Posted by Joshua on Sunday, August 31st, 2008
by Qifa Nabki
Whatever the reality is, it looks likely that the talks have entered a temporary holding pattern to be sustained over the next several months while various regional and international uncertainties are resolved: the identities of the incoming American president and Israeli Prime Minister, the status of Iranian relations with the West, the security situations in Iraq and Palestine, etc.
I have argued over the past few months that Syria would do well to include Lebanon in its current talks with Israel. The presence of Lebanese negotiators alongside Syrian ones in Turkey would send several positive signals to various parties, which might compel positive responses in return.
1. It would demonstrate to the Americans that these talks are not merely a publicity stunt designed to hoist Syria out of its isolation, but rather that they would have an important bearing upon an American ally (Lebanon's Saniora government).
2. It would further emphasize the idea that Syria recognizes Lebanon's sovereignty and is not negotiating on its behalf or behind its back.
3. It would send the signal to the Israelis that Syria has decisive clout with its allies in Lebanon, and can make them come to the table and negotiate with Israel when the conditions are right.
These positive signals might produce some fruitful results, namely:
a) Curbing criticism of and resistance to Syria/Hizbullah in Lebanon's political arena, if it is felt that the status quo will dramatically shift within the next few years following a peace deal. In other words, all of the fanfare about Hizbullah's weapons might be swept under the table again if the party's opponents can envision a stage at which Syria would pressure Hizbullah to conform to new political realities.
b) The Americans might seize this development as a face-saving way to sponsor the talks, given that one of their foremost regional allies is committed to it.
c) Reinvigorating the talks and putting them on the front page again, where they have the best chance of succeeding.
There is no reason for President Bashar al-Assad to introduce this tactic at the current moment, when it will likely be ignored by the Bush administration. However, it is conceivable that either Obama or McCain would be more open to exploring the potential of these talks than George W. Bush, and a Syrian gesture of this nature would make it far easier for the Americans to switch tack.
Both the French and Israelis have called for Lebanon to engage in direct talks, with the usual brush off by Lebanon's leaders, who know better than to pursue such a track without a Syrian green light. Since the road to peace leads through Lebanon, however, Syria would do well to begin paving the way for an eventual settlement by bringing its neighbor on board, even if only in a limited capacity.