“Engagement is Still On,” by Joshua Landis

Israeli soldiers on the Golan

Israeli soldiers on the Golan

Engagement is still on. The United States has invited Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal al-Mekdad to Washington. It is the first time in five years that the US has invited a high ranking Syrian official to make the westward journey. Washington’s desire to improve relations with Damascus has not come to an end, despite the claims of several Kuwaiti and Lebanese papers, which have been insisting that US engagement with Syria is over. Their false reports have been accompanied by a barrage of articles produced by Bush era diplomats proclaiming the failure of Obama’s engagement with Syria. These Syria bashers insist that Damascus only understands force and cannot produce anything positive because its DNA matches that of … well, the Devil. I kid you not. They really say things like this. Read Nicholas Noe’s excellent article: “Revenge rules for Middle East hawks.” He cherry picks their best accusations and demonstrates how silly their logic is.

The spark that set off this spin was the accusation by Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki that Syria was behind the mid-August car bombs that targeted several ministries in Baghdad. No regional leaders seem to take Maliki’s accusations at face value. Indeed, most top Iraqi officials have discounted their own Prime Minister’s claims. Andrew Lee Butters of Time Magazine explains why Iraqis believe that Maliki’s accusations are “politically” motivated.

Al-Hayat pointed out last week how US and Syrian officials continued to meet, despite Maliki’s efforts to stop engagement. It claimed that US officials were happy with the intelligence they had been getting from Syria as a result of engagement.

وعلمت «الحياة» من مصادر موثوقة أن الخارجية الأميركية عقدت اجتماعاً ديبلوماسياً مع الجانب السوري أخيراً في واشنطن، للاستماع إلى وجهة النظر السورية. وبدا أن الجهود الأميركية تنصب على التوفيق بين دعم واشنطن السياسي لرئيس الوزراء نوري المالكي من جهة، واحتواء الخلاف وحصره كي لا يهدد التعاون الأمني والاستخباراتي السوري – الأميركي.

The real problem for Obama’s Mid East policy is that Netanyahu is refusing to pursue peace. The lynch pin of Obama’s Middle East policy is Arab-Israeli peace. Everything else on his agenda flows from his promise that he can deliver on a two state solution. Syria will end its support for militant groups that fight Israel if it gets back the Golan and a credible effort is made to provide a modicum of justice for Palestinians. Iran would lose much of its influence in the region as a result. Ahmedinejad’s anti-Israel rantings would lose their purchase. As it is now, almost every Arab is hoping that Iran will get the bomb – if only to counterbalance Israel’s overwhelming military superiority. It is this superiority that allows it to scoff at both Syria and the Palestinians – and, indeed, scoff at the US. If America could only muster up the courage to apply international law – or something resembling it – to the border problems between Israel and its neighbors, a main source of anti-Americanism in the region would be relieved. Watch Queen Rania’s address at Yale University a few days ago on this subject. It is compelling.

But Obama will not pressure Israel to give up land. Fifty six US congressmen traveled to Israel during the summer recess in order to visit Israeli settlers and tell them that they are misunderstood and just regular folks. House Minority whip Eric Cantor headed the Republican group and House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, who has been to Israel 12 times, led the Democrats. The scale and seniority of the recent visits sent a clear message to President Barack Obama that he should not pressure Israel in any way or he will face bipartisan opposition, opposition that he will not be able to overcome. Tel Aviv insists that the real threat to peace in the Middle East is Iran. Dutifully, Cantor like the others, Democrat or Republican, followed his AIPAC script closely, expressing his concern about the “…focus being placed on settlements and settlement growth when the real threat is the existential threat that Israel faces from Iran .” Read this article by Phil Giraldi about the congressional trips to capture the breath-taking display of American lawmakers’ disdain for their president’s two-state policy. It doesn’t stand a chance. Netanyahu knows Obama will be paralyzed by congress. He is enjoying his power. One can only wonder whether the US president will have a better bargaining position with Israel once Iran has acquired a nuclear bomb?

Mark Landler, writing in the NYTimes: analyzes these “troubling” developments for Obama’s foreign policy. “In Israel,” he writes, ” a right-wing government took power, dealing a blow to Mr. Obama’s hopes.” What Landler does not explain is that one of the main reasons a right wing government was elected by Israelis is because of Obama’s pusillanimous response to the Gaza war in January 2009. By insisting that he would respond the same way as Israel in a similar situation, Obama signalled Israelis to vote for the right wing parties. In essence, he gave Israel carte blanche to solve its Palestinian problem by the use of brute force, which was the campaign promise of Netanyahu, rather than by territorial compromise, which Obama claims to support. Had Obama made it clear that Israel’s use of such lop-sided force in Gaza was unacceptable, Israeli voters may well have thought twice about voting for the far right. Obama might now be trying to work with a more understanding Israeli Prime Minister.

This brings us back to Engagement with Syria. So long as Israel occupies the Golan Heights, Syria and Washington will remain adversaries, and engagement will be very difficult and limited. The question that hovers over Syria-US relations today is whether the Obama administration will turn to the Syrian peace track in the hopes of salvaging something of its Middle East policy. There seems to be no positive movement on the Palestinian peace track, so Obama may be forced to look north.

So far the US has given Syria nothing of real substance as a result of engagement. It has sent officials to Damascus, causing a relaxation of the Bush era isolation policy, but it has refused to drop economic sanctions or to stop proscribing prominent Syrian officials. It has said it will resend an Ambassador but refuses to name a candidate or begin the process with congress.

Equally, Syria has been reluctant to grant the US any concessions of real substance. It has restarted intelligence sharing, but we can presume that nothing major has yet been shared. Lebanon remains paralyzed. Hamas and the PLO still won’t talk to each other. All of this could change, but it is clear that neither side is giving anything away for free.

Syria has only to look at Israel’s ability to undermine Obama’s policies in Palestine to know that US engagement with Syria is likely to remain narrow and difficult. The chances that Netanyahu will give up the Golan are very small. Washington cannot make it do so. In fact, Washington will remain Israel’s number one policeman, ensuring that the military balance of power in the region remains skewed firmly in Israel’s favor. Washington will continue to deny Syria its right to resist the occupation of its land and will persist in naming its efforts to do so, terrorism. Without being able to put the Golan on the table, Washington has only sanctions to trade for Syrian concessions – and even sanctions are subject to congressional approval. Obama has limited ability to maneuver.

The seeming failure of America’s Palestine policy means that Damascus, while hoping for the best, will expect little. US diplomats are constantly reminding Syrian officials that it is not in their power to rescind sanctions. They invoke the strength of the pro-Israel lobby in congress as an excuse for their impotence. What is Syria to make of this? Naturally, Syrian officials are loath to do favors for Americans who claim to be able to do little in return. Why spend Syrian diplomatic capital in Beirut, Gaza, or elsewhere? in exchange for honeyed words?

US-Syrian engagement is still on, even if it moves slowly. Sanctions give Obama some bargaining power with Damascus – bargaining power he seems to lack with Israel.

[End Landis analysis]

News Round Up
Foreign Direct Investment in Syria reached USD 2.1 billion in 2008, an increase of 70 percent compared to the previous year, according to UNCTAD. (Read the Syria Report)

(From L to R) Lebanons former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Saudi Petroleum Minister Ali al-Naimi, Yemens President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Saudi King Abdullah, Syrias President Bashar Al Assad and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah attend the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah

Siniora and Bashar al-Assad come together at the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah.

Abdullah-Bashar talks ‘reflect warm relations’ : JEDDAH: The talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Jeddah on Wednesday were distinguished for their warmth and positive results, high-level Syrian. Also see: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “stole the spotlight” in Saudi: And even Siniora enjoyed a very warm 4 minute personal discussion with Asad.

Syrian rappers hop to controversy
2009-09-25, Al Jazeera

Sham MCs, a collective of nine rappers, and their debut album Crossword has provoked more than a few cross words in Damascus.This is the modern crashing head-on into the traditional. The album launch was held in a centuries-old, traditionally …

George Moukhtar, Syria’s fabled goal keeper of the national team in the seventies, passed away. All of us above 40 used to be big fans, and were sad to hear the news.

The Pulse

Ynet reports that Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, sent a postcard to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon saying “We said that we will not place stumbling blocks in front of any effort to achieve an independent Palestinian state in the 4 June 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Turkish Chief Rabbi Haliva Met with al-Assad September 24, 2009

Turkish Rabbi Yitzchak Haliva reportedly met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Kav HaChadash reports.

