Can Israel and Syria Break the Middle East Deadlock?

By Ford Prefect 

No.  Not under the current US Administration according to Dr. Alon Liel, Head of the Israel-Syria Peace Society and former Director General of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affair.  Dr. Liel was speaking at the Middle East Institute in Washington last Thursday to a packed audience. 

Audio recording of Alon's talk.

Liel spoke out of his strong beliefs that the key to peace in the Middle East is to negotiate with Israel's enemies and not its friends or "made-up" friends.

The lecture was, of course, attended by a fun-sized contingent of sworn anti-Syrian Lebanese ideologues trained by the U.S. neocons. While their agonies over the past Syrian hegemony over Lebanon are understood and legitimate, these ideologues continue to undermine otherwise legitimate needs by trying to impose neoconservative ideals that have fizzled and cracked, repeatedly, in Iraq and elsewhere. Luckily, Liel avoided these landmines and presented an eloquent case of how to break the deadlock.

In addition to reciting the intriguing history of the private channel negotiations between Liel and the Syrian-American Abe Soleiman, here are some interesting remarks from Liel's informative lecture.

The cause of the current impasse, or bottleneck, to peace in the
Middle East is, in fact, Washington.  Olmert's government does not want to re-start talks with Syria because such talks will "upset the Americans."

For the first time in Israel's history, there is a sworn enemy (Syria) that wants to talk peace to Israel and Israel is refusing. Liel underscored the fact that Israel negotiated peace in the past with its sworn enemies and not its friends.  Not talking to Israel's enemies, is in fact, a U.S. policy and NOT and Israeli one.

The American attitude of "do not talk to your enemies until they surrender" is not working.  Moreover, the American administration is still dreaming that if they send more money and weapons to Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, he will eventually prevail.  Liel indicated that Abbas gets weaker with every dollar and every weapon given to him by the U.S. and Israel.

Liel indicated that there is no shortage of people with whom Israel can make peace.  But these people are not really the ones that can deliver peace.  Liel indicated that the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah/Hamas alliance is in fact getting stronger and not weaker.  In his opinion, Syria is the most important part to the survival, or the dissolution, of that alliance.

There were many excellent points made by Liel for those of us who see a resolution of the conflict through peaceful means rather than military ones.  One must stop and admire the courage of Liel and his supporters – who of all places, in Israel, have formed, registered, and received funding for an organization called the Israel-Syria Peace Society.  A Syrian parallel to such a grassroots, policy-influencing movement is now highly desirable.

What is striking about Liel's movement is the rigor he is applying to pursuing peace with Syria.  He is stopping in Washington to appeal to all U.S. presidential candidates to break the deadlock and start negotiating peace with Syria.

Of course, there are those who insist that talking to Syria will only strengthen the regime's intransigence and reward Syria for acts of violence.  Liel correctly disagrees.  If Syria is to be offered a respectable deal – a deal which is based on reclaiming its territorial rights Liel argues that a change of behavior, for the better, is the natural outcome of such a peace deal.

One last note of historical enthrallment:  Liel recited how, in 1983,
Israel found in Lebanon a faction that it liked with which it struck a peace treaty:  the Christian Maronites led by the Gemeyel family.   A peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon was formally signed in 1983.  Liel was the one who received the new Lebanese ambassador in Jerusalem, Pierre Yezbeck.  Yezbeck, with a pocket full of money, wanted to rent a space for the Lebanese embassy in Jerusalem – never mind the fact that even the U.S. was not ready to establish its embassy in Jerusalem.

Yezbeck settled on a nice floor in Jerusalem's Wolfsen Tower, overlooking the Knesset.  Soon thereafter, Liel helped him fly the Lebanese flag high over that building.  Meanwhile, an Israeli embassy was promptly set up in Dbayyeh, outside of Beirut.

Liel was citing this example for historical context:  for peace to last in the Middle East, Israel's enemies must come to the table, and not its friends.  He mentioned a story about Farid Ghadry, who upon visiting Israel last year, asked the Israeli Knesset to refrain from giving the Golan Heights to Assad.  He wanted Israel to give the Golan Heights to him once he became president of Syria!

Liel spoke out of principle that while Israel will never compromise its security; negotiating peace with its enemies is a true Israeli value.  He regretted the impossible deadlock placed by the current U.S. administration while yearning for a true Israeli leader like Rabin who can be courageous enough to put Israel's interest ahead of the narrow-minded one dictated by Washington.

Comments (56)

Alex said:

Thanks FP.

Easy come easy go … I guess it applies to Arab peace partners.

February 27th, 2008, 2:04 am


jo6pac said:

Yes, we are the problem not only here but almost everwhere. I hope the next occupant of the WH can or has the will to do something. I’m just cauntiously optimistic and not much more. Thanks for you site and the commentors.

February 27th, 2008, 2:21 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Ford Prefect

Thanks for this. Most enlightening… and hopeful! I particularly agree with your (or Liel’s?) contention that a Syrian equivalent to his organization would be a desideratum.

Perhaps SC will play a part in sowing the seeds of this grass-roots movement.

I wanted to also thank Joshua for posting the Carnegie piece. It is really excellent. I have more and more respect for Paul Salem & co. by the day.

Along those lines, however, I wanted to issue an open question to the SC regulars. The Carnegie Endowment publication is essentially an analysis/policy paper, and because it is geared toward the U.S. administration, it naturally comes off at times as seeming to suggest that the ball is entirely in the American court.

Of course, we know that this is not the case. While the U.S. should change tactics if it wants to see progress towards stability on the various fronts in the Middle East, surely much of this also depends on the regional players themselves.

Which brings me to Syria. What do you think Syria needs to do, in the first few months of the new administration, and subsequently? If you were to write a Carnegie Endowment piece for the Syrian government, what would it say?

February 27th, 2008, 2:29 am


norman said:


The problem that Israel has too many AIGs and not enough ALONs , I do not know how you correct that ,


What Syria can do with a new American Administration is to call for a peace meeting in Damascus with Hizballah , Iran and Hamas and come out for negotiation with Israel without precondition seeking a complete and final solution to the Israeli Palestinian problem which is the core of all problems in the Mideast .

