Syria to invite Lebanon, Saudi Arabia to summit

Wed 5 Mar 2008, 11:40 GMT arab league

CAIRO, March 5 (Reuters) – Syria, facing Arab divisions over its role in neighbouring Lebanon, will invite Beirut and Riyadh to attend an Arab summit in Damascus due later this month, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said.

Syria, which has strained ties with the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, had said it would wait until Lebanon elects a new president before inviting Beirut and Riyadh to the March 29-30 summit. Saudi Arabia also backs Siniora, who is an opponent of Syria.

Syria has invited all other Arab League members, according to Lebanese politicians.

Egyptian state news agency MENA reported that Moualem, speaking late on Tuesday, said that "if a Lebanese president is not elected before the Arab summit, then Lebanon will choose who will represent it".

Analysts said this might trigger friction since Siniora should be the official representative of Lebanon in Damascus, which would be bitter pill for the Syrians to swallow.

Moualem, in Cairo for a two-day meeting of Arab foreign ministers to prepare for the summit, would not be drawn on to who the Lebanon invitation would be sent. Political sources said the Syrians would like other than Siniora to attend.

A Lebanese official said Siniora might not go if many Arab leaders stayed away. Diplomats in the region say they expect the leaders of heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Jordan, to stay away unless Lebanon elects a president by then.

The summit is expected to focus on Lebanon, which has been without a president since November due to a power struggle, and on the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli offensive killed more than 120 Palestinians.

Syria expects at least 12 of 22 heads of state to attend, including those of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya as well as the Palestinian president.

Saudi Arabia's relations with Syria deteriorated after the 2005 assassination of its main Lebanese ally, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Many in Lebanon and the Arab world blamed Syria for the killing. Damascus denies any involvement.

Arab League mediation has so far failed to break the impasse, which has forced the Lebanese presidential vote to be postponed 15 times since September. The election is now due on March 11. (Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

Comments (39)


1. Norman said:

Top Arab diplomats to decide on summit agenda amid dispute with host Syria
Arab foreign ministers opened talks here Wednesday on the agenda of a summit scheduled for later this month amid a dispute with Syria, the host, over Lebanon’s political crisis.
U.S.-backed Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are reportedly threatening to boycott the March-29-30 gathering if no president is elected in Lebanon by then.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallam, speaking to reporters before Wednesday’s talks got under way, said the summit will go ahead as planned and regardless of any boycotts.
“The preparations are in full swing and (the summit) will be held as scheduled,” he said.
In his opening address, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said “The summit will be held later this month, God willing.”

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March 5th, 2008, 2:21 pm

 

2. Qifa Nabki said:

Talk to Hamas

By Nehemia Shtrasler
Haaretz

In the winter of 1991, Saddam Hussein bombed Tel Aviv. For a month and a half, long-range missiles landed on the city. People panicked and many fled to Jerusalem, while the leaders issued pompous statements about the terrible blow the Iraqi dictator was about to receive.

But nothing happened. We did nothing.

In February-March 1996, buses exploded in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and dozens of people were killed in suicide bombings in the streets and restaurants. People who went to the grocery store did not know if they would return. Those who went to a restaurant or disco were seen as risking their lives.
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Shimon Peres, who was then prime minister, realized that the suicide attacks would destroy him politically but could do nothing to prevent them. Sure enough, Benjamin Netanyahu won the elections.

In 2001-2003, terror struck in the heart of Israel again. The suicide bombings emptied the shopping centers, tourism halted, businesspeople went bankrupt and received no compensation. The economy plunged into a deep recession amid rising unemployment. Even then we did not enter an all-out war in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

So it is wrong to argue that the state has abandoned Sderot and the western Negev. If this is abandonment, then Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were abandoned as well. The truth is more prosaic: Power has limitations. The Israel Defense Forces cannot solve everything.

Netanyahu may say there is a simple solution – “to move from attrition to the offensive” – but the reality is more complicated. The IDF acted on the outskirts of Gaza’s densely populated territory and two soldiers were killed. Had the army pushed deeper, the number of fatalities would have risen sharply.

International pressure would have risen as well. The United Nations has already condemned us, Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian arbitrator, canceled his visit to Israel, and scenes from the beginning of the second intifada in October 2000 returned to the West Bank. The Qassam and Grad rockets continued falling even when the IDF was inside Gaza, and yesterday Hamas hastened to declare victory.

Another irritating lie in the Israeli discourse insists that it is appropriate to make Gazans’ lives a living hell, so that they will put pressure on their leaders and end the firing of rockets. This thesis was behind the first Lebanon war, but that fallacy didn’t work either, even when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were forced to flee to the north.

That was also the thesis behind the Second Lebanon War. But despite the Lebanese population’s extreme suffering, it didn’t work then either. It is certainly not working in Gaza. There things are horrifically bad. Poverty is awful, the number of fatalities is huge, the hospitals are collapsing from too many wounded, unemployment has reached the extraordinary level of 60 percent, and most of the population subsists on food provided by United Nations organizations.

People in such a difficult situation have nothing left but their self-respect. In these days “all of Gaza has become Hamas,” a former Fatah security officer who is far from being a Hamas supporter, told Haaretz. Al Jazeera is broadcasting to every home the horror pictures of the deaths of dozens of children and women.

In this situation, hatred triumphs and the only hope is the desire to take revenge. The rocket launchers are thus the heroes who gain the people’s sympathy, and support for Hamas is not getting any smaller – it’s growing.

So there is no escape but to talk to Hamas. We cannot choose our enemies. We embraced Yasser Arafat after saying for dozens of years (in the words of Yitzhak Rabin) that “we’ll meet the PLO only on the battlefield.”

Indeed, signing an agreement with Hamas is risky. An agreement could weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israel sees as a fitting partner. But it also harbors hope. We could make a cease-fire arrangement consisting of stopping the rocket fire in exchange for stopping the assassinations. We could agree on a prisoner exchange and bring Gilad Shalit home.