It appears Turkey’s prime minister invited religious leaders from Turkey to join him and al-Assad in Saudi Arabia to mark the end of Ramadan.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan explained he wanted local religious leaders to get to know the Syrian leader. Rabbi Haliva met with Assad together with Erdogan. Assad reportedly told the rav there is Jewish community in Syria, resulting in the rabbi replying that he is aware because his community sends them matzos for Pessach. In addition, he plays a vital role in providing “religious services” like schita and bris milah.

The rabbi reportedly called on the Syrian leader to do everything possible towards advancing peace with Israel to bring an end to the orphans on both sides. The Turkish leader added that he is doing his utmost towards achieving this goal.


Authoritarianisms, Regime Resilience and State-Society Relations: Comparing Political Change in Syria and Iran: Deadline 30 October 2009

Steven Heydemann (U.S. Institute for Peace and Georgetown University) and Reinoud Leenders (University of Amsterdam) are pleased to invite you to submit a proposal for writing a paper within the framework of a joint research effort on Authoritarianisms, Regime Resilience and State-Society Relations: Comparing Political Change in Syria and Iran. The paper is to be presented in a project workshop and will be considered for publication in an edited volume or a special edition of a major academic journal. The project is part of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia based at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.*

“American ambassador will return to Damascus” mideastwire.com

An-Nahar, a Lebanese daily reported on September 18, 2009, carried the following opinion piece by Sarkis Naoum: “An Arabic media outlet carried a few days ago news…about the relations between Syria and the USA saying that these relations are reverting back to being cold after they had started to take a positive direction when President Obama began implementing a policy of dialogue with Syria,the news about calling off the return of American ambassador to Damascus is totally untrue as the State Department in Washington is still looking for the most fit diplomat to represent the US in Damascus, and this is not an easy task…as many have refused this mission for many reasons including the closure of a school that used to host children of American diplomats in Syria by the Syrian authorities…In short, all this means that Obama’s administration will send an ambassador to Damascus in the near future…but this does not mean that the ambassador will be able to carry out his administration’s expectations as his ability is dependant on the openness of the “Syrian administration”…

“In the meantime, Washington might slow down its dialogue with Syria while trying to make [Syria] understand that luring [the US] into a deal on the expense of Lebanon will not be possible…”

In the Pulse

“In the indirect negotiations last year between Israel and Syria, mediated by Turkey, Syrian President Bashar Assad asked the Israelis for tangible answers in relation to six topographical coordinates. Essentially, this means that Assad asked the Israelis to draw the border. As Ofer Shelah in Ma’ariv reports:
At issue is not the somewhat vague “Rabin deposit,” certainly not promises that Ron Lauder gave in Netanyahu’s name. At issue are negotiations from a year ago, and if they resume, will be from a point from which there is no return. Therefore, the decision on whether to renew the negotiations is almost identical to a decision to conclude it with an agreement.

A key player in any future Israel-Syrian dialogue is IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi, former OC Northern Commander and a member of the Shepherdstown talks under Ehud Barak has been intimately involved in the Syrian track. Apropos Shepherdstown, according to Shelah:
The chief of staff shares the feelings of quite a few people-that an historic opportunity was missed. Ashkenazi was among those who shaped the concept that the IDF presented at discussions: an agreement with Syria could be the central factor in fundamentally changing around the situation in the region, from Beirut to Tehran.
In his closer, Shelah intimates:

There is no reason to think that his position has changed: the IDF is talking, at this time, of the fact that Syria’s deteriorating economic situation-it will soon, it seems, change from an oil exporter to an importer-is only pushing Assad more toward the West and creating another opportunity to remove it from the circle of hostility against Israel and isolate it from Iran.

Severe drought affects 1.3 million in Syria
By Dania Akkad | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, from the September 18, 2009 edition

More than 800,000 people have lost their livelihoods in a four-year dry spell exacerbated by climate change and rising food prices. Almost half of them live in urban makeshift camps.

Deraa, Syria – The acute drought that has driven an estimated 300,000 Syrian farmers, herders, and their families to abandon home for makeshift urban camps may not be the worst in the region’s history; the Fertile Crescent has often experienced cycles of drought.

But now climate change, an exploitation of water resources, and higher food prices brought about by the global financial crisis have all severely sharpened the impact of this dry spell, now in its fourth year. The numbers of Syrians affected – an estimated 1.3 million, 803,000 of whom have entirely lost their livelihoods – point to a serious humanitarian crisis.

With Syria’s population expected to triple by 2025, the severity of the drought presents yet another challenge for a leadership isolated internationally and struggling at home to maintain a broken state system while slowly introducing capitalism.

“It’s going to underline for the everyday person the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of the Syrian state,” says Joshua Landis, codirector of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies.

What to Read on Syrian Politics,Foreign Affairs. By STEVEN HEYDEMANN,

Obama Aides Started Group Pressuring Siemens on Iran
By Lorraine Woellert

Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) — A group co-founded by two of President Barack Obama’s Middle East advisers is pressuring corporations to abandon business with Iran as the U.S. prepares for talks aimed at keeping the country from developing nuclear weapons.

United Against Nuclear Iran will launch television and print advertising today to coincide with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly. The group lists Dennis Ross, a National Security Council adviser, and Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy on Afghanistan, among its founders; both have now severed ties with it.

The New York-based group wants Congress to ban government contracts to companies, such as Munich-based Siemens AG, that do business in Iran. It has told businesses they can avoid protests and letter-writing campaigns if they sever ties.

“When we run a campaign, companies come squealing,” said the group’s president, Mark Wallace. “I’m not out to get these companies, we just want them to change their behavior.”

Obama’s strategy, in contrast, stresses diplomacy backed by a threat of stricter sanctions if Iran doesn’t cooperate.

“The president is trying to approach this thing with some degree of nuance and sophistication,” said William Reinsch, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, which represents the largest U.S. exporters.

‘Harder Line’

The advocacy group’s approach is “designed to try to force him into pursuing a much harder line than he’d like,” Reinsch said. ….

Aluf Benn in Haaretz Thanks to FLC

…. Two major differences were apparent Tuesday between Obama’s summit and those hosted by his predecessor, George W. Bush (in Aqaba in 2003 and in Annapolis in 2007). The Bush administration put an emphasis on synchronizing statements and agreements between the two sides. As soon as the summits were over, the Israelis and Palestinians were sent on their way to hold talks on their own – with American supervisors.

However, Obama does it differently. He read his statement as a command directed at the two sides, and not as a joint statement. The president is planning to lead active American mediation efforts, spearheaded by his Middle East envoy George Mitchell. The envoy’s first task will be relaunching the peace talks.

In his statement, Obama explained that the Americans are not interested in suggestions raised by Israel which mainly benefit Netanyahu. He also made clear that Washington does not accept Abbas’ refusal to enter into talks until Israel completely halts settlement construction. The President is satisfied with Netanyahu’s (so far privately made) promises to limit construction, and places the resumption of peace talks at the top of his priority list.

Comments (56)

norman said:

Dr Landis,

Thank you for the analysis ,

I agree that the US can not do anything as long as the Arabs are doing nothing to help themselves like decreasing the oil supply , forcing the US and the EU into sanctions against Israel if it does abide by international law ,
Decreasing the oil supply will give cover for the US and the EU to force Israel , without that nobody can understand why the US should help the Palestinians , Israel has been there for 40 years and the Arabs and Muslims kept talking , they can talk for another 40 years and by then everybody would have forgotten the Al Aqsa mosque and the Palestinians

The bottom line is like this ,

As long as the Arabs and Muslims do not fight for themselves and their rights , nobody will fight for them ,

And Israel will continue to swallow the land .

September 27th, 2009, 9:14 pm


love you alex said:

Absolutely true!

September 27th, 2009, 11:13 pm


netsp said:

Question for Syrians:

From your perspectives, what does the US hope to gain from engagement with Syria. It seem that the American lever is sanctions and to a lesser extent the Golan. What is the Syrian lever?

September 27th, 2009, 11:57 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

If this blog adopts the language of one very angry professor (“I kid
you not”), let me continue this trend, and answer to ‘Queen YouTube’,
or better call her now ‘Queen TelePrompter’ (Obama she ain’t).