February 27th, 2008, 2:42 am


norman said:

This might be the status of the investigation in Syria,

اتهمت دولا عربية بالتنسيق مع الموساد
سورية تتريث في اعلان نتائج التحقيق باغتيال مغنية


دمشق ـ القدس ـ القدس العربي : قالت مصادر سورية ان التحقيق باغتيال القيادي في حزب الله عماد مغنية وصل لنتائج مهمة، لكن النظام السوري قرر التريث بالاعلان عن النتائج، لما بعد القمة العربية. وقالت المصادر لـ القدس العربي ان نتائج التحقيقات تشير لتورط مخابرات عربية، سيتم الكشف عنها في مرحلة لاحقة.
وقالت المصادر ان مخابرات دول عربية نسقت مع الموساد الاسرائيلي لاغتيال مغنية. كما اتهمت المصادر شخصيات لبنانية وفلسطينية بالتورط بالعملية. وفسرت مصادر عربية الاتهام السوري لدول عربية بانه تلويح بحملة تعتزم سورية شنها ضد بعض الدول العربية التي تشهد العلاقات معها تدهورا.
وتتهم دول عربية سورية بعرقلة انتخاب رئيس للبنان، وتهدد بمقاطعة القمة العربية التي من المقرر ان تستضيفها دمشق اذا لم تسهل انتخاب رئيس لبناني.
الي ذلك قال رئيس شعبة الاستخبارات العسكرية الإسرائيلية اللواء عاموس يدلين ان اغتيال مغنية في دمشق يسبب توترا للسوريين.
ونقلت وسائل إعلام إسرائيلية عن يدلين قوله خلال اجتماع للجنة الخارجية والأمن التابعة للكنيست امس الثلاثاء إن مغنية اغتيل في قلب دمشق وفي حيّ يوجد فيه حضور إيراني غير قليل وأهداف سورية أيضا، وهذا يسبب توترا لهم .
وتابع يمكن لمغنية منافسة (زعيم تنظيم القاعدة أسامة) بن لادن من حيث معاني الإرهاب وهو (مغنية) ارهابي كان له في العشرين عاما الأخيرة تأثير كبير للغاية علي الإرهاب وعلي بناء حزب الله وكان المحرك وراء تجديد تسلح حزب الله بعد الحرب في إشارة إلي حرب لبنان الثانية.
وأضاف يدلين أن اغتيال مغنية كان ضربة شديدة لشخصية هامة ومركزية وأدت إلي زعزعة حزب الله بصورة كبيرة .


ارسل هذا الخبر الى صديق بالبريد الالكتروني
نسخة للطباعة
هل ترغب

February 27th, 2008, 2:56 am


Qifa Nabki said:

An assassination for an assassination…

An investigation for an investigation…

A sword of Damocles for a sword of Damocles…

February 27th, 2008, 3:18 am


norman said:


What do you think of the plan for Syria’s goverment ?, not that I am one they listen to.

February 27th, 2008, 3:22 am


Qifa Nabki said:

I love your plan Norman.

From your keyboard to Bashar’s computer monitor, inshallah.

February 27th, 2008, 3:23 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Nir Rosen has a new piece out about Iraq, in Rolling Stone.

The Myth of the Surge

Hoping to turn enemies into allies, U.S. forces are arming Iraqis who fought with the insurgents. But it’s already starting to backfire. A report from the front lines of the new Iraq…

February 27th, 2008, 3:51 am


norman said:

The only way for Iraq to get better is for Syria and Iran to help the US and Iraq and that will happen only with a peace treaty in the Mideast.

February 27th, 2008, 4:05 am


Ford Prefect said:

Indeed Norman, there are so many more of the armchair ideologues in Washington and Israel who have adopted the “Clean Break” doctrine of do not negotiate peace with your enemies until they either surrender or completely capitulate.

I would have been a huge supporter of that doctrine if it has ever worked. The irony is that people advocating violent means never learn. If they would even bother and see how Israel “won” the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, then signing a short-lived peace treaty, yet again, in 2006, millions of Israelis were under shelters does not speak highly of those ideologue intellects.

But, as a Syrian who was originally indoctrinated that Israel is bad, Israel is the aggressor, and Israel is the source of all evil, I am elated to hear people such Alon speak and fight for peace. Mind you that he picked the toughest, riskiest, and most unappealing cause to champion. It would have been much easier for him to join the war-mongering camp. And for that, he is to be saluted and supported.

QN, the Internet has opened channels and forums that were unheard of a few years ago. SC has certainly brought us closer together – sort of humanized the Arab Israeli debate where non-affiliated people could join and maybe even shape policies – instead of just talking of “armed struggles” and reckless wars.

Once this US buffoon administration time is up (it is just not coming soon enough), I genuinely think peace in the Middle East will be an achievable objective.

February 27th, 2008, 4:11 am


Qifa Nabki said:

For those curious about Obama and a future American policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Arab world, Iran, etc., this is very telling, highly worth reading:


As president I will leave all options on the table for dealing with a threat from Iran including the military options. But I believe that we have not pursued the kind of aggressive and direct diplomacy that could yield results to both Israel and the United States. The current policy of not talking is not working. It is time to change that. I am running for president because I believe that America can do better both at home and abroad. I believe that we can do better in our relationship with Israel through a more effective foreign policy that reduces the threat of terrorism and increase the possibility for peace. Together I am convinced that we can make that change and that we can repair our world. So I am grateful for this opportunity to talk to you and just want to take some questions.

February 27th, 2008, 4:29 am


Enlightened said:

QN asks:

Which brings me to Syria. What do you think Syria needs to do, in the first few months of the new administration, and subsequently? If you were to write a Carnegie Endowment piece for the Syrian government, what would it say?

QN; do you not think that some dialogue has already started? That man with the very hard name to pronounce and type ZB, has initiated something?

Firstly I think Syria needs to be planning now on what it needs to do, not wait for the first few months of the new administration, if I was a Syrian politician I would be praying ( what else would i do) that McCain and Hillary don’t move into the oval office, because the chances are that similar policies against Syria will be maintained. Obama has stated that he will change direction and initiate dialogue , because the current policies are not working.

