“What are the Prospects for Syrian-Israeli Peace?” by Seale, Khouri, & Allaf

No one seems particularly optimistic about Olmert's recent announcement that Israel is back in the peace negotiating business. The distrust between Syria and Israel will be very hard to overcome. Most people believe that Syrian-Israeli dialogue is more a sign of cunning maneuver than a real turn away from Bush administration strategy, which has been about forcing Syria to change regime behavior. 

What are the Prospects for Syrian-Israeli Peace?
by Patrick Seale: 2 May 2008
The only faintly hopeful aspect of the current frost between Syria and Israel is that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems determined to bring the two countries to the negotiating table. Turkey has emerged over the past year as the principal, indeed the only serious, broker between these bitter enemies.
Erdogan has recently been in Damascus for talks with President Bashar al-Asad and is planning to send an emissary to Israel to brief Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the outcome of his discussions. His Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has confirmed that messages between Syria and Israel have been exchanged through Turkey over the past year, and that this traffic ‘has intensified in the past few months.’ Turkey’s immediate aim would seem to be to get low-level talks started as a prelude to bringing the leaders of Syria and Israel together.
The U.S., in contrast, has openly opposed Israeli contacts with Syria, and has sought instead to sanction and isolate Damascus, accusing it of interfering in both Lebanon and Iraq against American interests.
In spite of this negative American attitude, Syrian officials continue to believe that only the United States can bring talks with Israel to a successful conclusion. This may be because they are aware that only the U.S. can give Israel the reassurance, and possibly even the guarantees, it may need to agree to a Golan withdrawal.
Since Damascus has no confidence in the Bush administration — responsible, in its view, for the greatest disasters in the region – it awaits the outcome of November’s U.S. presidential elections in the hope that the next American president will take Middle East peace-making seriously, and broker a deal.
President Bashar al-Asad’s position remains the well-known position of his father, the late President Hafiz al-Asad, namely that Israel must endorse the ‘land-for-peace’ formula for talks to have a chance of success.  In other words, Israel must commit itself to full withdrawal from the Golan to the 4 June 1967 border.
In 1993, and again in 1994, the former Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin pledged to the Americans that he would carry out a full withdrawal from the Golan in the context of a peace agreement with Syria. When Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fanatic in November 1995, Shimon Peres, on taking over as prime minister, repeated the pledge. But Benjamin Netanyahu, premier from 1996 to 1999, and then Ehud Barak, in 1999-2000, both refused to do so.
Syria now wants Olmert to demonstrate the same will for peace as Rabin. The Syrian view is that once Israel promises to return the territory, all other contentious issues can be put ‘on the table,’ including whatever legitimate security concerns Israel may have.
Against this background, something of a stir was caused last week when the Syrian media announced that Erdogan had  phoned Asad to say that Olmert had told him that he was prepared to return the Golan to Syria. Was this, Damascus speculated, the long-awaited breakthrough?
Israeli spokesmen would not, however, confirm the report beyond saying that Israel was ‘well aware of the price it would have to pay at the end of the talks’ – an ambiguous formula which fell short of what the Syrians would have liked to hear.
Meanwhile, Olmert’s apparent readiness to return the Golan aroused a storm of protest in Israel. Likud chairman Netanyahu denounced Olmert’s ‘suicidal concession’, while David Tal, head of the Knesset’s House Committee, said that he hoped to pass a bill requiring any Golan withdrawal to be submitted to a national referendum.
This was not good news since the latest Israeli poll, published in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, showed that only 32 per cent of the Israeli public approved a full withdrawal from the Golan. It was clear that Israeli public opinion would have to be won over for a deal with Syria to become possible.
In public pronouncements, both President Asad and Prime Minister Olmert have said that they want peace. Asad told former U.S.President Jimmy Carter, on the latter’s recent visit to the Middle East, that 85 per cent of the issues between Israel and Syria had been resolved in the 1990s, and that he was anxious to conclude peace as soon as possible. Syria wants peace in order to recover the Golan, lost to Israel in the 1967 war, and in order to modernize and reform its society.
In reality, Asad and Olmert are profoundly skeptical of each other’s sincerity. The Syrians see Olmert as a weak leader, without vision or moral authority, who is unable or unwilling to make peace. They do not believe he is the man to persuade Israeli opinion of the benefits of peace.
They suspect that he is pretending to move on the Syrian track in order to frighten Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas into making concessions, for fear of being left alone to face Israel. Israel has traditionally sought to play one Arab track against another. Israel, in turn, sees Syria as its most implacable enemy, the only one of its neighbours to pose a military threat, particularly in view of Syria’s alliance with Iran and with Lebanon’s Hizballah.
Israel makes no secret of its prime motive for seeking peace with Syria. It is to sever Syria’s relations with both Iran and Hizballah, in order to bring down the Tehran-Damascus-South Lebanon axis, which Israel and the U.S. see as the main obstacle to their regional hegemony.
But asking Syria to sever links with Iran is as unrealistic as asking Israel to sever links with the United States. Syria and Iran have been strategic partners for nearly three decades, since the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. For Syria – and indeed for several Arab countries, especially in the Gulf — Iran will always be an important regional power whose weight and influence cannot be ignored. Syrian officials concede, however, that in a context of peace their dependence on Iran would inevitably lessen.
As for Hizballah, the Syrian view is that, once Israel returns the Shab‘a Farms to Lebanon, once it releases long-term Lebanese prisoners, and once the Shi‘a community secures its proper place in Lebanon’s political system, then Hizballah will cease to be an armed resistance movement and will become a peaceful political party.
There remains the delicate question of the relationship between the Syrian and Palestinian tracks. Syria cannot consider concluding a separate peace with Israel unless the Palestinians, too, are on their way to obtaining their national rights. The two tracks need not advance in unison, but they are certainly complementary. The Syrians hope to play a role in unifying Palestinian ranks and in helping to bring about a Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation.
These ambitions must, for the time being, remain in the realm of wishful thinking. Seen from Damascus, Israel remains a dangerously aggressive and unpredictable neighbour. Its unprovoked air strike against a military facility in eastern Syria last September, not to mention its continued slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza – which must be judged state terrorism at its very worst – do not send a message to Syrian and Arab opinion that the Jewish state is yet ready for peaceful integration into the region.
[end ]