Yes, Many things had changed in the world in the last 20-30 years.
Only one thing did not change, that is the Arab monarchs and dictators
grip on power.

The “palestinians” (including those in the WBank AND in Gaza),
Your Majesty, are lot better in all aspects of life (health, education,
political freedoms, wealth, water, electricity, life expectancy),
than all Jordanians, Bedouins and palestinians.

September 28th, 2009, 6:21 am


Akbar Palace said:

Amir in Tel Aviv:

Just for your information: Engagement is still on.

The Golan and the Adoration of the West is right around the corner;)


September 28th, 2009, 11:22 am


Shami said:

Turkey wants UN body to discuss Gaza ‘war crimes’

Erdoğan also said on Saturday that Turkey would push the Security Council to discuss a report by UN investigators accusing Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes in the Gaza war. “We will definitely take the position to discuss this issue on the Security Council,” Erdoğan told reporters.

A UN fact-finding mission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone issued a report last week that said both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during the December-January war in the Gaza Strip. The report urged the Security Council to refer the allegations to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if either Israel or Palestinian authorities failed to investigate and prosecute those suspected of the crimes within six months.

Erdoğan said there should be “accountability” for anyone guilty of war crimes in Gaza. “We’re in favor of opening discussions on the Goldstone report, and whoever is the guilty party, they should be identified and face the necessary sanctions,” he said.


September 28th, 2009, 1:35 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Goldstone’s Galla

US Hits UN Gaza Report for Excess Focus on Israel


September 28th, 2009, 2:18 pm


norman said:

This article is refreshing,

from the September 28, 2009 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0928/p06s05-wome.html
Yearning for the Golan Heights: why Syria wants it back
The disputed territory is key to the broader US goal of Arab-Israeli peace. On Monday, Washington hosted the first high-ranking Syrian official in five years.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Damascus, Syria
The US demonstrated its commitment to reengage Syria as a partner for Middle East peace Monday, advancing a process that some Arab countries had declared dead in recent weeks. At Washington’s invitation – the first one extended to a high-ranking Syrian official in five years – Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad came to town to meet US officials.

Syria’s cooperation is crucial to the chief goal of President Obama’s Middle East policy: Arab-Israeli peace. With ties to three Israeli enemies – Iran, and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas – Syria says it can moderate the threats against the Jewish state and thus pave the way for reciprocal Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and their Arab allies.

In return, Syria wants one thing: the Golan Heights.

Occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, the fertile territory on the Sea of Galilee’s western shores is prized by both countries for its agriculture, high ground that serves as a military lookout, and abundant water; about one-third of Israel’s fresh water supply currently comes from the Golan. Syria insists on the return of the full territory in exchange for peace.

“We do want to get the Golan back on a silver platter,” said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem this summer. “Let’s face it – it’s our land and our right to have it back is the most normal thing in the world.”

Yet even as the Obama administration pushes for a renewal of peace talks between Syria and Israel, the Golan’s original Syrian inhabitants worry that their situation is being neglected and are striving to instill in their children the same longing they feel for their ancestral land.

While intermittent peace talks between Syria and Israel as well as international attention have long focused on the status of final-border boundaries, control over water, and security issues, little attention is given to the displaced Golanese population. In 1967 approximately 150,000 Syrians fled the Golan into mainland Syria as Israel began its occupation of the territory. Now, taking descendants into account, that number could be as high as half a million.

If a peace deal is eventually reached, the Syrian government says that many of the Golanese refugees will return to the territory – a prospect that Omar Ali has been yearning for since he fled as a 9-year-old in 1967.

‘Our children will not forget’

Surrounded by Arab enemies that it believed were readying for war against the Jewish state, Israel had launched a preemptive strike against its neighbors. Amid the scrum of Syrians rushing to escape oncoming Israeli forces, young Omar lost his family.

“When we left we didn’t think we were fleeing. We thought it was just for a few days and so we only took a few simple things with us,” recalls Mr. Ali, who was reunited with his parents after three days. “We should never have left.”

Forty-two years later, Ali has never returned to his home in the village of Rawiye. Instead he lives in a Damascus suburb known as Black Stone, one of the main concentrations of Golanese refugees. Today, most Golanese refugees live in the Syrian capital, in fact, spread throughout various suburbs. While fully integrated into Syrian society, they congregate together keeping alive old Golanese traditions and instilling in their young a longing to return.

“My house in my village calls me back, the dream obsesses me,” says Ali, adding that he purchased a second house on the Syrian border town of Quneitra just so he could gaze over at the Golan whenever he wanted. “Homelessness is for all generations. Our children will not forget.”

Like many of those who fled, Ali’s family was ripped apart by the occupation. His uncles remained in the territory, and he and his parents never saw them again. With no direct phone lines existing between Israel and Syria, families would in the past meet on the border and use megaphones to communicate. Today, they talk using Skype, an Internet phone service.

328 feet short of a peace deal in 2000

Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis have moved in. Israel has constructed 32 settlements on the territory it annexed in 1981 – in violation of United Nations Resolution 242, which considers the Golan part of Israel’s occupied territories.

The Golan now has a population of 38,000, comprising about 21,000 Arabs loyal to Syria and 17,000 Jews. The territory has become a popular Israeli tourist destination and home to a thriving agricultural sector as well as military bases.

Peace negotiations between the two sides have been sporadic over the past decades.

In 2000, a US-brokered peace agreement was nearly reached but talks collapsed after Syria insisted on a return to the entire pre-1967 war border, which included 328 feet Israel would not give up. Turkish-mediated indirect peace talks broke up last December in protest over Israel’s military offensive on Gaza.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed a willingness to restart talks, he is opposed to a complete withdrawal from the Golan. In July Uzi Arad, a close aide to Mr. Netanyahu, told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that “if there is a territorial compromise, it is one that still leaves Israel on the Golan Heights and deep into the Golan Heights.”

But Syria has never given up its claim on the territory and says its full return is the only basis for peace with Israel. Mr. Mekdad was expected to press this argument while meeting with US officials Monday.

If a peace deal is eventually concluded, Israel has indicated it would accept the return of Golan refugees so long as they do not drain water supplies from the Jewish state.

Few can cross into the Golan

Meanwhile, Syria says it’s doing everything it can to maintain ties with the Arabs still in the Golan Heights, most of whom have rejected Israeli citizenship and pledge allegiance to Damascus, says Methat Saleh, director of the Syrian government’s Bureau of Golan Affairs.

Mr. Saleh, who named his son Golan and spent 12 years in an Israeli prison for resistance activities, explained in a recent interview that Syria provides financial support to some living in the Golan, while trying to help the population maintain their Syrian cultural identity. The country’s domestic television channel maintains a bureau in the territory and inhabitants can access Syrian TV.

Yet with the border firmly closed, direct contact is almost impossible. Among the few who can cross are a group of students whom the two governments allow to study at Damascus University. The program was initiated in 1991 and there are currently about 250 students from the Golan studying in Syria.

According to one who didn’t want to reveal his name, the program strengthens the students to continue “daily mental resistance.”

“As long as we don’t forget that we’re Syrian and as long as we’re speaking Arabic in our homes, [the Israelis] won’t destroy our Arab identity,” says the student, who also speaks fluent Hebrew and has spent past summers employed as a construction worker in Tel Aviv.

The only others allowed across this border are Druze religious figures who make an annual pilgrimage to Syria, as well as a limited number of Syrian women who are permitted to marry men in the Golan but are then barred from returning.

Despite these hardships, displaced Syrians from the Golan say they will ensure that their Golanese identity remains alive and that when the moment arrives they will be ready to go back.

“When we return to the Golan we’ll even take our dead back with us,” says Ali.

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September 28th, 2009, 10:56 pm


norman said:

Syria is an important country in the region: Erdogan

Syria is an important country in the region and is in a position to play a pivotal role in achieving regional peace, security and stability, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the UN General Assembly.

During a speech on Friday, Erdogan stressed that the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza continued at a time that no commitment to the promises which were made regarding the situation in the region was fulfilled. He called for shouldering responsibilities to end this catastrophe and achieve a climate for peace.

“Solving the Palestinian issue is one of the main obstacles in the face of achieving the regional peace”, he said, asserting that this would not be possible unless all parties concerned were treated fairly and correctly.

Erdogan added that Turkey exerted all possible efforts to participate in the Middle East peace process, expressing his country’s readiness to resume its role in this regard.