We could even alleviate the economic siege in an agreement that would prevent transferring weapons and explosives via the Rafah crossing. All this is attainable, and is many times preferable to continuing the bloodbath, which would only raise the walls of hatred and revenge higher.

Once we didn’t want to talk to the PLO and Arafat. Then we humiliated Abbas and didn’t want to give him any achievement during the disengagement. Now we don’t want to talk to Hamas. So the struggle will continue – until a catastrophe occurs, on their side or ours. Only then will the leaders be forced to sit down and talk around the negotiating table.

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March 5th, 2008, 2:25 pm

 

3. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

People like Shtrasler will never learn. What he suggested was done with Hizballah. The result of that was the July 2006 war.

In fact his logic is contradictory. If what is happening to Sderot is not that bad, why is it not an appropriate price to pay for making sure Hamas remains off balance and does not become as strong as Hizballah?

The reason Peres didn’t do anything about the suicide bombings was because he was sure Arafat would stop them. But he didn’t. That is exactly the time I became convinced Arafat did not want peace and that Oslo was a sham. Arafat by his own hands got Bibi elected and Peres could not change his mind about Arafat in time and he paid a huge political price that the Labor Party is still paying. If Perese would have decided at that point in time to return to controlling the west bank, the second intifada would not have happened and many Palestinians and Israelis would still be alive.

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March 5th, 2008, 2:40 pm

 

4. qunfuz said:

Shai – I’ve been banging on a bit more on the old thread. Good article below:

“To blame the victims for this killing spree defies both morality and sense”

Washington’s covert attempts to overturn an election result lie behind the crisis in Gaza, as leaked papers show

Seumas Milne
The Guardian, Wednesday March 5 2008

The attempt by western politicians and media to present this week’s carnage in the Gaza Strip as a legitimate act of Israeli self-defence – or at best the latest phase of a wearisome conflict between two somehow equivalent sides – has reached Alice-in-Wonderland proportions. Since Israel’s deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai, issued his chilling warning last week that Palestinians faced a “holocaust” if they continued to fire home-made rockets into Israel, the balance sheet of suffering has become ever clearer. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in the past week, of whom one in five were children and more than half were civilians, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. During the same period, three Israelis were killed, two of whom were soldiers taking part in the attacks.

So what was the response of the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, to this horrific killing spree? It was to blame the “numerous civilian casualties” on the week’s “significant rise” in Palestinian rocket attacks “and the Israeli response”, condemn the firing of rockets as “terrorist acts” and defend Israel’s right to self-defence “in accordance with international law”. But of course it has been nothing of the kind – any more than has been Israel’s 40-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, its continued expansion of settlements or its refusal to allow the return of expelled refugees.

Nor is the past week’s one-sided burden of casualties and misery anything new, but the gap is certainly getting wider. After the election of Hamas two years ago, Israel – backed by the US and the European Union – imposed a punitive economic blockade, which has hardened over the past months into a full-scale siege of the Gaza Strip, including fuel, electricity and essential supplies. Since January’s mass breakout across the Egyptian border signalled that collective punishment wouldn’t work, Israel has opted for military escalation. What that means on the ground can be seen from the fact that at the height of the intifada, from 2000 to 2005, four Palestinians were killed for every Israeli; in 2006 it was 30; last year the ratio was 40 to one. In the three months since the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, 323 Palestinians have been killed compared with seven Israelis, two of whom were civilians.

But the US and Europe’s response is to blame the principal victims for a crisis it has underwritten at every stage. In interviews with Palestinian leaders over the past few days, BBC presenters have insisted that Palestinian rockets have been the “starting point” of the violence, as if the occupation itself did not exist. In the West Bank, from which no rockets are currently fired and where the US-backed administration of Mahmoud Abbas maintains a ceasefire, there have been 480 Israeli military attacks over the past three months and 26 Palestinians killed. By contrast, the rockets from Gaza which are supposed to be the justification for the latest Israeli onslaught have killed a total of 14 people over seven years.

Like any other people, the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation – or to self-defence – whether they choose to exercise it or not. In spite of Israel’s disengagement in 2005, Gaza remains occupied territory, both legally and in reality. It is the world’s largest open-air prison, with land, sea and air access controlled by Israel, which carries out military operations at will. Palestinians may differ about the tactics of resistance, but the dominant view (if not that of Abbas) has long been that without some armed pressure, their negotiating hand will inevitably be weaker. And while it might be objected that the rockets are indiscriminate, that is not an easy argument for Israel to make, given its appalling record of civilian casualties in both the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

The truth is that Hamas’s control of Gaza is the direct result of the US refusal to accept the Palestinians’ democratic choice in 2006 and its covert attempt to overthrow the elected administration by force through its Fatah placeman Muhammad Dahlan. As confirmed by secret documents leaked to the US magazine Vanity Fair – and also passed to the Guardian – George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Elliott Abrams, the US deputy national security adviser (of Iran-Contra fame), funnelled cash, weapons and instructions to Dahlan, partly through Arab intermediaries such as Jordan and Egypt, in an effort to provoke a Palestinian civil war. As evidence of the military buildup emerged, Hamas moved to forestall the US plan with its own takeover of Gaza last June. David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser the following month, argues: “What happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”

Yesterday, Rice attempted to defend the failed US attempt to reverse the results of the Palestinian elections by pointing to Iran’s support for Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel’s attacks on Gaza are expected to resume once she has left the region, even if no one believes they will stop the rockets. Some in the Israeli government hope that they can nevertheless weaken Hamas as a prelude to pushing Gaza into Egypt’s unwilling arms; others hope to bring Abbas and his entourage back to Gaza after they have crushed Hamas, perhaps with a transitional international force to save the Palestinian president’s face.

Neither looks a serious option, not least because Hamas cannot be crushed by force, even with the bloodbath that some envisage. The third, commonsense option, backed by 64% of Israelis, is to take up Hamas’s offer – repeated by its leader Khalid Mish’al at the weekend – and negotiate a truce. It’s a move that now attracts not only left-leaning Israeli politicians such as Yossi Beilin, but also a growing number of rightwing establishment figures, including Ariel Sharon’s former security adviser Giora Eiland, the former Mossad boss Efraim Halevy, and the ex-defence minister Shaul Mofaz.

