the Knesset elections take place on February 10–there probably will be no visit from the new Israeli prime minister, whoever he or she is, to Washington, which is customary and traditional, until April.”… “it’s safe to assume that there will be no change–none, absolutely none–in the administration’s approach to Hamas.
Elliott Abrams is being taken on by The Council on Foreign Relations. He was the architect of the Bush administration’s Syria policy, on several occasions that I know of, sounding out foreign diplomats and politicians on the possibility of stimulating a coup in Damascus. He also urged Israel to bomb Damascus during the summer of 2006. President Bush has also appointed Abrams to be member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council: a five-year term beginning 01/16/09.
ANALYSIS-Syria eyes strategic gains after Gaza war 26 Jan 2009
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, ReutersDAMASCUS,
Jan 26 (Reuters) – Syria is trying to capitalise on Israel’s failure to crush its Islamist ally Hamas to enhance its regional clout in peace talks with the Jewish state and forge good ties with the new U.S. administration.
The Syrian government, which has recently emerged from years of isolation, is now advocating a role for the Islamist group in Middle East peacemaking, Syrian officials and diplomats say.
But Damascus has to nudge the Palestinian Islamist group toward meeting international demands if it wants to further strengthen its international position as it faces risky challenges relating to two U.N. investigations, diplomats said.
“The stiff resistance in Gaza has proved that Hamas is a political force to be reckoned with. There is a new regional reality and more countries are supporting this view. Turkey is one important player,” a Syrian official said.
The official was referring to Turkey’s intervention with Hamas during the 22-day Israeli offensive on Gaza, during which 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. Syria, which hosts the exiled leadership of the Islamist group, was a centre of international efforts to end the war.
Hamas responded to a unilateral Israeli ceasefire by holding fire after intense meetings with Turkish officials in Damascus and Egyptian officials in Cairo, while briefing Syria throughout, Palestinians sources said.
“Syria did not pressure Hamas. The Syrian position on the need to end the aggression and lift the blockade on Gaza was consistent with Hamas throughout,” one of the sources said.
“Hamas felt it was exhausted and recognised that the Palestinians in Gaza needed a respite.”
Diplomats confirm that Syria mostly avoided pressuring Hamas while its survival was at stake in Gaza. But Damascus has exerted influence on the group in the past, including by hosting a meeting between Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and President Mahmoud Abbas that failed to halt Palestinian civil strife.
The war in Gaza raised calls in the West to engage Hamas, although the group refuses to abandon armed struggle and recognise Israel — demands placed by the four main Middle East brokers, including the United States and the European Union.
France, which played a role in halting the Gaza war, indicated last week that it might be prepared to hold talks with Hamas even if the group did not recognise Israel.
Syrian officials have indicated that the international community would need Syria’s help if it wished to engage rather than shun the group.
Damascus is also hoping for a thaw in relations with Washington, and sees President Barack Obama as more amenable to supporting Israeli-Syrian peacemaking than his predecessor George W. Bush, who imposed sanctions on Syria and expanded them during his last year in office.
Damascus suspended the indirect talks with Israel during the Gaza crisis. But neither side has ruled out a resumption of the talks which have focused on the occupied Golan Heights and Syria’s ties with Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran.
“Syria has benefited from the renewed international awareness that the Arab-Israeli conflict is crucial to any broader Middle East settlement. Obama will have to engage Syria if he wants to attenuate regional divisions and radicalism,” wrote Professor Joshua Landis on his Syria Comment Web site.
But Obama’s Middle East envoy’s first trip to the region will exclude Syria and recent statements by President Bashar al-Assad declaring a 2002 Arab peace initiative dead were unlikely to go down well with the new U.S. administration.
Continuing to be on the wrong side of Washington will not help Syria, with a tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri due to start work in March and the International Atomic Energy Agency probing an alleged nuclear site bombed by Israel, the diplomats said.
“The Gaza war lowered the standing of Syria’s regional rivals a notch, but the Syrians cannot continue to get away with playing the rejectionist card while pursuing peace with Israel,” one of the diplomats said in the Syrian capital.
“At one point Damascus has to show that it can cool its relations with Iran and deliver on Hamas.”
Syria has consolidated its alliance with Iran. The two countries are the main backers of both Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Hamas has not done enough. It has to show that it can offer something new after Gaza,” another diplomat said. “Syria also has to show that it is prepared to push Hamas. Most of what the officials who descended on Damascus during the crisis got was a repetition of the Hamas line.”