He underlined his country’s care for finding a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the two-state solution as a main factor in achieving peace.

He went on to say that achieving the Palestinian national unity will accelerate the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

(Source: champress.net)

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September 28th, 2009, 10:59 pm


Akbar Palace said:

The Professor Wars Continue;)

Professor Dan counters Professor Josh:


September 30th, 2009, 9:38 am


Joshua said:

Sadly Daniel Pipes and I are in agreement in our analysis of Obama’s change of policy. My article is about the likely repercussions of this cave in.

we differ only in that he believes this is good for Israel and presumably the US as well, whereas, I believe it is bad for America. I also don’t believe that expanding settlements on Palestinian land is good for Israel, but I could be wrong on this. It may make little difference to most Israelis. Clearly it is good right now for all the settlers who get nice homes for subsidized prices within easy commuting distance to Israel.

October 1st, 2009, 10:22 am


Akbar Palace said:

Professor Josh,

I didn’t grasp what your “agreement” with Professor Dan was based on, but you certainly pointed out where you “differ”.

Nevertheless, I’ll just reiterate the usual Zionist propaganda: The “settlements” are an excuse for not negotiating.

They have never prevented Israel from returning land. Not in the Sinai, not in Gaza and not in the Arava. That’s right. I wonder if anyone here realizes that settlements were evacuated under the Jordanian peace treaty?


Anyway, Israel was already negotiating with Arafat while still building within settlements, so I’m still not sure what Abbas is up to. Perhaps he thinks he got Obama to force Israel to stop building. Apparently all this isn’t up to Obama. It seems to me, settlements are an issue for the Palestinians and Israeli to figure out.

WD –

Per your comment on the other thread, what is the Arab/Shia community going to do about this injustice? Perhaps Mr. Goldstone can help.


October 1st, 2009, 11:24 am


why-discuss said:


I JUST LOVE DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL’s brilliantly smart conclusion:

“And don’t forget: they can’t get along with each other and are deporting each other. And yet Israel and the West are supposed to make peace with them. They won’t even tolerate each other, and yet we must tolerate them and their intolerance”

“They” are bad and intolerant, “We” are good, tolerant and love the palestinians and the Shias and all the moslems and all the world!

Please give me a break! See Goldstone’s report and the army of lawyers hired to defend Israel’s “goodness”!

October 1st, 2009, 1:49 pm


Akbar Palace said:

WD –

You didn’t answer my question. I’m shocked!

October 1st, 2009, 3:27 pm


why-discuss said:


The arabs will manage among themselves, they don’t need you to worry about their internal rifts. Worry about your own people who are mislead by corrupted leaders to reject the long held jewish people’s values for intelligence and humanism. Where are your thinkers? your artists? Israel has become a huge army resort, surrounded by barbed wires and have succeeded in creating hatred in people who historically are among the few who never hated them.
That is what should worry you.

October 1st, 2009, 5:53 pm


Akbar Palace said:

The arabs will manage among themselves, they don’t need you to worry about their internal rifts.


The arabs will manage among themselves? That’s a stretch.

Worry about your own people who are mislead by corrupted leaders to reject the long held jewish people’s values for intelligence and humanism.

Israel isn’t any more corrupt than anywhere else in the world. Fortunately, Israel’s judicial system isn’t afraid to indict criminals as high up in the government as prime ministers, popular personalities, comedians, traitors or supporters of terrorism.

Where are your thinkers? your artists?

You mean like these?:






Israel has become a huge army resort, surrounded by barbed wires…


Considering the huge amount of propaganda in the government-controlled Arab media, I’m not surprised you have this image. I have the same image reading the BBC every day!

… and have succeeded in creating hatred in people who historically are among the few who never hated them.

Israel was hated the day she fought for independence, Let’s tell the truth, shall we?

Once we get away from the Middle East, Israel has plenty of supporters.


October 1st, 2009, 10:06 pm


why-discuss said:

Sorry to correct you but you seem to overlook that, long before Israel creation, Jews were hated by catholic Europe for centuries, they were ostracized, massacred and ended up in the holocaust where ALL christian Europe was involved and not only Germany. Jews were never hated by arabs and moslems but the aggression of the zionists, the expulsion of the arabs from their land by threat and violence and the continuous agressions and injustices have succeeded in having the whole arab world and a large part of the moslem world hate Israel and its active supporters in any country in the world.
Israel leaders invokes anti semitism. Christian Europe was and is still in a way anti-semite (they are suspicious of jews and arabs as well) because of religious reasons. The arabs are anti-Israel and anti-zionists for political reasons. That’s the difference your leaders like to blur so they can invoke anti semitism when anyone attacks Israel illegal policies of occupation.
As for the artists and thinkers that are renowned internationally, while there are many who are jewish, very few are Israelis or they are Israelis living abroad. Your country does not seem to be of an inspiration to your film makers who end up by making films about wars, guilt, angst and religion. The scope is very narrow and claustrophobic (see the film Lebanon or Waltz with Bashir). It’s not the BBC, these are films you produce that present to the world the claustrophobic and unhealthy atmosphere of your country.

October 1st, 2009, 11:39 pm


Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


Good to see you posting again…

You are somewhat correct but of course life is never black or white. If you’re really interested… there are many Israeli films that are less claustrophobic that you can check out.

Anything by Eran Riklis (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0726954/) for the Syrian audience “The Syrian Bride” would be of special interest.

“The Band’s Visit” http://www.thebandsvisit.com is about an Egyptian police band getting lost in Israel.

“Shlomy’s Stars” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0380485/ is about life in the periphery, among other things.

“Ushpizin” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0426155/ about contemporary Orthodox Judaism, among other things.

“The Bubble” http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Bubble/70074150?trkid=825799 about a gay relationship between an Israeli and Palestinian.

There are many more.

But claustrophobia is part of being besieged and is thus very natural as a reflection of reality.

“Tel Aviv Stories” http://www.netflix.com/Movie/Tel_Aviv_Stories/60033687?trkid=438381&strkid=390141761_0_0&strackid=2f4238a2533c0a39_0_srl is maybe the most civilian and optimistic movie made in Israel. It’s from the time of the Oslo euphoria. In the 15 years that passed, a lot has changed for the worse.

October 2nd, 2009, 3:25 am


Akbar Palace said:

Jews were never hated by arabs and moslems but the aggression of the zionists, the expulsion of the arabs from their land by threat and violence and the continuous agressions and injustices have succeeded in having the whole arab world and a large part of the moslem world hate Israel and its active supporters in any country in the world.


Exactly. The Jewish People are tolerated when as long as they follow along and keep quiet. Our 3000 year history shows that even that is asking too much. Whether it is some Pharoh, Dictator, King, Cleric, Mufti, or Shiekh who doesn’t want too many Jews living around him, the Jews have paid the price.

IMHO, returning to our homeland is more a reflection of the non-Jewish world than a reflection of Jews themselves. If you can’t accept a Jewish Homeland or the state of Israel, it only shows your intolerance. So be it.

Israel leaders invokes anti semitism.

Because anti-semitism was a large factor in the creation of Israel and is also a large factor in today’s Middle East.

Christian Europe was and is still in a way anti-semite (they are suspicious of jews and arabs as well) because of religious reasons. The arabs are anti-Israel and anti-zionists for political reasons. That’s the difference your leaders like to blur so they can invoke anti semitism when anyone attacks Israel illegal policies of occupation.

Today, the most virulent anti-semitism comes from the Muslim world. As you mentioned, the UAE seems to be kicking out Shia. There are no Jews in the UAE. But you can attack Israel all you want. IMHO, if the criticism is constantly against Israel and never against Israel’s enenmies, it is most likely anti-semitism. Most objective observers understand that Israel is here to stay and that negotiations are the only way to solve the conflict.

As for the artists and thinkers that are renowned internationally, while there are many who are jewish, very few are Israelis or they are Israelis living abroad. Your country does not seem to be of an inspiration to your film makers who end up by making films about wars, guilt, angst and religion.


I wouldn’t expect Israel to be an “inspiration” to non-Jews. OTOH, Israel happens to be a great inspiration to Christians who believe G-d promised Israel to the Jews and that the Jews would return one day. IMHO, the fact that Israel was reconstituted after 2000 years is pretty remarkable. Perhaps it is this fact that bothers many hardline Muslims.