Things Are Moving, But The Us Is Absent
By Rami Khouri
In The Daily Star (Lebanon), Opinion    
April 30, 2008

One of the important developments in Middle Eastern diplomacy that becomes more obvious with every passing month is the continued marginalization of the United States….

The more the US is marginalized diplomatically as a would-be mediator because of its shortsighted tendency to nearly blindly support Israel's positions, buttress Arab autocrats, and oppose the large, populist Islamo-nationalist movements, the more the other mediators from the Middle East make progress in resolving or reducing the intensity of conflicts.

Two cases in particular are noteworthy: the indirect Hamas-Israel negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza (mediated by Egypt), and the indirect Israeli-Syrian contacts to achieve a full peace treaty (mediated by Turkey). Both are enormously important developments. If consummated, they would represent solid, even historic, steps toward a resolution of the century-old Arab-Israeli conflict. The chances of success are slim, but they are not zero, and that in itself is noteworthy.

I find it striking that the four most significant or dynamic mediators on major regional problems in the past year have been four regional players: Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. President George W. Bush's effort to prod Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, on the other hand, seems hapless and lacking in credibility, because it is aimed more at pleasing Israel than at meeting the minimal demands and rights of both Israelis and Palestinians….

The US seems often to want to stoke the fires of ideological tension and military conflict by supporting, arming, financing and training one side in domestic political contests such as those in Lebanon and Palestine. The US (and Europe in some cases) is also severely hampered by its decision to boycott or heavily downgrade contacts with key players like Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran. The combination of boycotting legitimate actors while actively promoting local confrontations with them is a recipe for what we are witnessing in the Middle East these days: a growing number of political conflicts within countries, and strong linkages between warring actors across the region.

Episodic local tensions have now been transformed into a major and chronic cycle of region-wide political battles, pitting US- and Israeli-backed "moderates" against a wide array of Islamists, "extremists" and "militants" in the Arab world and Iran.

The most important diplomatic process these days is the Syrian-Israeli one. Israelis and Syrians alike have made it clear that something serious is taking place behind the scenes. … A Syrian-Israeli peace agreement would impact heavily on every major issue in the vicinity, because Syria has strategic and tactical relations with every nearby major player and country: Iran, Lebanon, Hizbullah, Iraq, Palestine and Hamas. … Syria for its part will also want direct or indirect influence over Lebanon, and a downgrading of the international tribunal that will prosecute those to be indicted for the Hariri and other murders in Lebanon since February 2005. Lebanon and the international community are reluctant to offer these to Syria, but probably do not totally rule out a reasonable, face-saving compromise. Many Lebanese will be rightly worried that they are about to be sold out.