The US, however, is resolutely opposed to negotiating with what it has long branded a terrorist organisation – or allowing anyone else to do so, including other Palestinians. As the leaked American papers confirm, Rice effectively instructed Abbas to “collapse” the joint Hamas-Fatah national unity government agreed in Mecca early last year, a decision carried out after Hamas’s pre-emptive takeover. But for the Palestinians, national unity is an absolute necessity if they are to have any chance of escaping a world of walled cantons, checkpoints, ethnically segregated roads, dispossession and humiliation.

What else can Israel do to stop the rockets, its supporters ask. The answer could not be more obvious: end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and negotiate a just settlement for the Palestinian refugees, ethnically cleansed 60 years ago – who, with their families, make up the majority of Gaza’s 1.5 million people. All the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, accept that as the basis for a permanent settlement or indefinite end of armed conflict. In the meantime, agree a truce, exchange prisoners and lift the blockade. Israelis increasingly seem to get it – but the grim reality appears to be that a lot more blood is going to have to flow before it’s accepted in Washington.

s.milne@guardian.co.uk

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March 5th, 2008, 3:19 pm

 

5. trustquest said:

You can hear the author of Dream and shadow interview on DRS, on NPR at: http://www.wunc.org/front-page
Or at DRS website: http://www.wamu.org/programs/dr/

Very good news for freedom fighter, their effort is not going to go with the wind.

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March 5th, 2008, 4:12 pm

 

6. Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] Syria is holding an Arab summit late March with all Arab League members being invited, including Lebanon. Syria had said that it would wait until Lebanon elected a new president before being invited to Damascus but Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said last night “if a Lebanese president is not elected before the Arab summit, then Lebanon will choose who will represent it.” Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which does not have a good relationship with Syria, would be the official representative of Lebanon if it chooses to attend. The leaders of the major powers of the region will most likely not show up unless Lebanon elects a president by then. […]

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March 5th, 2008, 4:19 pm

 

7. Ford Prefect said:

AIG, I am afraid you are the one that is missing the point and not learning from your own history.

Hamas will not get weakened by military incursions into Gaza. The idea of weakening Hamas and keeping them off balance via military adventure is as ridiculous as knocking Saddam out and building a free democratic society in Iraq.

And if you knock or weaken Hamas militarily, do you suppose that the Palestinians will throw flowers at the IDF and elect Mother Teresa?

Not until talks between Israel and its Arab enemies across the region are held, face to face, and a negotiated settlement is reached, a single Israeli or an Arab should feel safe.

The problem with strong military powers is that they think that power can solve everything.

The only solution to the problem is through negotiations without preconditions with ALL of your enemies. And the key for a comprehensive solution is Syria.

When will they ever learn?

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March 5th, 2008, 6:52 pm

 

8. Seeking the Truth said:

AIG,
In this comment of yours
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=610#comment-121820
you say: “Israel wants regime change” (i.e. in Syria), while in this
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=601#comment-117849
you say:”Unfortunately, the current thought leaders in Israel prefer a weak Asad in place rather than a democratic Syria”.
Aren’t you contradicting yourself?

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March 5th, 2008, 7:02 pm

 

9. Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

I completely agree with you. But here’s a question, which Qunfuz and I have been debating some – concerning Hamas. Do you think that Israel should accept Khaled Mashaal’s offer of a negotiated truce? On the one hand, any cessation of violence seems logical, and almost utterly irresponsible if not accepted by Israel. On the other, the few times we did accept a so-called “Hudna”, clearly Hamas rearmed, regrouped, and reorganized in preparation for the next round. And, when the next round appeared, it was much stronger, and able to extract a much heavier price from Israel. It is quite likely that during such a truce, better rockets will be smuggled into Gaza (via Egypt), perhaps one reaching much farther into Israel, and if or when another round of violence erupts, Israel may find itself being bombarded like never before, and this time, by its enemy from the South. The problem seems to be the actual partner – Hamas. In its charter, Hamas still vows to destroy Israel. Of course, so did the PLO, and we changed our mind about them. But something has to happen – a hint, a behind-the-scene message to Israel, some and any indication that Hamas is ready for a permanent solution with Israel, and not just an “indefinite end to armed conflict”.

What do you think? Is truce enough? But to make a final point about this, I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that because the Palestinian issue is now so much more complicated, since 2005, that we must not get stuck here, and miss out on peace with Syria while it is still being offered. We must withdraw from the West Bank, and from the Golan, in order to be recognized by the entire Arab world, and at last have peace. If we cannot do the first right now, we must try the latter. Syria, at the moment, IS the key.

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March 5th, 2008, 7:37 pm

 

10. Naji said:

Ford Prefect,
Right on, as usual…, but I do not believe that the classic “If you have a big hammer, then every problem looks like a nail” syndrome is what is operative here anymore…! At this point, it is more like the “fumbling, bumbling, stumbling, unchecked incompetence and lack of vision” syndrome, dangerously exacerbated by the obscene impunity of almost (albeit a very significant “almost”) unbounded power, that is at work…! God save us until …??! …Obama!?

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March 5th, 2008, 8:14 pm

 

11. Shai said:

Naji,

I’m afraid I tend to agree with you…

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March 5th, 2008, 8:45 pm

 

12. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Seeking,
I was also under the impression that Israel was not actively seeking regime change until I took a closer look at it and I believe now that since 2005 Israel is exploring regime change. The Hariri assasination and the strengthening of Hizballah changed the equation.

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March 5th, 2008, 9:26 pm

 

13. Ford Prefect said:

Hello Shai,
There is not doubt that Hamas is a double-edged sword. While their social services and non-corrupt governance model is appealing to the Palestinian masses, their militaristic approach to the conflict leaves little to be desired. It is self-destructing and irrational. Their crazy Kassams are not advancing the interests of the Palestinian people.