The scope is very narrow and claustrophobic…

See Yossi’s list of films. I’ve seen the Syrian Bride and Ushpizin a fews weeks ago with some friends. Israel has produced a number of great artists, too long to list here.

But I understand where you are coming from: hate Israel; never accept her legitimacy; portray Israel as a hell-hole; and support those that want to harm her. Did I miss anything?

October 2nd, 2009, 8:05 am


why-discuss said:


Thanks, i did see some of the films, but curiously the ones that catch international attention and awards are the ‘claustrophobic’ ones. One wonders why?
I agree that claustrophobia is part of been besieged. I am just surprised that there are not more Israelis to realize that their society has become increasingly unhealthy and that there is a need for a 180 degre shift in the attitude. Sadly I see that the country is moving into more paranania, extremism and creating by the violence of its action a deeper gap and an increased isolation.
I just heard an interview on a mainstrean Canadian radio of
Avigail Abarbanel. She is an israeli who emigrated to Australia and she speaks very frankly about her perception of her country of origin. This is part of a conference in Australia about Israel and apartheid. She presents a very bleak picture of the atmosphere of the country and its present leaders.
She recommended a book “The other side of Israel’
There is another side of the ‘miracle’ Israel (as Sarkozy and many media put it) and i wish Israelis stop cheating themselves in by repeating to themselves that they live in a ‘successful’ democracy. Waking up would be a very unpleasant experience, but to get out of a nightmare, some times it is better to wake up.
I guess being an liberal Israeli these days must be a frustrating experience in Israel.

October 2nd, 2009, 8:15 am


Shai said:


Also nice to have you back, and to read your comments. I don’t have much time to describe how Israeli society sees itself, but you said something that I’ll quickly respond to: “I guess being an liberal Israeli these days must be a frustrating experience in Israel.”

As a liberal, or at least part-liberal (on some issues I’m more conservative), I can say that it is again puzzling to see the political absurdity in Israel. How, in the end, it is the Right that delivers the Agenda of the Left, and vice-versa. The political Right barks anti-peace, anti-withdrawal, and anti-concessions rhetoric day and night, and in particular during election campaigns, and yet delivers exactly the opposite. While the Left talks of peace, and equality, and an end to Occupation, and enables more settlements in the West Bank than any Right government in our history, de facto and de jure contributes to the Occupation, delivers no peace, initiates horrific military operations that kill more than anything the Right has ever produced.

So it’s not really “frustration” that liberals feel, but the very real weight of irony and absurdity of the political reality here in Israel.

I very much agree with you, that it is high time Israelis wake up from our dream (or nightmare).

October 2nd, 2009, 8:41 am


Akbar Palace said:

Today’s vocabulary lesson: Besiege, Paranania, Isolation, Extremism, Aparheid, Bleak, Nightmare

I very much agree with you, that it is high time Israelis wake up from our dream (or nightmare).


Israelis are the freest and most informed people in the Middle East. They can protest, they can speak out, they can attend demonstrations, and express themselves in any way they see fit.

To suggest they are asleep and need to “wake up” is a joke.

Israelis got tired of being shelled for 7 years straight. And if someone like you believes Israel should continue being shelled another 7 years, you’re free to do so. You just won’t find many who agree with you. That’s all.

The contention that with the withdrawal Palestinians lost their casus belli to launch cross-border attacks into Israel is one of the main reasons why the onslaught against Hamas enjoys wide support in Israel. A poll published Thursday in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper found that 78 percent of the public believe the war is a success. So strong is the approval that a recent demonstration in favor of a cease-fire by Peace Now only drew about 1,000 people.


Am Israel Yoshen;)


October 2nd, 2009, 9:29 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I join AP diagnosis.

We (Israelis) were in a deep sleep, in fact, better call it ‘Coma’,
during the gay days of the ninties, when Arafat and Rabin used to
sing us the Oslo lullabies.

Now, we’re in a state of full wakefulness and awareness.
Happy Sukkot.

October 2nd, 2009, 10:18 am


Yossi said:


In order to be a happy lefty in Israel you have to be a hopeless optimist like Shai… He has very little to latch his hopes on, except his hopes from Bibi, which may or may not become true, but at any rate he does not account for what happens in the here-and-now in the territories and between Jews and Arabs in the Israeli society, and even within the Israeli Jewish society, where there is an immense attempt to crack down on dissent. I and many other people that I know are very depressed or completely disengaged and cocooned in their day-to-day worries.

I stopped presuming to know what is best for Israelis. The confidence that Amir exudes is a very powerful drug and Israelis found renewed force in this form of nationalism. Whether it “works” or is “healthy” is in the eye of the beholder (for now…). See prof. Landis’ comment about whether the settlements are “good” for Israel for example. It depends on who you are and what your values are, and even from such a subjective point of view it’s still a speculation.

Nations can very seldom make a 180 degree turn, especially when they are going at 200 km/hour. We should assume that it doesn’t happen and try to think how our interests and values are best served given that this is reality.

October 2nd, 2009, 12:45 pm


Akbar Palace said:

200 kamash; 200 yafeh nefesh

See prof. Landis’ comment about whether the settlements are “good” for Israel for example.


I appreciate your personal experiences and your “down-to-earth” metality. However, you’re still flying just a few feet off the ground.

To answer Professor Josh’s question, all I have to do is point to the timeline where Israel had no “settlements”. At that time, she had no peace and only major wars. No one has explained to me why that was so, including the honorable Professor. At that time, pleading to Jordan about access to the Western Wall didn’t carry so much weight.

Lastly, about your “180 degree turn”, I find that to be another exaggeration. Israelis have made peace with Egypt and Jordan and have already accepted proposals to share Jerusalem. Your portrait of the “stiff-necked Jew” may sound good to your audience here, but it doesn’t really match reality. Israelis have contorted themselves quite nimbly and negotiated real peace, including peace with the Palestinians and Syrians.

Israelis, fortunately, have a democracy that works, no matter whether peace is in the air, or just a few Katyushas.

October 2nd, 2009, 1:07 pm


Yossi said:


Awesome. Thanks for letting me know that I’m wrong and you’re right.

October 2nd, 2009, 2:03 pm


norman said:

QN , What do you think?.

Print Back to story

Syria seen regaining its influence in Lebanon
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer Hussein Dakroub, Associated Press Writer
Fri Oct 2, 2:32 am ET

BEIRUT – When Syria’s vice president recently boasted that his country is now stronger than ever in Lebanon, many Lebanese dismissed his words as wishful thinking. Months of political stalemate in Beirut may show how right he was.

Lebanon’s pro-Western politicians have been unable to form a government since winning June elections, and many of them blame Damascus, saying it is using its allies in Lebanon — led by Hezbollah — to stymie negotiations and show that nothing can get done without its say-so.

The United States tried for the past four years to keep Syria out of Lebanon’s politics and largely failed. Now the administration of President Barack Obama has sought to improve ties with Damascus, and Syria’s allies and opponents here say that has given it a freer hand to exercise influence in its smaller neighbor.

The Obama administration’s outreach has resulted in “the invigorating of Syria’s role in the region, including Lebanon,” said Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician.

Syria has “has influence in Lebanon as do Saudi Arabia, America and Iran. But by virtue of its geographical location, Syria has greater influence in Lebanon than other countries,” Wahhab told The Associated Press.

The wrangling over the government is a sign of how deeply the fate of Lebanon is dependent on outside powers. While pro-Western politicians accuse Hezbollah and its allies of carrying out the will of Damascus, they in turn are accused of taking orders from their strongest foreign supporters, the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Now hopes for a breakthrough center on Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah. The two met last week in Saudi Arabia. Lebanese papers reported Wednesday that they are expected to meet again in Damascus next week, raising expectations for an end to the impasse. Neither country has yet confirmed a second meeting.

Damascus is hungry for an end to its international and regional isolation and a recognition of its regional weight — particularly in Lebanon, which it has historically considered under its sphere of influence. The United States is trying to push it away from its alliance with Iran and its support for militants like Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Washington had hoped since 2005 to break the hold of its regional rival Syria over Lebanon. Damascus directly dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years, keeping about 35,000 troops on its soil. In 2005, mass protests and international pressure following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri forced Syria to withdraw its military from Lebanon, and anti-Syrian parties were swept to power in subsequent elections.

But Syria maintained its hand through the militant group Hezbollah, which is the strongest military force in the country and the main representative of its Shiite community, roughly a third of the population of 4 million.