Syrian-Israeli peace would totally change the political equation in the region, and probably lead to historic changes in Lebanon, Hizbullah's standing, Iran's regional role, the Iraqi situation, and political conditions in Palestine. It is telling of the damage that the US has done to its own role and impact in the Middle East that the potentially most important diplomatic development in the past generation seems to be taking place without any significant American role.

Faking It
Rime Allaf – May 2008
Bitter Lemons International

Facts have rarely gotten in the Bush administration's way when demonizing a political opponent, even when that opponent has actually tried to accommodate multiple American demands. Accused of enemy complicity in most places where the US or its allies are involved, Syria has nevertheless regularly offered concrete help in the "war on terror….

Comments (268)

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251. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

This I don’t get. The average salary of a government employee in Syria is $175 per month. That is about $6 per day. If the average family in Syria is 4 people then each person in this family is living on $1.5 per day. That is considered extreme poverty. What am I missing here?

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May 4th, 2008, 8:47 pm


252. abraham said:

QN, why are you listening to anything that Jumblatt says? Jumblatt makes a lot of predictions but they rarely, if ever, come to pass. He and Condoleeza Rice should tour together as a comedy troupe. At least then the jokes that constantly spew out of their mouths will be within the proper context. (They’ll still get bad reviews from their audience however.)

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May 4th, 2008, 8:52 pm


253. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

We will consider your generous proposal and get back to you in 20 years. We understand that in the meantime you will try to obliterate us per your option 1. You have every right to try but please don’t complain about the results.

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May 4th, 2008, 8:56 pm


254. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

By the way Abraham, you have a strong sense of irony. First you call me paranoid and then you threaten to obliterate me.

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May 4th, 2008, 9:04 pm


255. Seeking the Truth said:


Would you care to give any practical suggestions on how the Palestinians and those who support them could either obliterate Israel or convice it to give up its Jewish identity, or are you simply waiting for a divine intervention to bring justice to this world?

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May 4th, 2008, 9:17 pm


256. abraham said:

We will consider your generous proposal and get back to you in 20 years.

Sorry, you have less than 17. You’d better speed up your decision making.

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May 4th, 2008, 9:18 pm


257. abraham said:

Seeking, I am not waiting for anything but the natural death of Israel. There is no god or God or any imaginary man in the sky. The Israelis are seemingly incapable of coming to grips with their own failings and will continue hurtling blindly down the road towards doom at top speed.

When I say Israel will be obliterated it is not likely to happen from any external threat but will come from within. This is the natural course these things normally follow. Anyone who is a student of history knows this. I often say Israel will be gone by 2025. This is not a promise, and not a threat. This is something that is in the hands of the Israelis. I just happen to give them until 2025 to either figure it out or become extinct, and I happen to be betting on extinction.

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May 4th, 2008, 9:23 pm


258. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

We will gladly take the bet. History has shown that modern, democratic states with advanced economies are much more resilient than third world dictatorships.

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May 4th, 2008, 9:41 pm


259. SimoHurtta said:

AIG hello. Your night shift has obviously again begun. If you really live in Israel you must suffer from severe insomnia or somebody pays you for these political, sociological and religious wisedoms you so generously generate for us. Could we call you Mossad’s night patrol man? 🙂

AIG you and those IG’s like you are the real secret weapon of Palestinians. Worth more than a division of armed fighters. After reading such racist, arrogant propaganda as yours most intelligent readers see the real nature of Israel. When this Israeli / Palestinian madness some day ends, and it will end, the Palestinian government that time should reward you and your buddies with the just formed country’s relative high honours. A medal or honour citizenship?

AIG keep doing your good work.

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May 4th, 2008, 9:44 pm


260. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

No, the readers learn about Israel from your informative but racist posts and by you linking to Israeli papers they can read anyway. I really should thank you Sim for living proof for readers of this blog that antisemitism is still alive and well in Europe even in such an enlightened and modern country such as Finland. You go out of your way to prove that the Jews dearly need a country of their own.