Currrent Syrian strategy to wait out this administration are working, in its favour at present, however this is a very unsustainable strategy long term and the Syrians know this. What would be a goodwill gesture, well the easiest would be to facilitate the election of the Lebanese President, and calm the situation down in Lebanon, how it can do this with out backing down and compromising, I have no easy solution.

It has cooperated on the Iraq issue, here it scores big brownie points, if I were doing a Job review here I would try and induce Syria (commercially, financially etc) to focus its efforts here. Abolishing the Tribunal, might be a firm indicator, however it might mean one big head to roll ( ah what the heck sacrificing one or two individuals might be better than the whole regime falling down).

Stop all material support to HA, Hamas, and rein them in, do this and we will give you back the Jolan.

OK I was having a AIG moment then.

QN, there is nothing that they can do really, but wait, and see, what the results of the elections are, time is on their side.

February 27th, 2008, 4:53 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am reading this blog and suddenly I feel like I am in Geneva and the problem is making peace between the Swiss and their neigbours.

What exactly are you guys smoking? Even if Liel’s fantasies come true, one day after the peace treaty is signed Asad will not become Jefferson, there would still be huge unemployment in the middle east, there will be 30% illiteracy and there will certainly not be democracy for a very long time. The life of the typical Syrian will not be an iota better and the Muslim Brotherhood are not going to start reading Dawkins.

It will take a couple of years for the Arab street to figure out that basically the dictators cut a deal with the Israelis and Americans and as usual the simple citizen of Egypt and Syria has gotten shafted. How long will this “peace” last?

Unless there is real progress towards democracy in the middle east, we are just buying some time but making sure that when things blow up, the explosion will be bigger. How long will tens of millions of Egyptians and Syrians be willing to live in graveyards, not get married till they are 30 and not have jobs that can earn them a sufficient wage and also fulfill them? Once Asad and all the other dictators are given full legitimacy by the Israeli-Arab (dictators) peace process, all hope for a better future for the Arab masses will disappear, and they will quickly figure this out. And then what?

February 27th, 2008, 5:54 am


offended said:

With all due respect to the Lebanese fellas in this blog, but that Lebanese lady really got on my nerve with her ‘Mudakhleh’… she wants to stick Lebanon right in the middle of the issue. But I loved it when Alon told her that the major issues are the west bank and Golan heights…
I mean how pathetic it is to demand that the peace process be tied with the investigation into the killing of Hariri and the tribunal? The court mandate is up to 2014, do we have to linger in this limbo of no-war no peace until the tribunal is over?
Those phat butt ideologues are disgusting to say the least…

February 27th, 2008, 6:38 am


offended said:

And btw, thank you very much for posting this FP.

You = MA? ; )

February 27th, 2008, 6:40 am


offended said:

Alon said:
“This is another naïve American thinking, that we can’t have a peace agreement with a state unless they are a democracy…”


February 27th, 2008, 6:50 am


Alex said:


A friend of mine was at the Century Foundation’s luncheon discussing possibilities of opening up to Syria, in New York few months ago. On that table Richard Murphy and Raghida Dergham were sitting. Raghida is one of those Lebanese M14 supporters who believe it is part of their religious duties to go everywhere and disrupt any speech or talk that does not call for boycotting the Syrian regime.

My friend (a journalist) told me that When Dr. David Lesch said “it’s true that the Syrians made mistakes in Lebanon” … Raghida raised her hand and told him (almost crying) something like: “I object … as a Lebanese I object to your failure to mention Syria’s murderous behavior in Lebanon”

So … it is again this conviction that AIG, the M14 group and the Farid Ghadry, Khaddam and other wonderful types who call themselves “Syrian opposition”, that they score a perfect ten on the morality scale, and the Syrian regime scores a zero … and therefore everyone is expected to agree with them all the time and to join in their illusion … otherwise … they will send someone to explain to you that you are morally corrupt.

February 27th, 2008, 7:32 am


offended said:

Alex, I know it is sometimes pointless to reprise the silliness of Ahmad Al Jarallah and his toilet paper of a newspaper, but I feel it is important to counter his allegations; according to his latest gem, the Syrian regime doesn’t deserve to host the Arab summit, because it has perpetrated the following:
– They’ve stirred the violence in Darfur.
– They are responsible for shooting tourists in Yemen.
– They are responsible for the Sunni-Shia’ strife in the region.
– They are to blame for all those who’ve been killed in Lebanon in the past few years (including those who were killed in 2006 war).
– They are conspiring to achieve peace with Israel, but at the same time:
– They are opening up the Arab sanctum to the Persians, allowing them to extend their project of persianizing the region.
– They have created (or planted) Hamas (!), and eventually helped it to take over Gaza after stirring violence with Fatah.
– They are the main reason behind terrorism and radicalization in the region.

Now, if the Syrian regime is so powerful and unstoppable that it could pull all these stunts and keep the Golan front silent for 30 years at the same time, why would it need the Arabs and their summit form the first place?

February 27th, 2008, 8:44 am


why-discuss said:


The Mughniyeh Investigation:
The article triggers a lot of speculations:

Which are the Arab countries involved? Why wait after the Arab ligue conference to release the information they got? Does Syria hold information that will make the Saudis and other hostile arab countries unease? Is the report implying that Saudis, Lebanese and Palestinians colluded with Israelis secret services in the murder? Would this threat of exposing ‘some arab countries’ role,(i.e the Saudis) force them into lowering their anti syrian rhetoric and come to the conference after squeezing their allies in Lebanon onto compromising with the opposition?

February 27th, 2008, 9:04 am


Shai said:

Alex, QN,

I’ll continue relating to our previous comments, in this section, so as not to anger Ehsani2 and Majhool (their claim was legitimate). So here’s the next issue: What if the next U.S. administration either continues with a similar policy, or does show signs of change, but it is simply way too slow? McCain and Hillary may be too closed-minded to do a 180, and Obama might be too “fresh” to move relatively quickly (i.e. in the next 1-2 years). I may of course be wrong about any of these, but let’s for a second suppose I’m right.