I have never been impressed by any movement with a religious undertone. Arming themselves to preserve law and order and defend themselves is one thing. But lobbing rockets at Israel is another thing. I, for one, never condoned their self-destructing actions of hitting Israel. What are they thinking?

Now, it is easy to get dragged into the game of who started the hostilities first. Is it Israel? Is it Hamas? Who knows, and we shouldn’t care at this point about who started what.

Hamas and HA are two organizations that are looking for recognition. Historically speaking (e.g., IRA), such organizations can lay down their arms and get incorporated into the political actors cadre if they feel their demands are acknowledged, they have a seat at the table, and most importantly, their existence is not being threatened.

Existential wars are very difficult to win, statistically speaking. Israel, with its vast military power can certainly pursue the path of dealing one severe blow to Hamas after another. Empirically, however, that is hardly a winning choice (I don’t mean militarily).

So to answer your question, of whether Israel should talk to Hamas, I am not sure at this point after all the bloodshed. But in the long run; yes, of course. Israel should continue to prepare itself to talk to its enemies and reach some kind of a non-military solution. These solutions are the only ones that stand a chance of succeeding indefinitely.

It is important to say, however, that unilateral approaches to solving problems do not work very well in the Middle East (except for Egypt – which is a mature state-nation). Israel cannot talk to Hamas while still being hostile to Syria and HA (and Syria and HA are hostile to Israel.)

What I am arguing is that the key to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is to have multilateral negotiations with all the players – Syria being the major player. That way, no one will feel a deal is being struck on its expense.

Many argue that holding peace talks with the current regime in Syria will only empower that regime to be more belligerent. Maybe and maybe not. I am on the ‘not’ (or is it the “nut?”) side. I believe that Syria, Hamas, HA, and even Iran can become a viable, constructive players in the Middle East if they are given recognition and they are given an interest in the well-being of the area. The trick is to tie the self-preservation of these actors to peace in the area. Again, historically speaking, this option has proven to be more successful than the confrontational one.

People always point me to look at Libya and how it disarmed itself and it is now behaving due to the consistent sanctions and toughness. Yes, but Libya is different. Besides being immature and reckless, they really did not have any bones to pick as far as their national identity and world recognition. Libyans did not feel that their very own existence was being threatened and it is a do or die ordeal.

Things are different for Syria, HA, and Hamas. I say, talk to them, collectively and not individually. We might be surprised on how they behave if their own survival is not now tied to preserving peace instead of war.

(Sorry I am in a hurry and must run. Looking forward to the lively discussion.)

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March 5th, 2008, 9:27 pm

 

14. Ford Prefect said:

Naji,
Well said and I can’t agree more. It is a series of irrational, reckless, and mostly inept performance from the major players who are supposed to be the thought leaders of the world.

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March 5th, 2008, 9:30 pm

 

15. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

FP,
The difference between us is that I am not looking for any magic solution. Military incursions will not bring peace but they will help stop Hamas smuggling in better rockets and will allow Israel to collect better intelligence.

As for Palestinians liking us, that is the last thing I expect.

The key to real peace is democracy in Arab countries and accountability. All the rest are temporary measures that will lead to war. For that, we will have to wait until the Islamic tsunami is spent. That is the clear lesson of the last 60 years. Have you ever wondered how Hamas got the long range missiles into Gaza? It is through the border with Egypt with which we have “peace”.

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March 5th, 2008, 9:38 pm

 

16. Alex said:

But AIG, at the rate Israel is somehow not able to stop those magic settlements from popping up all over the west bank … if we “wait until the Islamic tsunami is spent.” as you suggest, there will be no way to have the two state soution! … are you ready for a one-state solution in htat case? … or are you ready for removing large numbers of settlers? … or … do we then tell the Palestinians “oops .. sorry, look, you have a right to be upset, but … we really can’t dismantle all those settlements we built between 2008 and 2028.”

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March 5th, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

17. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Good questions. This is what we tell them:
We removed settlers from Sinai and Gaza and for peace we are prepared to remove settlers from the West Bank, but you have to understand that the longer you delay the agreement you are risking having a smaller country. So do what is best for you. You know where to find us if you need anything.

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March 5th, 2008, 10:06 pm

 

18. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
And by the way, why are the settlements on the Golan less of a problem than those in the West Bank? You don’t seem to think that those on the Golan are a barrier to peace.

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March 5th, 2008, 10:11 pm

 

19. Ford Prefect said:

AIG,

You said:
“Military incursions will not bring peace but they will help stop Hamas smuggling in better rockets and will allow Israel to collect better intelligence.”

For just about how long will these incursion “help stop” Hamas? How many times does it take before we learn the lesson that “it ain’t working?”

And you said:
“The key to real peace is democracy in Arab countries and accountability. All the rest are temporary measures that will lead to war.”

Serious? The last time I checked on the countries at peace with Israel: Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, I found neither democracy nor accountabilities. Yet, peace is working. I did not read anywhere that Israel insisted on Sadat turning Egypt into a democracy before he could sign the Camp David Accord.

Let’s wake up. Democracy is not a Martha Stuart recipe that can be implemented by rolling American tanks or USS Cole off the coast of Lebanon. “Democratize” as a verb is a hopeless case. Democracy as a noun, indigenous, homegrown, and built upon strong institutions does happen.

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March 6th, 2008, 3:30 am

 

20. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

FP,
Nothing works in the middle east, really. If you have a stop gap measure that works for a few years you are a winner. I am not expecting miracles. Since the alternatives you are proposing are not realistic, what else do you want me to do? We have a rotten neighborhood and we need to roll with the punches. As Israelis we need to keep our society strong, develop our economy and military and hope for the best. This strategy has been working the last 60 years. This is the best we can do.