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May 4th, 2008, 10:10 pm


261. Alex said:

AIG, SIMO and Abraham,

No more rating each other please.

Qifa Nabki,

It seems that the typical spokesmen of the M14 group want to take it to the security council. They want the security council to protect them again of Hizbollah … the most popular organization representing 35% of the Lebanese people … is there really any hope for Lebanon as one country?

Hizbollah, theoretically, obviously has no right monitoring the airport or listening to phone conversations .. but given that the M14 group and their American (and probably Israeli) friends already have full access to this info … and given that they are constantly plotting to weaken or destroy Hizbollah … I don’t think there is a right or wrong anymore.

After Junblatt’s escalation (shedding light on this old story … NOW), I repeat my prediction … if they (neocons and friends and allies) are planning to escalate beyond the useless tactics they used in the past 7 years … they are heading towards more failures … then they will have to decide … to simply drop it, or to burn the whole area.

look at the last 5 ideas they had:

1) Rami Makhloud sanctions
2) Presidential directive to scare anyone who works against the Seniora government (last summer)… Aoun became technically an enemy of hte United States.
3) sending US destroyer and two support ships near Lebanon and Syria
4) Syria/North Korea nuclear cooperation
5) and now .. tell the whole world that Hizbollah is monitoring the airport to shoot down civilian flights.

So … at this rate, they will generate 5 more of these within the next few months.

Then what??

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May 4th, 2008, 10:30 pm


262. abraham said:

AIG: please clarify, which Semites are you accusing Simo of being against? Arabs or the European/Israeli Jew variety?

Look, as far as Israel’s impending demise, it’s not my doing. I may reject religion, but I don’t necessarily reject the religious texts, which I see as containing ancient wisdom more than anything else. Take the New Testament, Galations, in particular 6:7:

Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

That’s just an ancient pearl of wisdom. And it has always held, back to ancient times. Even the Quran notes the same truth, in Sura 2:286 (The Cow):

On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.

Surely the Talmud has a verse similar.

So, why is this any surprise to anyone? You truly do reap what you sow. If you want to reap survival, you had better start sowing it. And not the one you’ve been planting up until now, but the only one that will grow in the future.

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May 4th, 2008, 11:06 pm


263. Qifa Nabki said:


It’s not clear what’s going on. Mistakes are being made on both sides. The people I speak to on a consistent basis in Beirut (parents, family members, etc.) are generally fed up with both the government and the opposition. They may favor one over the other, but they are mostly just sick and tired of the situation.

We don’t have the right leadership.

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May 4th, 2008, 11:32 pm


264. abraham said:


Certainly, any leadership that would invite America into the party at this point is the wrong leadership. Maybe another US administration, which will (hopefully) act more responsibly towards the situation and not try to insert itself as the hegemon, but not this one.

March 14 is selling out its soul and its country to the US in exchange for the rights to the criminal racket in Lebanon. Effectively.

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May 4th, 2008, 11:48 pm


265. Rowan Berkeley said:

don’t call us bloodsuckers, call us philanthropists (yawn):

Prominent California reverend and black activist Eric Lee has apologized for anti-Semitic comments he said last month at a Los Angeles event commemorating the assassination of Martin Luther King. The Los Angeles Times on Friday reported a “reconciliation” meeting between the Pastor and Daphna Ziman – an Israeli-American philanthropist and the recipient of this year’s Tom Bradley Award for community service, for whose honor Lee made the keynote speech at an award ceremony in Los Angeles. During his speech, Lee, the local president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights group, is reported to have suddenly launched an anti-Semitic rant, stating that Jews have made money on blacks in the music business. Ziman is said to have been deeply offended by the reverend’s comments, and later circulated an email amongst her acquaintances quoting him saying that the Jews “are economically enslaving us,” which sparked major tensions between the Jewish and African American communities….

with added ‘we like to grovel to you, really’ bonus:

Obama said of Wright that “he did not share my fundamental belief and my fundamental values, in terms of bringing the country together and moving forward, and the pride that I’ve got for this country.”

we’re so goddam hip:

There is unlikely to be any progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks until the political uncertainty created by the latest investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is cleared up, senior government officials said Sunday after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. “Their head is not into it right now,” one official said of Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who would take over from Olmert if he had to temporarily step down. “They have no patience for this right now.”