Recent months have seen gains for Syria.

Lebanese Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun, who fought Syrian troops in Lebanon two decades ago, made his first visit to Damascus in December, meeting with Assad. Aoun has been allied with Hezbollah since 2006, but he had kept some distance from Syria, so the visit marked a significant reconciliation with his former rival.

Also, Druse leader Walid Jumblatt — once a vehement critic of Syria who even called for Assad’s overthrow — quit the Western-backed coalition on Aug. 2. He now calls for “distinctive relations” with Syria and says he’s prepared to also visit Damascus.

Earlier this year, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa boasted in a speech to the country’s leadership that Damascus is stronger in Lebanon than it was when it maintained troops in the country.

Weeks later, his words seemed hollow when the coalition led by Hezbollah and Aoun failed to win June elections as many had expected. Instead, the voting maintained the slim parliamentary majority of the Saudi- and U.S.-backed bloc, led by Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri.

But the stalemate since underlines how no one side is able to dominate Lebanon. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has been trying to bring Hezbollah and its allies into a unity government, but negotiations have stalled over who would receive which Cabinet positions.

In particular, Aoun demands that his son-in-law, Jibran Bassil, retain the telecommunications ministry, a sensitive post because of its security connections. Hariri’s bloc has refused, but Hezbollah and its allies say they won’t join his government unless Aoun is satisfied.

Syria’s opponents blame Damascus for the impasse.

“After Syria imposed its domination over Lebanon for 30 years … it is now trying to stage a political comeback to Lebanon through its allies,” political analyst Emile Khoury wrote in An-Nahar, a leading Lebanese daily seen as anti-Syrian.

Sarkis Naoum, another An-Nahar analyst, said Lebanon will not be stable until “Syria has regained its full influence in Lebanon even without the return of its army.”

Naoum said Syria wants to show Lebanese it is the only power that can prevent a renewal of “sectarian and factional fighting” in Lebanon.

So far, the political standoff has not deteriorated into violence, but there is a constant fear that it could. While Shiites largely back the Hezbollah-led bloc, Sunni Muslims mainly back Hariri, and Christians are divided between the two camps. In May 2008, fierce fighting erupted between Hezbollah and Hariri supporters, nearly tipping the country into a sectarian war.

Syria denies any role in the stalemate. But in its eyes, the politicking reflects a natural return by Lebanon to Damascus’ influence. “Syria is now stronger in Lebanon because Lebanon must return to its normal relations with Syria, which were always distinguished,” said Syrian analyst Imad Shueibi.

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October 2nd, 2009, 2:07 pm


Hassan said:

There will never be peace because it will never serve Bashar. He will always pressure those, Hamas and Hezballah, to increase the violence whenever moderates turn toward negotiating and compromise. Instability in the neighborhood serves Syrian interests. This is why Bashar supports violence in Iraq and Lebanon as well. How could a dictator justify his existence once a conflict is over. Now he can say “look at Iraq there is violence there, surely things are preferable here” and when it comes to the Israelis and the Palestinians the ongoing conflict only gives a reason for his Arab nationalist regime to exist. If the conflict ends how can the Baathists justify their regime and their lack of respect for individual liberties. Now, as long as he keeps the conflict going that is, he can justify the lack of civil liberties by saying that there is a war with the Zionist entity and so these measures are necessary. So, for internal political reasons it is as clear as day that Bashar would never make any compromises that could lead to peace. More importantly, peace itself, even without compromises, would be against the regime’s interests. So, no matter how much Obama or Israel offer to Syria there will be no peace.

October 2nd, 2009, 3:09 pm


Shai said:

Akbar Palace,

As far as I can recall, the United States has also been a free, democratic society for quite some time. And yet it too needed time to “wake up” in places such as Korea, Vietnam, and of course nowadays we speak of Iraq. Don’t worry, Afghanistan will be next. Seems very few “democracies” take their history books seriously. Most seem to ignore them.

So yes, Israel and Israelis, and also blind Israeli supporters (such as yourself), absolutely have plenty of “waking up” to do. That you have more access to information than the average North Korean citizen does not indicate in any way shape or form your ability to make good decisions, to read your enemy correctly, to form good policy, or to exercise wisdom. You can still make horrific mistakes, occasionally, or continuously.

I have a funny feeling that you know, as well as most out there, that our Occupation has been, and is, a horrific mistake. That subjugating, suffocating, and controlling the fate of millions of people under our rule, who are not given equal rights, citizenship, etc., is not good. In fact, it is bad. That unlike me, you’ve managed to convince yourself that Israel had no choice, that we had to conquer that land (we were attacked, after all), and then had to settle it, starting in 1967 and for the next 42 years, and then had to exercise de facto Apartheid there, still does not legitimize our wrongdoing. It may still be wrong. That you do not understand why the Arab world refused to recognize Israel, in the two decades that preceded 1967, is a rejection of the history of the Palestinian people, especially in 1947-49. Something happened during those years, and I’m not sure you remember their side as well as you recall ours.

You said: “Israelis, fortunately, have a democracy that works, no matter whether peace is in the air, or just a few Katyushas.”

Now while I hail your Zionism and love of Israel, I, as an Israeli that lives here, raises his family here, has rights and responsibilities, tend to be just a tiny bit less “proud” of how well Israel’s democracy works. Sure, it’s giving us a lot. Especially the Jewish part of us. Yes, it’s also giving the Arab part of us a lot. Much more than they can get today almost anywhere else in the Arab world. But our democracy is failing to bring REAL equality between Jew and Arab inside Israel, and is certainly failing miserably in exercising itself over 4 million Palestinians under our rule. If tomorrow morning Israel accepts these 4 million people as Israeli citizens, with full and equal rights, then I’ll be super-proud of our democracy. But until then, or until we rid ourselves of this Apartheid we created and nurtured with our very own hands, I cannot honestly claim our democracy “works”.

When is democracy meant to work most, if not precisely when a minority under your rule is being treated unequally? So I’ll ignore for a moment the 20% minority Israeli-Arabs, and assume they’re getting full-equality just like all Jews in Israel. But what about the “other” 4 million under our rule? Are they also enjoying our democracy? And if not, why not? Does democracy “work” only towards some but not towards others?

October 2nd, 2009, 4:10 pm


Shai said:


“… call it ‘Coma’, during the gay days of the ninties, when Arafat and Rabin used to sing us the Oslo lullabies.”

Just to remind you, Rabin was assassinated in November of 1995. After him came Peres, Netanyahu, and Barak. All of them sang the Oslo “lullabies”. But with a few exceptions. Netanyahu shook the hands of Arafat, kissed him on the cheek, referred to him as “a friend”, and handed back control of major Palestinian towns. This was, of course, in the spirit of Oslo. Peres launched Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996), and Barak enabled more Settlements than any other PM before him, or since.

So what “wakeup” are you referring to? The Left’s wakeup, or the Right’s? Who woke up in the 2nd Lebanon War (2006) and Gaza (2008/9)? Olmert did. And our troops killed 1,500 Lebanese and 1,300 Gazans in the process. And Bibi? He’s going to freeze settlement activity. Not quite waking up, is he?

Amir, if this is how Israel wakes up, perhaps it’s best we remain asleep. You know what Israeli diplomats are saying today, when asked by European counterparts “How is it that only a handful of Israelis died in the Gaza operation, and yet you killed 1,300 Gazans?” They answer “What do you expect, we’re far stronger…!” To someone still asleep, that answer would make sense. To most of us, it is horrifying.

October 2nd, 2009, 4:24 pm


Hassan said:

Don’t be silly those 4 million in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are not Israelis nor do they wish to be. Therefore, they don’t wish to participate, as Israeli citizens would, in Israeli democracy. Furthermore, those in Gaza are not under Israeli rule they are under Hamas rule. While it is true that Israel does not open its border to Gaza, Egypt doesn’t either and closing one’s border does not amount to occupation.

As far as the West Bank is concerned, many of those living there are under the control of the the Palestinian authority. We all know this.
So, your use of that 4 million figure is an egregious use of hyperbole

October 2nd, 2009, 5:47 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Shai’s Settlement Crisis

Dear Forum,

Just in case you’re wondering, I DIDN’T write post #31.

Hassan, thank you for stating the obvious. Even some professors (hint-hint) don’t have the intellectual honesty you have.