Do we, as the major players on the ground, wait for the U.S. to run the show? Can we not, for instance, locate another broker already now (Turkey?) who will at least help us get things started? A sort of peace-foreplay, before the toughest issues are crunched out, and before “guarantees” are put up (by the U.S., the EU, etc.)? In fact, if Israel and Syria prove that they can restart talks, perhaps that will push the new administration in Washington to participate? From Alon’s comments, it seems that for Syria it is absolutely critical to have the U.S. present in these talks. So perhaps it is enough that some U.S. envoy (new administration’s secretary-of-state, or his/her deputy) be present in such talks, say, held in Turkey. Again, I’m referring to a case where a new administration does move fast enough, or even in the desired direction, or before a new one is in place. What are your thoughts on this?

February 27th, 2008, 12:11 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Can Israel and Syria Break the Middle East Deadlock?

Dear Ford Perfect,

What deadlock? Last I checked everybody’s happy.

February 27th, 2008, 12:19 pm


Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

I didn’t get a chance to thank you yet, so please know how much I respect and appreciate your effort in bringing Alon Liel’s visit to Washington, and his goals, to our attention. Although many in Israel are suspicious of Alon’s message (at the moment), he is a highly respected person, diplomat, and academician. It is no coincidence that Alon was allowed to hold Track II talks for almost 3 years, with Ariel Sharon’s clear knowledge, while standing at Washington’s side all the while. Alon’s activities here in Israel, and abroad, have and will continue to bring much pride to Israel’s quest for peace.

February 27th, 2008, 1:06 pm


offended said:

Since Alex and QN are still asleep, I thought I might chime in and offer my vast knowledge on the subject.
You know in a peace process, the greater chunk of work will have to be handled by the players. It is not a big deal for the united state to sit and monitor peace talks. But the importance rises from its being the only super power in the world, and its being the guarantor of Israel security. To be honest with you, I don’t buy that Olmert didn’t respond to peace overtures just because he was not allowed to do so by the American administration. I remember that day very well and I remember the press conference; Bush and Olmert came out with the agreement that should Syria be interested in peace, it can talk to Israel directly and shouldn’t expect the Americans to sponsor these talks.

If Israel is eager to talk peace, and if they understand how important it is for the Syrians to have the world’s only super power as a sponsor or a broker for these talks, they would have pushed for it. But I reckon that the lack of comms channels may have made it impossible to do such arrangement. That’s where Turkey, in my humble opinion, can step in to help. (i.e. arranging the preliminary discussions about the format and the shape of the talks)

February 27th, 2008, 1:08 pm


Shai said:


Precisely! The Turks can and should help as much as possible. But (and this is a big “but”), the reason why Alon Liel called Bush’s announcement that day, next to Olmert, an American VETO on talks with Syria (instead of the seemingly “green light”) is precisely because everyone knew that Syria will NOT restart talks without the U.S. there. Remember, Bush said that from his point of view Israel can talk to the Syrians, but that they would do so without the U.S. involved. That sealed the hope, because it is a critical demand by Syria, that was not to be met.

What I proposed, up above, is that we ready ourselves also for a possibility of a U.S. administration that either moves too slowly, or not at all, in the desired direction. We have to begin our “peace foreplay”, perhaps vis-a-vis Turkey, so that good will and intent is demonstrated already now. Question is, is this possible at all, or is everyone waiting to see what’ll happen in Washington…

February 27th, 2008, 1:22 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


QN; do you not think that some dialogue has already started? That man with the very hard name to pronounce and type ZB, has initiated something?

Yes, what’s his name (let’s call him Ziggy, not ZB… sounds rude on this blog with all the Arabic speakers!) has initiated something. But remember that he didn’t show up in that high-level delegation in the end.

Also! Obama has publicly distanced himself from Ziggy. This is what he says about him in the event with Cleveland’s Jewish community. Let’s listen…

“There is a spectrum of views in terms of how the US and Israel should be interacting. It has evolved over time. It means that somebody like Brzezinski who, when he was national security advisor would be considered not outside of the mainstream in terms of his perspective on these issues, is now considered by many in the Jewish Community anathema. I know Brzezinski he’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged emails with him maybe 3 times. He came to Iowa to introduce for a speech on Iraq. He and I agree that Iraq was an enormous strategic blunder and that input from him has been useful in assessing Iraq, as well as Pakistan, where actually, traditionally, if you will recall he was considered a hawk. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party was very suspicious of Brzezinski precisely because he was so tough on many of these issues. I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally.

So… Ziggy may not be a factor.

I think that Ehsani was probably referring to something other than Majhool (correct me if I’m wrong, Ehsani). He probably meant that we’re getting off track with the silly conversations we’ve (I’ve, mostly) been having with AIG, and I’ve already decided to withdraw unilaterally from them.

I don’t see that Syria-Israel issues are unrelated, despite what Majhool thinks.

I like your idea about an outside partner, but to be honest there aren’t many candidates that are acceptable to both sides. The Arabs are now in the doghouse with Syria. Most of the Europeans too. Turkey is an option, but I don’t really see it happening.

If the Syrians are serious, they need to be very loud about it, in my opinion. I know that’s difficult because it doesn’t fit the rhetoric of their allies (namely the messianic lunatic, Ahmedinejad, plus Hizullah/Hamas), but they need to start going public about this in a bigger way. Otherwise, the Israelis are just not going to buy it, or feel like they have to.

February 27th, 2008, 1:35 pm


Shai said:


You’re right. Unfortunately, that’s the situation here. But like I wrote to Offended, as responsible parties, we must ready ourselves for an administration that won’t act as quickly, or at all, in our direction. We must convince the Syrians perhaps, that the U.S. is not a must, or at least ease that demand some. We must also convince Israel that we mustn’t wait until a new American “boss” gives us the go-ahead. We can, and should, know how to exercise independence every now and then, especially when our vital interests are at stake.