Israel to delay visit of Egyptian official over Shalit : State officials in Jerusalem confirm planned arrival of Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, in days leading up to Independence festivities less than desirable. In other words, you aren’t wanted.

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May 5th, 2008, 12:05 am


266. Rowan Berkeley said:

Who Put “Deep Throat” up as Olmert’s Nemesis? (extracts)
DEBKAfile Special Analysis, May 3, 2008

A mysterious stranger from America laid fresh information before the Israeli police last week, initiating Corruption Investigation No. 5 against Ehud Olmert. All five pre-date his two years as Israeli prime minister, and none have so far produced an indictment. But this time, the Attorney General ordered the police to question the prime minister urgently within 48 hours regarding “a grave criminal offense.” Olmert was quizzed under caution at his residence Friday, May 2, on charges shrouded by a court gag order. What brought the unnamed accuser from America to the door of the Israeli police at this time? According to an Israeli paper (??- RB), he laid before police investigators strong evidence of a new and grave corruption charge against prime minister Ehud Olmert, the fifth case opened against him thus far, all predating his two-year term as prime minister.

In the view of DEBKAfile’s political sources, Olmert’s anonymous accuser was put up to opening his can of worms by a party seeking to cloud Israel’s forthcoming sixtieth anniversary celebrations, to which a glittering gallery of invited foreign guests, led by US president George W. Bush, is invited. That party, whether domestic or foreign, wants to get rid of Ehud Olmert. The step may connect with the battle Israel has fought to debunk the National Intelligence Estimate in which 16 US agencies concluded that Iran gave up nuclear weapons development in 2003. The NIE’s purpose was to hold President Bush back from exercising America’s military option against Iran before he leaves the White House. Israel’s strenuous battle to devalue the estimate put that option back on the table in March. Olmert may have trodden on the toes of powerful American interests. The anonymous informer against the prime minister turned up a few days after disclosures about Syria’s shattered North Korean reactor, which were clearly coordinated by the White House and the Israeli government.

Add to this the impatience in parts of the US administration with Olmert’s foot-dragging on his promised breakthrough in peace talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas by the end of 2008. Saturday night, May 3, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice started her fifteenth visit in two years to Jerusalem and Ramallah, with little hope of progress. Impatience on another score was demonstrated by transport minister Shaul Mofaz, former chief of staff and defense minister. After leading Israel’s strategic talks with US officials in Washington, he issued two dire warnings. One was that Iran may attain command of uranium technology before the end of the year, which means the ability to produce nuclear bombs by next March or April. This warning carries a critical time frame for an American or Israel military attack: June, July or August, 2008. The window of action is then narrowed by the fall and approaching winter. After that it will be too late.

In another speech, Mofaz warned that the Olmert-Livni talks with Palestinian leaders will inevitably force Israel to strip itself of its most vital strategic national assets. No PM has lasted long when they came close to giving up vital security assets. Shimon Peres survived for a year in 1996 after his move to continue the concessions made under the Oslo Framework Accords ; Ehud Barak was toppled in 2000 as head of government and defense minister when he sought an accommodation with Yasser Arafat ; Olmert is said to be on the point of giving up parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians and, according to a message carried by Turkish go-betweens to the Syrian ruler, offering to hand over the Golan as well. The American whistleblower may have been sent, not just as Olmert’s private nemesis, but to cut short his “peace talks,” before he and foreign minister Tzipi Livni give too much away, and also as a wake-up call for action against Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hizballah.

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May 5th, 2008, 12:44 am


267. Rowan Berkeley said:

It has been suggested that ‘US interests’ may be behind the latest accusations against Olmert, and may aim to replace his government with a Netanyahu-Lieberman-Eitam-Gaydamak coalition, but I think that, to the extent that the US government has any influence over Israeli outcomes, this would be one they would wish to avoid—although, now that I am accustomed to the pretzel logic of Israeli political propaganda, it doesn’t surprise me to see certain quarters claiming exactly the opposite. Sometimes. the ambiguity lies between ‘US interests’ in the sense of the US government, and ‘US interests’ in the sense of extreme right-wing US Jewish factions.

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May 5th, 2008, 2:39 am


268. Mark said:

A Syrian-Israeli peace agreement would impact heavily on every major issue in the vicinity, because Syria has strategic and tactical relations with every nearby major player and country.

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September 14th, 2008, 5:25 pm


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