I am quite aware that it could take decades for democracy to come to Arab countries. As for Egypt and Jordan, how much longer can the regimes there last? And when the regimes go, the peace will also go. I think Asad has the same predicament. I am not optimistic. I think the Islamic tsunami is not going to spare anyone. Israel will just have to ride it. It will not be an existential threat to Israel, but it will certainly create many headaches and a lot of low intensity warfare.

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March 6th, 2008, 5:38 am

 

21. why-discuss said:

One good thing about that meeting:
Damascus city center’s facades are glittering after a enormous cleaning operation that Damascus residents don’t remember has ever happenened before. Adding to that, the crowded sidewalks with shining Mercedes and BMW and SUV with syrians plates in a number I have never seen before, except in Germany. There is no anxiety in the street other than the traffic jam. Iranians are pouring for the now rooz holidays, shops and hotels are overcrowded: is war closer?

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March 6th, 2008, 11:50 am

 

22. Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

Unfortunately, I happen to agree with absolutely everything you said up above… And this is exactly what we need to hear, in order to better understand the Arab side. We are often mistaken, in thinking that we can understand the conflict through our prism alone. We think that by interpreting the rhetoric that appears on the sound waves using our ears and mind, we can understand the Arab side. But in reality, things don’t work that way, not in our conflict, nor in any other situation where two sides are trying to resolve their differences.

We can learn much from the business world, where very often two companies wish to come to some agreement between them, but differ substantially on the ways to achieve their particular goals. Every amateur businessman would tell you that until you’re able to truly put yourself in your potential partner’s shoes, and see things through HIS eyes, not yours, no resolution could take place. That is, perhaps, why it would be essential to have negotiators with a business background involved in some fashion in the peacemaking process. They understand this issue better than most politicians do. The real goal is not to impose your set of beliefs or conditions upon the other side, but rather to get the other side to understand your concerns (and vice versa), and to seek a mutually accepted solution.

BTW, could you ask Alex for my email – I want to ask you a question.

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March 6th, 2008, 1:09 pm

 

23. Shai said:

Why-Discuss,

I don’t know if war is closer (I sure hope not), but can we schedule coffee next week, say at Souq Hamidieh? 🙂 I know… we’ll have to wait a while. But hopefully, not too long!

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March 6th, 2008, 1:12 pm

 

24. Shai said:

AIG,

Though I promised not to address you directly, I’ve decided to try it for a while once more, hoping I won’t get “offended” again… 🙂

Look, I understand your honest concerns about our country and, in fact, about the region. I know you’re not willing to risk our security for even a millisecond, and neither am I. Our biggest argument is not so much on what may happen or not (democracy, certain regimes lasting, or not, etc.) as I certainly do not know the future. But rather on what should be done in the meantime. You may very well be right about your predictions, but, you may also be wrong. The question is, whether what’s in Israel’s best interest to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, or to cause certain changes on the ground.

I believe it is within Israel’s best interest to withdraw to the 1967 lines (starting with the Golan), regardless of the regime in Syria, regardless of its sincerity, regardless of its continued support of Hezbollah and Hamas, or even its alliance with Iran. I believe it is better for Israel to leave these territories, and to finally remove the main argument and case against Israel all these many decades, and to at least have the support of ever nation on earth almost, including all the moderate Arabs around us. If Assad still dreams of rolling his tanks down to Haifa and Hadera, I prefer to see him attempt this after I’ve given back the Golan (with no Syrian deployment there of course), because then the whole world will call his bluff. Ideally, the same would go for the West Bank, except that we need to be careful about Hamas control there. To me it is clear that right now, there is only one nation that is stretching out its hand in peace, and that’s Syria. Of course Syria is still supporting anti-Israeli activity (the resistance), and I wouldn’t expect it to stop, until that last “T” has been crossed on the Peace Agreement. On our side, we should do the same (prepare our army and nation for war, rally the world against any anti-Israel activity, etc.)

If I thought that the next war would involve tanks and APC’s, and that Israel would be risking its own existence by withdrawing from the Golan, I would require much greater preconditions and proof of intentions from Syria. That’s not to say that now I’m willing to go with “anything” – of course not. Favorable redeployment arrangements are absolutely needed, control-stations throughout the region inside Syria, Israel, and the Golan, must be in place, perhaps the presence of foreign troops (not the UN!!!) would be required, etc. But as we’ve seen already in Lebanon, and we can certainly assume much more from Syria, the next war will be fought mostly through the air. Syria will not need to roll its tanks down to the Kineret to cause serious damage. It would lobb thousands of missiles well into Israeli cities and towns. And we, of course, would do the same.

If I thought, for even a second, that Syria would accept a status-quo for long, or an agreement that wouldn’t require the complete withdrawal from the Golan, I would rethink my stance completely, and would be willing to adopt a different approach. But I do believe that it is a matter of time, and that time is not on our side (all the sides involved). Extremists are on the rise, and sooner or later, they’ll rally enough people around them to do unimaginable things we’ve never encountered as yet (Bioterrorism, amateur nuclear-devices, you name it). It’s not the Muslim Brotherhood I fear, it’s Al Qaida, running the show around us. It’s not that I wish God-forbid to give in to their demands – but rather to take out much of their “oxygen” by resolving the main Arab-Israeli conflict which, as we’ve seen in Riyadh, involves the withdrawal to the 1967 lines. It’s difficult to do so right now in the West Bank. But it’s much easier on the Golan (of course, with a lot of sacrifice on our part, I’m not belittling it for a second), and it has to be done. We know that peace with Syria will never occur (or with the entire Arab world) without this, and there’s no need to delay things further. Let us at least contribute to doing our share, with or without the other side doing theirs. Personally, I believe the Arab world will indeed opt for peace, and will see a withdrawal from the Golan as a very substantial and meaningful act, and will pressure the Palestinians to reach a consensus already on what it wants from Israel, to recognize Israel, to sit with us at the table and finalize a solution.