February 27th, 2008, 1:44 pm


Shai said:


And… while we attempt to get closer to Damascus during these next 9 months, we of course should continue to market the Syria-Now premise both to the potential US candidates (Dem’s and Rep’s), as well as to potential Israeli PM’s (Barak, Netanyahu). The clock that is ticking against us is not waiting for Washington, Jerusalem, or Damascus. It is perhaps being run by Tehran, Gaza, or the Beqaa. That must be reversed, if at all possible, by publicly demonstrating our real intentions.

February 27th, 2008, 1:48 pm


offended said:

Come on Shai!

The ticking bomb is also being run by strangulating Gaza and provoking Hizbollah through assassinations, don’t you think? ; )

February 27th, 2008, 2:07 pm


Shai said:

Yes, Offended, I do…

February 27th, 2008, 2:13 pm


Norman said:


I agree with you that Syria and Israel should not wait to seek peace ,

I do not agree with you that peace with Syria alone is good for Israel , I sense that you only want peace with Syria to isolate Iran, Hezbollah and Ha mas , Syria is not Egypt or Jordon any peace with Syria will have to include a settlement to the Palestinian problem , otherwise Israel will not be safe , safe Israel will come only with a full settlement.

February 27th, 2008, 2:22 pm


offended said:

I agree with you, what’s happening here in this region is far more ominous than the upcoming shift in the American admin. Let’s hope the players will be able to hold their breaths…

February 27th, 2008, 2:24 pm


kingcrane jr said:

Thank you for this thread.
The best joke was Farid Ghadri asking for the Zionist leaders to wait for his accession to power in the SAR to give back the Golan; this guy has a great sense of humor.
The one thing I would like to disagree with, having lived in Lebanon for a while, is that the current “14′ (February or March, who really cares?) coalition includes previous lapdogs of the Syrian underlings who ruled Lebanon, not even the authorities in Syria which had a task from the “International Community” (whatever that is, but here: the authorities in the KSA and the USA) to keep Lebanon and its palestinian (and other) contingents under check. One exception: Samir Geagea. I dislike geagea, but at least he did refuse Syrian offers to join the government. The others (Hariri the father, Jumblatt the son, Moawad the widow, and many others) profitted from the presence of the Syrian “military and security apparatus” and made a lot of money (the usual division of dirty money is 90% to the Lebanese politician or feudal lord or futile droll, etc… versus 10% for the Syrian accomplice).
As to what Syria should do, the answer is… nothing. We could set up a website of Syrian expats discussing peace with Israel, but I am a one-state solution kind of guy. In other terms, no place for a racist or religious entity. My other motto: after Israel, the KSA and Iran should be targets for de-clerication. Yes, I am a dreamer, but secularization of the entire area is the only way out. Otherwise, it is briq al zayt or groundhog day again and again for the whole Middle East. Sorry for this rant, but one must learn from history.

PS to QN: Please read my last comment on your thread from a few days back, and thank you again. I am very interested in Syro-Lebanese relations.

February 27th, 2008, 3:09 pm


Joshua said:

Dear Ford P.

Many thanks for writing up this very interesting talk by Liel. Having a Syrian of your stature and wisdom keeping us up to date on Israel’s peace advocates is much needed and welcome.

QN – I agree that Paul Salem is not only smart, but that he is wise to boot. We at SC need to think about parameters for compromise in Lebanon and in the region. Now is the time, as you point out. All the candidates are reaching for new ideas. Few have set their policies in stone. It will be very difficult to undo the many sanctions and promises made by the present administration, many of which have been designed to straight-jacket the next administration.

February 27th, 2008, 3:39 pm


Trillian said:


Thanks for the post. I attended Liel’s talk in Washington and found it to be informative, inspiring and important. I applaud you for writing about it on this forum and opening this discussion to a wider public.

The point that Washington’s policies are being challenged in a place where it has the most influence and where we least expect it – Israel – is one that should not be undermined. Washington’s policy should be initiating talk with strategic players in the region, enemies or not, and abandoning its failed isolationist policy. Liel’s initiative, a glimmer of light in a very dark tunnel, should be one that we all support. His Track II efforts have not only gained him respect in Israel, but now here in Washington as well. I agree with other posters on this blog that we don’t have to wait for an administration change to get started on building the foundation for peace; but, it will be the necessary catalyst in the end. And, to add to that, Liel’s movement still has a long way to go. After all, he has to face the Israel lobbying-machine in Washington, the strengthened Syrian/Iran/Hezbollah connection, a majority sentiment in Israel toward the use of military force as a diplomatic tool, and the emotional Golan factor. But it’s a start.

February 27th, 2008, 3:49 pm


Another Way said:

It certainly seems that a new US president could dramatically change the prospects for peace. I was not encouraged by what Obama said last night in the debates concerning the US’s special relationship with Israel, which he referred to as sacrosanct. Clearly he had to say it, given the domestic pressure to do so, but the strength of his language was disappointing. However, with Obama’s other stances concering talking with enemies, I have little doubt that in his mind, supporting Israel means pressuring negotiations. This is a big change from a Bush policy that pressures Israel to shun its enemies (even when they want to talk to them!) and could potentially change the political landscape of the conflict.

February 27th, 2008, 4:05 pm


Trillian said:,7340,L-3511902,00.html

Obama: My commitment to Israel is unshakable

In exclusive Yedioth Ahronoth interview, US presidential hopeful says ‘all facts of our national power will be required to stop the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons’

Orly Azoulay

WASHIGTON – When he launched his US presidential campaign, only few people knew that Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein. His political rivals, however, made sure to reveal this fact and attempted to paint him as a pro-Arab Muslim.

Over the past few weeks, his rivals have spread rumors that Obama attended a madrasa (Islamic religious school) in Indonesia, which served as a terrorist training camp.

On Tuesday Obama provided his written answers to questions presented by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper. In the exclusive interview, which will be published Friday, he presents his views on Israel, the Palestinians and Iran.

Some people in Israel and some Jewish American leaders have expressed concern that you would be more sympathetic to the Arab side because of your Muslim background. How do you respond to this argument?

First it is important to establish the facts. Here are the facts: I am not a Muslim and I never have been. I never attended a madrasa. I did not take my oath of office on a Koran. I am a committed Christian. I lived in Indonesia for four years as a child, where I attended secular schools. I took my oath of office on our family Bible.