I have a funny feeling that you know, as well as most out there, that our Occupation has been, and is, a horrific mistake.


I have absolutely no knowledge that the Occupation was a mistake. Moreover, I have knowledge to claim that the creation of Israel was the “mistake” I think you’re referring to. In fact, I also have an extra data point: the ’47 UN Partition Plan. That was rejected too.

Israel should only withdraw from the terrortories when a tangible peace treaty is signed. Land for peace.

October 2nd, 2009, 5:53 pm


Jad said:

That is the Lebanese politicians and oppositions BS talk, Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel and that worked for the favour of the system so every idea stating the opposit just to prove its point is BS.

October 2nd, 2009, 8:11 pm


norman said:


It looks like AIG light has joined Syriacomment.

October 2nd, 2009, 9:11 pm


Akbar Palace said:

The following link is presented as a public service to Syria Comment. I hope it isn’t too late to end the Zionist Conspiracy.

Shai, please take the lead to diseminate this important information:


Don’t be silly those 4 million in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are not Israelis nor do they wish to be.


That is why there is a defacto two state solution. The “occupation” can last forever if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.

October 3rd, 2009, 8:55 am


Hassan said:


It may be that Egypt’s authoritarian rulers act according to what will benefit the regime, but the same goes for Bashar and his regime. They are only acting to preserve the security of the regime. In this case acting to support violence in the region will give him both foreign support, foreign powers will have to buy him off to prevent him from killing people in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine/Israel, and internal support because people will prefer stability over the violence that they see abroad. The violence in Lebanon also cements his relationship with a growing power in the region, Iran. Of course, let’s not be naive, he’s not supporting all this violence for any reason other than to preserve his dicatorship.


So its either we agree with you or we’re one of the enemy. Now we’re back in Syria.

October 3rd, 2009, 11:30 am


Off the Wall said:

Don’t be silly those 4 million in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are not Israelis nor do they wish to be.

First of all, you sound like you are blaming the 4 millions for not seeing the light. The language and tone of your comment made me feel that. Please correct me if my impression is wrong.

As for them not wanting to be citizens of Israel, no one really knows. How do you know that the 4 millions will reject an offer of fair and equal citizenship rights and duties in a state that recognizes its own multi-ethnic composition without favoring any group over the other and enforces an ethnic hegemony to protect a “Jewish, Christian, Muslim” or whatever character. Yet, and despite of the well known and established economic and political freedoms Arab Israeli’s may enjoy in Israel, their status continues to be a third class status in a country obsessed with advertising its democratic practices. In reality, the Arabs in Israel are viewed and treated by their own country as a liability and not as assets, so by that, Israel has failed to convince the remaining 4 million Palestinians of its humanitarianism especially as it continues its land theft in the west bank, which clearly demonstrates the absurdity of the argument that the PA has control of the west bank. A fair single state solution has never been seriously offered or even contemplated officially on either side beyond intellectual exercise for one to say whether the majority of the 4 millions, including the dispossessed reject or accept it.

While it is true that Israel does not open its border to Gaza, Egypt doesn’t either and closing one’s border does not amount to occupation.

It mounts to far worse. Under international law, when you are an occupier, you have obligation to the safety and to the livelihood of those whose land you are occupying. But when you besiege a region of land or a country, block it from all sides, and with impunity, eliminate its livelihood, go on a killing rampage after another, you simply murder in the name of self defense, or in the name of resistance (as rockets do), get in , kill and get out. No obligations except for answering to international condemnation by leftists here and there, which is something the well oiled Israeli propaganda and pressure machines can deal with as long as it is not done with more frequency than the short memory of the world can tolerate.

As far as the West Bank is concerned, many of those living there are under the control of the the Palestinian authority. We all know this.

On both Gaza and the West bank, you are being silly. The PA was allowed to exist mainly as enforcer of Israel’s rule and conditions and Hamas was created by Israel to counteract the PA if it strayed from that role. At any moment the PA does otherwise, another Gaza would be in the offing for the WB. Telling evidence are everywhere for the wise and not so wise to see and they include but are not limited to the Wall, the continuing settlements, the full control of borders, commerce, water, and you name it. You know that very well, and we all know that. The argument that PA is in control is a non-starter.

So, your use of that 4 million figure is an egregious use of hyperbole

May be, but it is no less of hyperbole than ignoring the realities as you just did.

As for your posts #31 and #39, obviously fear and the perpetual state of war has been a strategy used by groups and regimes in both democratic and non-democratic countries. For example, here in the US, we have rarely had a period in recent history during which we were not engaged in some sort of war. Even domestically, we always have war against something or someone. What you failed to recognize, perhaps in your haste to attack the Syrian regime, is that even for the most autocratic countries in history, the dangers of regional instability far outweigh the benefits of instability and the Syrian regime, adept as it is, has proven much more cognizant of this reality than many others, especially those who advocate creative chaos such as the neocons. Realism indicate that within any given region, the goal of most state regional actions, political or military, is to obtain regionally stable and more favorable condition to the said state so that it can move on to do what its rulers want to do including ruling unchallenged or guaranteeing the “ethnic” character of that state. So spare us your tears for the Syrians, for we have addressed these issues before at length and we have seen this argument that tends to blame the Syrian regime for all the ills in the region especially in Lebanon, which is ungovernable mainly due to the notoriously narcissistic gang of leaders this poor country has. Are you trying to convince anyone here that KSA’s and the West interference in Lebanon is benign while Syria’s is malign. It does not sell here for it takes much more self delusion than my imaginative mind, prone as it is to delusions, can muster.

October 3rd, 2009, 2:10 pm


norman said:


You are wrong about Syria , what Syria wants in Iraq , Lebanon , Palestine /Israel is simple , Syria want the Majority not to winn a clear victory that will make them not care about the minorities , it is after all Syria took in the Iraqis , Lebanese , Palestinians , she and president Assad did not do that the save his regime , if you realy know anything about syria you would know that he is more popular than all the other Arab leaders and that is not because of his religion or ethnic background but because of what Syria did and because of it’s stand .

October 3rd, 2009, 2:23 pm


Shami said:

Rafic Dr Norman you say that bashar is popular ,do u agree with me that the syrian people will destroy the statues of the asadian regime and likely the tomb of hafiz in qardaha would be erased from the map and bashar(if he persists as oppressor) and his corrupt and criminal family insulted in the syrian streets ?

Stop repeating such non senses ,all dictators are popular when they have the ability to terrorize the masses once freedom is returned to the same people you would acknowledge how popular they were .

This regime must be destroyed(peacefully better than through violence) if we want Syria to improve.

October 3rd, 2009, 2:45 pm


why-discuss said:


There is no doubt that the creation Israel in 1948 by raping the land of the Palestinians and expelling them was a dramatic historical mistake. Now the child of the rape has 60 years and is a reality. It has created a new dynamic generation who refuses to feel responsible for their fathers abuses and want to protect and expand on what they have inherited. Countries have different views and strategies to deal with that reality.

The arab and moslem extremists: We want to destroy this alien entity, force the emigrants jews to return to their original country and return pres-1948 status as Israel never existed. We want to get all the palestinians back to their land and sacred location back to us.

Iran: We want to cancel Israel as a zionist entity and have a referendum for all inhabitants of Great Palestine to decide of the form of their state. ( back to pre-1948)

Israel: We want to weaken all arab countries politically and military so as they will be forced to accept to resetle all the palestinians in their countries and accept our existence, so we can develop our closed jewish society, away from any threat.

USA: ( Current view) We want to create two states under defined borders. One would be a country geographically like a gruyere cheese, demilitarized but pumped economically where all Palestinians who cant return would be compensated financially. The other, Israel, would be a Jewish majority country, with strong military power and garanteed by the international community. Some land will have to be exchanged.

Europe: we are the ones who created that mess, we have attempted to exterminate the Jews and colonized some Arab and Asian countries ( from which we withdrew under a resistance we used to call terrorism). We feel horribly guilty and we want to compensate our mistakes by helping Jews and Arabs to co exist. We have no idea how to achieve that, so we wait to see what the US will do, as the US is the stronger supporter of Israel and a strong economical partner with arabs.

Moderate Arabs: Maybe we accept Israel right to exist because we have no choice as we lost several wars and Israel has strong allies. In order to avoid internal problems with our population, we want an acceptable solution to the Palestinian problem. In the meantime we will wait and see what the US will do.