There are so many moderates out there that are waiting for us to make those moves, that are almost “begging” us to do our share, so that they can finally apply effective pressure on their side to do the same. Like FP said, we mustn’t lock ourselves into a “who done it first” situation. Justice will not be done here, not now at least, because many thousands of people have already lost their lives, and we cannot get them back. Are you willing, AIG, to consider making our moves first, with or without guarantees of sincerity from the other side? With, or without, knowledge that most Syrians want peace with us? With, or without real democracies in this region? Can you see this happening?

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March 6th, 2008, 1:43 pm

 

25. Ford Prefect said:

Shai,
Would alwys love to chat with you, in public or in private. My email is Arthur.Dent@mac.com.

Cheers Shai!

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March 6th, 2008, 2:15 pm

 

26. Ford Prefect said:

AIG,
I am sorry you feel that way, but I am sure it is a genuine feeling. Mind you though, that if there is an “Islamic Tsunami” coming, Arabs and Muslims are likley to suffer the most. Unlike what is portrayed in the Western and Israeli media, not all Arabs and Muslims are Talibans.

Syrians suffered considerably from such bigotry and violence. It is a problem affecting all of us, not just the Israelis in the area.

But it is also important to note how different political entities have used these extremists to their advantage. I refer you to the Mujahideens that used to be freedom fighters in Afganistan. To the Madrasas that were producing communist-fighting worriors. And to Hamas that used to be used and empowered to neutralize the PLO.

The list goes on and on. The bottom line is that we have to calm down, ignore the orange color of the Threat Alert, and look for ways to comprimise and establish peace. Our collective governments want us to constantly remain in fear.

Being optimistic, scientists found, is helpful in reducing overall tension, hypertension, and can provide us with better sleep.

Try it. It works.

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March 6th, 2008, 2:36 pm

 

27. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
Didn’t we try your strategy in Lebanon and it failed? What is the difference? I was for getting out of Lebanon but now I think it may have been a mistake.

As for Syria, Asad will accept the status quo because he only cares about staying in power. Trying for the Golan is too risky for him. If in addition Asad is really serious about economic growth, then he cannot afford any war whatsoever. There is nothing to worry from Syria in the next decade.

Al Qaida is not much of a threat to Israel. They need a country to work from to be effective and even the Sunnis in Anbar province are rejecting them. Furthermore, Al Qaida would rather attack Europe and the US than Israel. The whole world is fighting Al-Qaida and Israel not alone in that fight.

The lessons from Gaza and Lebanon are the following:
1) If we retreat to to the 67 line in the West Bank and the Golan and Iran funds a resistance group to lob rockets at us, this group will get sympathy from the Arab world and there will not be internal effort to stop it.
2) The fact that we withdrew will not give us any special moral high ground in the eyes of the world to go after these “resistance” groups in a decisive manner (if we ourselves wanted to) and so we will be faced again with the Gaza and Lebanon situation.
3) There will always be more reasons for resistance whatever we do. After we left Lebanon Hizballah invented the Sheba farms and now they have the issue of seven villages in the Galil that they claim are Lebanese just in case the Sheba farms are solved.

We might as well just stand where we are and let things unfold. Why make our situation worse? All the above of course before we even discuss how detrimental your plan is to democracy in the middle east.

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March 6th, 2008, 3:01 pm

 

28. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

FP,
Of course the Arabs will suffer most from the Islamic tsunami. I am not denying that. But at least they have the power to stop it, which Israel doesn’t.

I am optimist, but at the same time, reality is what it is. There is no solution that both sides see as “just” and there is no real voice for the Arabs in their countries. The combination of the two means that any viable peace is highly unlikely.

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March 6th, 2008, 3:10 pm

 

29. Shai said:

AIG,

Pulling out of Lebanon was not in return for peace, nor under negotiations. It was exactly the unilateral withdrawal that FP mentioned was undesirable. It had at least one benefit, as I see it, which is the reduction in dead soldiers each year. With Syria we don’t have that problem, at least not directly, but we do indirectly through their support of Hamas. When I think of reasons for Assad to want to stop supporting these, if he has the Golan to lose again, or if he doesn’t, it seems to me that the first is the most likely one to influence his decisions. Plus, when he’s lost his major claim against Israel, how will he justify continuing to pass weapons through to Hezbollah, or even continuing to harbor Mashaal? The pressure upon Syria, not just by a new US administration, but indeed by Europe, Russia, other nations, after a peace agreement is achieved, would be infinitely more effective, should Assad continue supporting the “resistance”. And if he really is planning to continue doing this (which personally I doubt), then let it be after we’ve done our share.

As for Al Qaida, I think in general the concern is that the longer we delay the withdrawal to the 1967 lines, the more likely extremists will be able to recruit far greater numbers of volunteers, with more time to get hold of very dangerous weapons, and the greater the chance that we’ll one day find the population centers of Tel-Aviv, Manhattan, Washington, London, etc., dealing with a “dirty” bomb, or with biological agents, or god-knows what. This stuff isn’t just for a top box Tom Clancey movie, it really can happen, and even in our lifetime. Now I don’t think that by returning the Golan we’re eliminating this possibility. But I do think that when we finally withdraw to the 1967 lines, we’ll take out a lot of the reasons for that hatred, and fewer people out there will be able to claim what they do today. At the end of the day, only peace will give us a chance to reduce this, not force. Even if we blast Gaza to high heaven, and kill 5000 Hamas militants, a month, or a year, later, we’ll be right back at square one, except that we’ll have the entire population against us, not 70%.

I agree with FP completely, one day we will have to talk to Hamas, and maybe even Hezbollah. Peace is made with our enemies, not with our friendly Arab supporters. This is why you also believe that only the Right (Likud) can deliver real peace, and maybe you’re right. It’s not so much because they’ve got the winning formula, it’s more because they ARE the Arabs’ enemy. When Barak sits down with Farouq al-Sharaa, the latter knows that the first is already willing to give up the entire Golan. There’s not that much to be negotiated, because Syria knows what Barak is willing to do, and what he’s not. But when Bibi sits there, they know less. And they know he’s been preaching against them. And they know he’s much more ready for a no-solution than Barak is. So perhaps they’ll be more pressed to also reach an agreement, and not continue delaying things, like the late Hafez might have shown. If Hamas sits with us at the table, they’ll be thinking along the same lines. Only real enemies, ones that have sworn to annihilate the other, can make real peace happen. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting I’ll vote for Bibi… though I know you’re dying to know who I’ll vote for 🙂 I haven’t decided yet, because I don’t know the agendas yet).