People who know the facts are not worried about my commitment to Israel’s security and the US-Israel relationship. I have overwhelming support among the Jewish community that knows me best, which is the Jewish community in Chicago. It may be that my family roots in Africa and my childhood experience in Indonesia give me some insights that allow me to practice effective diplomacy in the Muslim world. I certainly hope so. And that ability can be used to benefit American interests and Israel’s security, and, I hope, help build a better relationship between both our countries and the Muslim world.

For many years, Israel has considered the occupant of the White House a very good friend. Will this friendship continue if you become president?

Absolutely yes. I will carry with me to the White House an unshakeable commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between the United States and Israel. The US-Israel relationship is rooted in shared interests, shared values, shared history, and in deep friendship among our people. It is supported by a strong bipartisan consensus that I am proud to be a part of, and I will work tirelessly as president to uphold and enhance the friendship between the two countries.

You have said you would be ready to talk to “enemy leaders.” Some Israelis are skeptical that just by speaking with the leaders of Iran, you could prevent them from producing a nuclear weapon. If diplomacy fails, would you support using force against Iran, as Israel did against Iraq in 1981?

I don’t believe that diplomacy alone will stop the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons. I believe it will require all facts of our national power to achieve this important goal.

The gravest threat to Israel today comes from Iran, where a radical regime continues to pursue the ability to build a nuclear weapon, and continues its support for terrorism across the region. President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust, and his disturbing denunciations of Israel? Recently he referred to Israel as a “deadly microbe” and a “savage animal.” Threats of Israel’s destruction cannot be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran is real, and my goal as president will be to eliminate it.

The time has come to talk directly to the Iranians, and to lay out our clear terms: an end to their pursuit of nuclear weapons; an end to their support of terrorism; and an end to their threats against Israel and other countries in the region. To achieve this goal, I believe that we must be prepared to offer incentives like the prospect of better relations and integration in the international community; as well as disincentives like the prospect of increased sanctions.

Full interview to be published on Ynetnews this weekend

February 27th, 2008, 4:10 pm


Alex said:


two posts?? … when was the last time you stayed here that long?

: )

February 27th, 2008, 4:25 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Dear all,
Thanks for the great feedback. I am sorry for the many linguistic and editorial mistakes in my piece above; but I am wanted to get the information out to you expeditiously while I am fighting a bad case of the flu (and I have taken the CDC-approved vaccine this year!).

Offended, it is clear that you have an iPod that can detect the m’s and the a’s in hexadecimal format, don’t you? 😉

AP, everyone is not happy. Peace will change everything. You wait and see. Meanwhile, please tell your hawks to find another prey somewhere else. It is now our turn to try.

Shai, thanks! It is clear that Alon’s quest is not an easy or a popular one. The fact that he is pursuing such track is enough to salute and commend his outstanding efforts. I am all for it and whatever I can do to help, I am ready. (P.S. If it is tough enough for Alon in Israel, imagine Syria!)

I sense that many, especially from the Israeli side think that Alon is dreaming of the impossible. Others are thinking that Alon’s effort, if successful, will result in rewarding an authoritarian, non-democratic regime in Syria.

Fine. But the fact is that he is trying where others have failed is enough reason to support him from the Syrian side. Repeated wars and militaristic adventures have not resulted in peace so far; it is about time someone tries a different approach. In my line of business, if a particular system keeps failing, even after repeated debugging and patching, it will be time to rethink it altogether. Alon’s is rethinking in the right direction.

Trillian, yes, we should not wait for a change in the US administration to pursue peace. As Alon indicated, there is a golden opportunity now that we should not miss: Syria is ready to talk. The current US administration is a lame duck one, badly bruised and is becoming more irrelevant everyday. It is the US Congress and the future administration that we should all work on influencing.

February 27th, 2008, 4:27 pm


Trillian said:


You are right! It has been a while 😉 And it looks like I’ve missed a lot!

February 27th, 2008, 4:35 pm


Akbar Palace said:

AP, everyone is not happy. Peace will change everything. You wait and see. Meanwhile, please tell your hawks to find another prey somewhere else. It is now our turn to try.

Ford Perfect,

Hillary, McCain, or Obama,

Which one of these 3 presidential contenders will make you happy?

I guess Trillian beat me to it:

Absolutely yes. I will carry with me to the White House an unshakeable commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between the United States and Israel. The US-Israel relationship is rooted in shared interests, shared values, shared history, and in deep friendship among our people. It is supported by a strong bipartisan consensus that I am proud to be a part of, and I will work tirelessly as president to uphold and enhance the friendship between the two countries.,7340,L-3511902,00.html

February 27th, 2008, 4:38 pm


Shai said:


Absolutely not. I am not for peace only with Syria, but with the entire Arab world, and especially the Palestinians. As I’ve stated, I recognize that real peace (or a warm one) will not exist until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. That is very clear to me. But it is also clear that at the moment, the only partner that is closest to peace with Israel, and that can deliver, is Syria. We mustn’t wait for the Palestinian issue to be resolved BEFORE we make peace with Syria – that is what I’m advocating. As Alon Liel has stated, Israel will not have real peace with the Arab world until Israel withdraws to the June 4, 1967 lines. Since withdrawing from the West Bank seems much tougher at the moment, we shouldn’t wait with the Golan. As Bashar Assad has stated, we’re 80% there already, only 20% to go. Once peace is established with Syria, I’m sure positive pressure will be created on both Israelis and Palestinians to find the way to resolve their differences. Many issues (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran?) will be resolved by making peace with Syria, which will help tremendously with the Palestinian track. That’s what I’m saying.

February 27th, 2008, 5:02 pm


Ford Prefect said:

AP, anyone of the three will be a great president. It is clear that each one of them does have a brain and intends to use it, too. And it is clear that none of them is intellectually challenged. January 22, 2009 can’t come fast enough for America.

But, as liberal, I do prefer the candidates who will roll back the tax subsidies to rich, begin to give us universal healthcare, and stop the senseless war in Iraq.

February 27th, 2008, 5:05 pm


Norman said:


Tax subsidies !, I beg to differ.
Universal health based on TAX REVENUE WILL NOT WORK AS IT WILL INCREASE UNEMPLOYMENT AS MOST PEOPLE WHO GO BACK TO WORK AND BE PRODUCTIVE DO THAT FOR THE HEALTHCARE BENIFITS , universal health care based on buying through a national health care trust where employers will have a choice to buy insurance for their employees or through the private sector , I think that is a better plan.

February 27th, 2008, 5:27 pm


Ford Prefect said:

LOL! Norman, I hear you but this topic will cause a long debate. Let’s keep focused on the issues of Syria in this forum. Maybe my DNC side can have a discussion with you offline regarding how we are all paying higher taxes because of the bad policies of the current Cheney administration.

February 27th, 2008, 5:32 pm


Alex said:

8 more this week : )

I heard that this project will employ 6000 people during the construction stage, then 2500 to manage it when everything is operational. 4 more billions are to be announced by the same investor in the tourism, banking and insurance sectors.

Qatari Diar to Build $8 Billion Project, Syria News Reports
2008-02-27 10:42 (New York)

By Nadim Issa
Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) — Qatari Diar Real Estate
Investment Co. plans to develop an $8 billion residential
and tourist complex in Syria, Syria News reported, citing
Qatari Diar Chief Executive Officer Naser Al Ansari.
The project, Diar Damascus, will be built over 500,000
square meters, the news service quoted Al Ansari as saying.

February 27th, 2008, 5:33 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The system is not working because there is no democracy in the Arab world. That is what needs to be changed.

If Musharaf can be forced to have real elections, why can’t Asad?

Now, if your or Liel’s peace plan would include an enforceable plan for democratizing Syria, then that would be something that would make sense. Otherwise, it will just be the case of rewarding dictators, exactly what you find wrong with the Bush administration!

February 27th, 2008, 5:49 pm


Observer said:

I posted a link to the conflicts forum article about the use of language to perpetuate a situation of dominance by one group over another, here Noam Chomsky uses the same argument to show how language was and is being used to allow for a double standard of justice particularly in the ME, dissecting every action by PLO/HA/Syria viz a viz the Israeli and US actions showing that when criminality, racism, and brutality are concerned, that oxymoronic term Israeli democracy is the champion of all, the A team of terror and oppression
Here is the link for your reading.

February 27th, 2008, 5:54 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

KingCrane Jr,

Nice to see you again. With regard to transliteration, yes, my alias is Qifa Nabki with a qaf:

قفا نبكي

(Halt, you two! And let us weep…) As in, the first two lines of Imru’ al-Qays’s great mu`allaqa.

And now, a question for you: are you KingCrane or KingCrane Jr.? Are there two KingCranes? Is this the first example of dynastic succession, here on Syria Comment? 😉

Yes, it diminishes the stature of the fearsome Mamluks to compare them to our fickle and foolish politicians. On a different day, I might have associated their shocking victory in 1260 (not far from the fields of south Lebanon) with Hizbullah’s own tussle with the “Jalut” of our times, in 2006.

I like your ardent secularism… We don’t have enough of it, it seems to me. (De-clerication is a wonderful term.) I am reminded of a conversation with my favorite warraq in Beirut, early last year. This was in Ras Beirut, near Hamra. He said to me, referring to the ways in which the zu`ama’ have recently manipulated sectarian tensions for political gain: “My teenage son didn’t know he was Sunni until yesterday. He went to school and his friends told him he was Sunni, so he couldn’t be friends with so-and-so, etc.”

February 27th, 2008, 5:57 pm


Alex said:


I hate to act again like a spoiler but please take it from me on this one… If you want to see anything productive this year, there will need to be a clear commitment from official Israelis and/or the Americans.

The Saudis and M14 supporters practically own the Arab media … given how much they hate teh Syrian regime, they will quickly move to portray Syria as the

1) traitor to the Palestinians
2) ready to sell Hizbollah and Iran
3) Very weak … begging Israel to talk after Israel did two operations inside Syria (Deir Ezzore and Mughneiyah assassination)

Waiting for next year has the added benefit of (hopefully) seeing the Saudis and M14 leaders calm down after their Cheney and Abrams instigators are retired… they, and the media machine, need to get off Syria’s back if Syria is to risk moving ahead on the Golan talks without doing anything for the Palestinians initially.

Or Israel has to be sensitive enough to this difficulty … either make a clear commitment to UN resolutions on the Palestinian issue, or work hard on stopping the attacks on Syria in the US friendly media… starting with Israel’s good friend Prince Bandar.

The Syrians learned that they will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. it is one thing to be attacked for their lack of flexibility on the peace process, they can survive being the macho of the Arab world … but to be widely portrayed in the Arab press as selling out to the Israelis, like the Saudis and Washington supported “Syrian opposition” and even the M14 hypocrites will surely portray Syria, the Syrians will not be able to proceed… the same way they succeeded in convincing everyone initially that Syria SURELY killed Hariri and ALL the other Lebanese, they will succeed in making Syria a traitor in the eyes of most Arabs… then you get into conspiracy theories .. that the Alawite regime has been secretly in agreement with Israel all along to eliminate ht Palestinian cause … etc.

I don’t advice Damascus to go for it under the current circumstances. Israel will need to publicly commit its clear willingness to give the Palestinians back their pre-67 lands (forget right of return initially at least) for Syria to not look like Sadat .. especially if you move ahead this year.

Palestinians’ trust in Syria, Hizbollah’s trust in Syria, and Iran’s trust in Syria are most valuabel assets not only to Syria but as you will see .. to Israel and the “Moderate Arabs” … there is no easy way to destroy Iran or Hizbollah or the Palestinians … everyone will need Syria to talk to them … I therefore would not risk Syria’s relation to those three for anything else… even the Golan… Syria should not risk looking like “a traitor” which it will most likely be portrayed as, if we move forward on the Syrian track this year.