I don’t see how making peace with any of our enemies will make things worse for Israel. I clearly see how not doing so, will.

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March 6th, 2008, 3:40 pm

 

30. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
What you suggest will make things worse because more Israelis will die. Take the case of Lebanon. I was for leaving because I thought it would save lives and take away Hizballahs raison d’etre. I was wrong on both fronts. In Lebanon the cost was about 10 soldiers per year. We paid 150 lives in the July 2006 war and it would have been cheaper in lives to stay. Furthermore, we would have been able to stop the smuggling of 30,000 rockets into the south and the building of the Hizballah bunkers. And even more telling, it probably would have stopped the second intifada from occurring. And on top of that, we wouldn’t have needed to hit Lebanese infrastructure and kill innocent Lebanese. Everybody would have been better off if we stayed in Lebanon except Hizballah.

In order to do “our share” we have to do things not to make us liked in the Arab world, but to provide security for Israelis. We have to make sure that the risks we are taking are worth it. At the current point in time, what you are suggesting has in my opinion such a small chance of success that it isn’t worth the risks. Our best startegy moving forward is low intensity warfare in which we make sure that the costs for the opponents are much much higher than the cost to us. When things change, we can reassess the risks of different strategies.

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March 6th, 2008, 4:15 pm

 

31. Qifa Nabki said:

We paid 150 lives in the July 2006 war and it would have been cheaper in lives to stay.

Yes, but you are assuming that this was an unavoidable cost, a result of an unavoidable war.

This is not a logical assumption.

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March 6th, 2008, 4:21 pm

 

32. Shai said:

AIG,

You may be right about pulling out of Lebanon the way we did, and its effect on the second Intifada and, therefore, on lives lost (and as you well suggested, on both sides). There’s no doubt that unilateral withdrawals are not a good thing. They can, and are, interpreted by parties with interest as complete victory, and are used to further their cause. But I also don’t see how “low intensity warfare” is a way to move forward, that is, a way to get us closer to peace. It will help move the clock forward, but not in our favor. I don’t want to withdraw to the 1967 lines so that Arabs like me afterwards. Frankly, they can hate me till the end of time (and many will). But I do want to get out of territories that aren’t mine to begin with, that clearly have caused me great pain and suffering, and that I know I’ll be withdrawing from if not today, then tomorrow. Staying in Tel-Aviv, and Haifa, and Jerusalem, is in Israel’s best interest. Staying in the West Bank and the Golan, isn’t.

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March 6th, 2008, 4:25 pm

 

33. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,

We have to choose the least worst option. We have no good options. Low intesity warfare is a stop gap measure until things change. That is what we did in South Lebanon before we withdrew and it looks like it would have been wise to continue with it.

If we withdraw today to the 67 line, the Hamas will also take over the west bank and we will have rockets in all Israel. So what exactly are we gaining?

And by the way, why are Lod and Yafo more “our” territory than Jenin? This is the argument you will get when we return to the 67 line and you will have no good answer and that will justify the continuation of attacks against us. There is just no solution that both sides consider “just”.

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March 6th, 2008, 4:47 pm

 

34. Ford Prefect said:

Dear AIG,
Your pessimism is telling. You are under the impression that if Israel were to return to the 1967 lines, terror against Israel will continue. I beg to differ.

As Shai indicated repeatedly, the occupation and the subsequent application of injustice to subjugate a restless and unreceptive populace is and continues to be the main driver for hostilities. I must say that, unfortunately, many are using that same injustice to advance their agendas and protect their powerful positions. This applies to both sides.

If I follow your line of thinking, then all Brits should be leery of the French. And the French should be doubtful of the German. I just cannot fathom such logic: No matter what I do, I will have enemies; therefore, I am going to hold on to what is not mine, until they all either disappear, surrender, or have democracy.

Essentially, you don’t have a pragmatic solution; you just want to keep the status quo, to react to events as they happen, and hit whenever is necessary. Meanwhile, beg the US to send more advanced weaponery every year and keep all Israelis scared and nervous.

You also would like to continue to ask every Israeli young man and woman to serve in the military for at least two years before they go to college. All because this is Israel’s destiny and you are just surrounded, forever, by people bent on destroying you.

But alternately, AIG, if you look around for other available scenarios, you might be surprised. Around Israel, you might find cultural people full of dignity, history, and traditions. You will find them hospitable, peaceful, and have perfected the art of living in colorful, multi-ethnic societies.

It is absolutely comforting to me that people like Shai do exist in Israel. With all the might, the military power, the US support, the war on terror (this is the war that came after the war on drugs, in case you are wondering!), and the uni-polar world we live in, people like Shai would stick their neck out and say, “guys, this current situation is not working.” Collectively, we can certainly do better than that.

For the sake of my children and yours, let’s just imagine that peace happens. And Hamas will turn into a viable social and political organization. And HA will provide dignity and recognition to its Shia population. Let us imagine that Assad is not worse than Sadat or the late King Hussein. Let us imagine that Iran’s moderates can ascend to power. And that the Iranian people are young, bright, educated, and mostly have liberal minds.

What do you have to loose? Land? It is a small price to pay to increase the chances that my colleague’s daughter, serving in the IDF, will remain alive.

I am not sure about you, but I am living a comfortable and secure life here in the US. It is rather shameful that I am trying to rationalize what the true feelings of those men and women serving in the IDF for mostly reckless policies. Or trying to rationalize the fear and pain of those living in Gaza or Tel Aviv, or Hebron.

Yet, I truly feel an obligation to try to see the glass half full. And, actually, it is.