February 27th, 2008, 6:00 pm


Alex said:

Saudi King Was Target of Plot Foiled During U.K. Trip, AFP Says
2008-02-27 12:42 (New York)

By Thomas Penny
Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) — A plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s King
Abdullah during a visit to London last year was foiled by British
police, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the head of the
U.K.’s National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit.
Officers at London’s Heathrow airport intercepted a courier
who was carrying cash intended for Saudi dissidents who planned
to assassinate the king, Detective Superintendent Mark Holmes was
cited by AFP as saying today during a counterterrorism conference
in the southern English town of Brighton.
The operation followed a tip from an informant and led to
the seizure of $330,000 in $100 bills, AFP said. Detectives
didn’t have enough evidence to bring any charges, AFP cited
Holmes as saying.
The Saudi monarch met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and
Queen Elizabeth II during the state visit in October. The trip
provoked protests by critics of Saudi Arabia’s record on human
rights and by campaigners who object to the U.K. government’s
decision to drop a fraud investigation into arms sales to the
Gulf kingdom, the world’s largest oil producer.

February 27th, 2008, 6:17 pm


Norman said:


Alex has my EMail,

Alex ,

It is Ok to give my Email to FP.

By the I agree that money can be spent better.

February 27th, 2008, 6:18 pm


Shai said:

Alex, QN, Ford Prefect, Norman,

A very sad day today. Some 40 rockets were launched into the Negev, killing one Israeli, and landing very close to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. Israel’s retaliatory strike into Gaza reportedly killed 3 children, and injured 12 others. When is this cycle going to end? Can we just sit here and await a new administration in Washington? Can we not find the way to start talking formally, publicly, soon? With Turkish brokering, or anyone else? Clearly, no Israeli is going to show up at such talks unless it is clear they’re ready to give up the entire Golan. And no Syrian will show up unless they’re ready to reign in Hamas and Hezbollah. Must we wait now for another “development” with Hezbollah? The ones controlling this clock seem to be Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, instead of Damascus, Jerusalem, and Washington. We cannot let this go on.

February 27th, 2008, 6:31 pm


Shai said:


I understand what you’re saying. And my tendency is to agree, and say “let’s wait for next year”. But there is a growing fear inside me, that the extremists on all sides are running the show now. And that they too understand what may happen next year, and hence they’ll do anything and everything to make sure next year never arrives. What I mean by that, is to create such a reality, that will force all sides into such a collision, that no new administration in Washington will be able to remedy the situation quickly. For instance, since Hamas understands that time is not so much in his favor, he may well decide to strike in such fashion as would almost undoubtedly cause Israel to invade Gaza. Today’s 40+ rockets into the Neveg area could have been such an event. Had 10 or 20 Israelis been killed, or god-forbid some children as well, there would have been such internal pressure on the leadership to punish Hamas, that a land operation would have almost definitely been given a green-light. And then, we know what another summer 2006 will look like, except that in Gaza, it would be 10 times worse. And, if the IDF continue fighting like it did in Lebanon, and kills many more innocent civilians, who’s to say that Hezbollah won’t join in, and/or Iran, and now we’re at WAR! Not an operation, but outright war. And if/when Israel will fight a war on multiple fronts, Syria may have no choice but to join in, on the side of Iran, and then we’re almost at doomsday scenario. No Obama, or Hillary, or McCain will be able to save the region then – it’ll be much too late, as many tens of thousands, if not more, will die. The next war will not look like any war we’ve seen yet in this or the previous century. It will involve the kind of weapons we fear dreaming of, if things get out of hand. Problem is, that when regular, responsible nations fought with regular armies, things never got too much “out of hand”. But when extremist organizations are involved, who get their orders from religious leaders who might believe in a second coming of their “Messiah”, things could very easily get out of control.

Trust me Alex, every day and night I say to myself “You’re exaggerating. Nasrallah, Hanniyeh, and even Ahmedinejad, are responsible people. They’re not suicidal. They’re not going to take the ultimate chance. Relax.” But my biggest fear is not that they ARE suicidal, but that they would miscalculate. Just as Nasrallah never dreamed Israel would retaliate as it did in summer 2006, who’s to say Hamas won’t miscalculate, or Iran won’t, or even Syria won’t? I’m least worried about Syria, as they have much to lose here. But the others? What have they to lose? Isn’t it the case that with each Palestinian dead, Hamas only gets stronger? The cruel irony is that for Hamas, and Hezbollah, and certainly Iran, the more Israel hurts the Palestinians and Lebanese, the more power these organizations achieve. And who’s to say that morality will come ahead of their innate and natural desire for more power?

I am truly concerned. I cannot sit back and wait another 9 months, despite the fact that you may be very right, that acting too fast beforehand could cost Syria a price. But then again, if you were Bashar’s speech-writer, and you had no choice but to write a speech for him the day he informs the Syrian people, and the rest of the region, that Syria is negotiating the return of the Golan Heights, in return for peace with Israel. Your instructions are to write in any way you like, but to make sure it comes off sounding NOT like Sadat. You must speak of a cold peace if the Palestinian conflict is not resolved. You must mention Syria’s continued support of the resistance. You can even spell it out for everyone “I will NOT be another Sadat! And here’s why…” Do you mean to tell me that Assad cannot do this? There’s no way to come off being different from Sadat? Must we first have substantial progress with the Palestinians? Or the U.S. involved? And what if these don’t happen fast enough? Lots of questions… not enough time… sorry.

February 27th, 2008, 6:56 pm


Enlightened said:

QN Said;


QN; do you not think that some dialogue has already started? That man with the very hard name to pronounce and type ZB, has initiated something?

Yes, what’s his name (let’s call him Ziggy, not ZB… sounds rude on this blog with all the Arabic speakers!) has initiated something. But remember that he didn’t show up in that high-level delegation in the end.

I am sorry QN, I was having a bad hair day yesterday. I forgot that you were 17, and only a 17 year old would have picked up that connotation. Man at 38 I am feeling quite old, not to have picked that up. Apologies to Ziggy I didnt mean to infer that you are a D…, A man of your stature deserves more respect, and I humbly offer my aplogies.

February 28th, 2008, 12:04 am


Qifa Nabki said:

I forgot that you were 17, and only a 17 year old would have picked up that connotation.

Alex, you’ve created a monster.

February 28th, 2008, 12:34 am


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