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March 6th, 2008, 4:51 pm

 

35. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

FP,
The Europeans were in constant warfare for hundreds of years. They stopped fighting each other after Americans and Russians occupied Europe in a war in which about 60 million people died. So there is peace in Europe for 60 years out of the last 2000. Allow me not to get overly excited. There is peace because people were tired from war and there was a conclusive and utter defeat of the Germans. We are very far from this situation in the middle east.

My solution is completely pragmatic while you are fantasizing. My logic is simple, at the current point in time most people in the middle east view Israel as another crusader state that will disappear in 100 or 200 hundred years. No one in Europe has this attitude towards Belgium or Slovenia or Austria. No one in Germany wants Alsace and Lorraine or Gdansk. No one in the UK wants Normandy and Brittany anymore. The Italians do not want Nice back and no Swede dreams of making Norway part of the Swedish empire again. Even the Danes don’t care about Iceland.

Until the state of mind in the Arab world changes dramatically, and that will happen when there is democracy there and real economic progress, there is very little hope for peace. Therefore, in a very pragmatic way, the only thing Israel can do until things change is follow the course I have depicted.

I can imagine many things, but my imagination will not stop Hamas shooting rockets at all of Israel once we leave the west bank. We will just get a theocracy on our border that will make our life miserable. Israel needs a democratic middle east, otherwise the many cultural people around it will just be beaten down and made irrelevant by the Asads and the Hamas of the Arab world. All the rest is cosmetics.

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March 6th, 2008, 5:14 pm

 

36. Shai said:

AIG, FP,

I believe at the core, there is a difference in our particular outlooks on life. AIG, you are pragmatic by carefully and honestly observing the moment, an instant in time, and comparing it to your collective knowledge of the past. You deduce based on a mix of cautious interpretation and conservative outlook, which then generates a greater feeling of safety while risks are minimized. As FP pointed out, it seems you’re better suited for reaction, than for action. Fair enough, most people are probably like that.

I think what differentiates us is my willingness to accept as legitimate and significant also the interpretation of my rivals. I give serious weight to their angle, and am willing to consider my decisions based also on their views of reality, and not only mine. I keep asking myself, when it comes to such serious and historic decisions, what if I’m wrong? As you said yourself, we sometimes have to choose the least-bad option, because we fear the worse option might be much too costly. Obviously, we also differ on our level of optimism. You claim you’re an optimist (a careful one), but to an outsider comparing the two of us, you may seem a very pessimistic person. Now I’m not ashamed to say that I am optimistic about the potential for peace, about the sincerity of those who have been offering it, and about the very real possibility that your children and mine will enjoy a completely different life than you and I did. I’m also not afraid to say that I may be wrong. That I may be overly optimistic. That I may be a “dreamer”. But I keep asking, what would be the price I pay for being wrong, as opposed to not acting, and instead only waiting to react.

Please know that I am just as concerned about real dangers to Israel as you are. I am extremely worried about the notion of having Qassam missiles aimed at major Israeli towns and cities, but from a distance of 10-15 miles, all along the West Bank, and not just from Gaza. And at the moment, there’s not a chance on earth I’d enable that to occur by unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank (while Hamas and Fatah are at such odds with each other). This is precisely why I want to restart talks with Syria, and immediately. We mustn’t lose time, as long as the Syrians are willing to talk. If we do conclude an agreement, and do begin a gradual withdrawal from the Golan, I’m confident that this could spread waves of optimism throughout the region, which would resonate well into the coming years, and will undoubtedly create positive pressure upon Israel and the Palestinians to once and for all work out our differences.

Hamas will have to ask itself “how long are we going to be the last one out?”, “are we truly serving the best interest of our people, when Israelis are proving they’re willing to pay heavy prices in return for peace?” And quite likely, the entire Arab world, as well as the International Community, will seek to press Hamas to “get with the program”. The word “resistance” will begin to lose its effect, when Israel will demonstrate not only our general wish for peace, but indeed our specific action on the ground towards that goal. We’ve been terribly good at proving the opposite for so long, and it’s time we change that image as well. It’s can’t only be the other side’s responsibility. It’s also ours.

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March 6th, 2008, 7:34 pm

 

37. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
What is the difference between action and reaction in the current context? We are both acting, except it seems I take into account the actions of others and am therefore reacting while you don’t and are therefore acting. Is that wise?

You want to flip Syria. That is not on the table. You want a peace with Syria before the Palestinians. That is not on the table either. What exactly are you advocating?

Just like the peace with Egypt did not stop terrorism, peace with Syria will not stop it. The Iranians will keep funding terrorists. The Palestinians will just call the Syrians traitors to the cause and will keep going with the violence.

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March 6th, 2008, 10:51 pm

 

38. Shai said:

AIG,

The difference between my action and your reaction, is that mine has the future as its focal point, yours has the past. You’re willing to move into the future by a mere continuous set of reactions to events conducted by others. I’m unwilling to remain on the reacting side alone, and instead choose to initiate, act, and attempt to shape and influence my future.

I want peace with Syria, and believe it can be reached before the Palestinians, and it is very much on the table. The current Israeli leadership is not willing to come to that table, because of that amazingly-successful Dubya you like so much, but Syria is there, waiting. I’m not in the business of flipping anyone, which is why I believe it is ridiculous to expect Syria to first alter its relationships with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran, before peace is reached with Israel.

I thought I made it clear in my comments that I don’t expect peace to end terrorism. I do, certainly, believe that the eventual withdrawal to the 1967 lines will help take away much of the claims against Israel right now, and as such, will likely reduce the amount of hatred towards us. It won’t eliminate it, but it will reduce it. The consequence would likely be a reduction in the ability to recruit volunteers, to build up support, and to carry out endless attacks on Israeli interests.

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March 7th, 2008, 8:06 pm

 

39. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shai,
I understand your position but like most Israelis find it unreasonable because it is based on analysis that just does not hold up. But, that is why we have elections and freedom of press. We will have a debate and let people decide.

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March 7th, 2008, 8:56 pm

 

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