Other countries: We are only interested in economical exchanges so we prefer an atmosphere, which ever, dictatorship of democracy, that will allow the flow of goods and money. We will follow the flow.

Some thinkers: There should be one state, shared by Arabs and Jews. Any other solution is bound to fail. We have no idea what steps we need to achieve that.

Any others views?

October 3rd, 2009, 3:27 pm


Off the Wall said:

Any others views?

Nope, i don’t think so, you pretty much summed it up rather well. 🙂

I like to think that I fall within your last category, and I could not but smile at the Irony revealed so eloquently in your brief description.


October 3rd, 2009, 4:04 pm


Shai said:


“As far as the West Bank is concerned, many of those living there are under the control of the the Palestinian authority.”

When you say “under the control”, what are you referring to? Can Palestinians travel, work and visit freely throughout the West Bank? Does the PA determine that, or Israel? Can goods be brought into the West Bank freely? Who controls the borders? The PA?

You should have called yourself “Moshe”, or even “AIG2”, because you sure sound like an Israeli propagandist much more than an Arab one… 🙂

But on a serious note, I know the “4 million people” concept is hard for many to accept. But if you cannot believe that Israel is actually ruling over this many non-Israelis, and is not offering equal rights to these people (and is, therefore, de facto an Apartheid regime), then at the very least you should accept that Israel can do far more to make the lives of those 4 million people better. It can, for instance, make sure 1.5 million people living in the most densely populated hell-hole on earth (Gaza) have more fresh water to drink, more food to eat, more gas to fuel their heaters, more medical supplies to treat their sick. At the peak of our “humanitarianism”, according to the UN, we supplied 1/7th of the required daily quantities. We need to do more. No one is forcing us to play the blame-Egypt-too game.

And of course the Settlements in the WB, the so-called legal and illegal ones, are making it almost impossible to one day have a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinian people already now cannot go from point A to point B freely, without passing through numerous Israeli roadblocks that sometimes do, and often do not, allow them to pass. These aren’t toll-booths from New Jersey. They’re roadblocks and stations that determine whether you go, or not. In some, you need special permission. In others, it’s up to some 18 year-old kid to decide.

Hassan, my side (Israel) is quite well represented already worldwide. Most nations turn a blind-eye to our 42 year-old Occupation. Most Israelis won’t be sleeping cold at night this coming winter. Most Israelis get 3 good meals a day. But most Palestinians do not. And most Gazans certainly do not. If I may suggest so, I think you should focus a little more on the Palestinians’ rights, than on ours.

October 3rd, 2009, 4:08 pm


Akbar Palace said:

WD –

Great. It looks like OTW and I both agree with you. Let’s summerize the groups you’ve mentioned:

1.) The arab and moslem extremists, 2.) Iran: (which is = 1. IMO),
3.) Israel, 4.) USA, 5.) Europe, 6.) Moderate Arabs, 7.) Other countries, 8.) Some thinkers

OTW said he identifies with Group 8, “Some thinkers” who think the one state solution is best.

What group do you identify with WD?

In terms of the Arabs, I see Iran and the extremists who will never accept the State of Israel, and the Arab Moderates who are privately happy when the extremists make life difficult for Israel and who are also afraid to stick their necks out to foward the peace process.

Pretty sad state of affairs I’d say.

October 3rd, 2009, 4:28 pm


hassan said:

Off the Wall,

“It mounts to far worse. Under international law, when you are an occupier,…”a

You know and I know that there is not a single Israeli tank or soldier in Gaza. They all left in ’05. What kind of occupation is that? While I know that Gaza is not exactly an independent country, Hamas controls the area and Israel does not. Israel can’t stop the rockets, but during the ceasefire Hamas could. Given that it seems like a stretch, or a lie for political purposes, to say that Israel is “occupying” the territory.

The U.S. has over 100,000 forces in Iraq. Few say that Iraq is today occupied by the U.S., but you want to tell me that Israel with none of its forces in Gaza is somehow occupying that area.

As far as your comments about Syria are concerned it sounds like you are comfortably sitting on your couch earning a nice sum in the U.S. rationalizing the existence of one of the, or perhaps the, most repressive regime in the region.

About your comparison between Syria and the KSA’s involvement in Lebanon. First off I don’t think your logic of, “oh well if the Saudis do it then its okay” works. KSA funding of and training of Salafists in Lebanon is largely religious outreach and support for the Future Movement. I have not heard that KSA is arming Lebanese groups. Syria on the other hand has funded and armed more violent groups than we can count: Al Ahbash, the PFLP-GC, Fatah al-Intifada, Hezbollah and probably, but not yet proven, Fatah al-Islam. That’s a lot of violence, a lot death, and a lot of instability for such a small country. Of course, that is just to name a few.

Have fun sitting on your couch justifying the actions of the Bashar and Bathi cronies from your couch in the USA while he represses his own people and supports violence in Lebanon.


“if you realy know anything about syria you would know that he is more popular than all the other Arab leaders ”

That’s because the regime is far more repressive than your average Arab country. I can just imagine a poll being done in Syria, oh yeah, that’s right there was one in ’07, he won the “referendum” by more than 95%. About the same percentage as Saddam got in his “elections.” Popular lol

October 3rd, 2009, 4:44 pm


Akbar Palace said:


No suprise here. The worst anti-semites have been genetically “stained” throughout history…

October 3rd, 2009, 4:59 pm


Shai said:


I find it so funny how “Hassan” argues for Israel even better than AP does. You refer to Israel as “Occupier”, and he argues against the occupation of Gaza. He can’t argue head-on against the Occupation of the West Bank, so he puts out a claim “many of those living there are under the control of the Palestinian Authority…” Ya’ani, not all those living there, so there’s still some room for “a little Occupation”.

And at the bottom of it all what’s the purpose? To somehow absolve Israel of its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people? We withdraw direct army control of Jenin, so we are not responsible for Jenin anymore? But I know what he wants to hear – he wants an admission that the Palestinians are ALSO responsible for something! So that when a $10 Qassam is fired at Sderot, and hits an empty field, he wants us to admit it was Hamas’s fault, not Israel. Or when school children in Nablus are taught to hate Zionism, that we don’t blame Israel but rather the “PA’s Education Ministry”. Ok, I’ll give it to him. The Palestinians are ALSO responsible.

But who has a state of their own? Who has an army that decides when and how it reacts to those $10 rockets? (Last time it reacted, I believe 1,300 Gazans lost their lives) Who controls the borders? Who decides how much food, or water, or medicine passes through? Who would Hassan call the victim here? Maybe there is no victim…

October 3rd, 2009, 5:15 pm


Off the Wall said:


The U.S. has over 100,000 forces in Iraq. Few say that Iraq is today occupied by the U.S.,

After you wrote this, it is obvious that you chose to ignore reality. Iraq is an occupied country, semantic non-sense is not going to change realities.

“oh well if the Saudis do it then its okay”
Where in my post did you see that I approve of any intervention. In fact, you are the one who is giving others the OK nod by accepting the support for salafist to strengthen Hariri as benign and damning the Syrian support of any other group. Recent history shows not only us, but the entire world the true danger of minimizing the danger of the powder-keg salafi movement. KSA, Israel, the US or others will not inform you, or me, when they arm any militia in Lebanon or in Iraq. Come to think of it, if I am to apply your own logic, Syria has not had a soldier in Lebanon for few years now, so the argument of Syrian influence in Lebanon is null and void. However, I am more mature than that and I will argue using a different logic. It is after all Lebanese and Iraqi politicians whose sense of tribalism far outweighs their sense of nationalism. It is these politicians who are bought and sold in public auctions and in dark rooms, buyers beware. Blame the Syrians and Saudis as much as you want for participating in the sale, but you must blame the auction house, and those corrupt Lebanese beneficiaries.

For conditions in Gaza, I refer you to my friend Shai comment. He knows better than I and he has provided a compelling argument refuting the semantic games of no-occupation.

As far as your comments about Syria are concerned it sounds like you are comfortably sitting on your couch earning a nice sum in the U.S. rationalizing the existence of one of the, or perhaps the, most repressive regime in the region

Acknowledging rational decision making of a government does not mean that one rationalizes its action. All of us here on SC have been through this argument before with some rather competent interlocutors. Hate clouds judgement, and those hating the Syrian government so badly have, like you did, resorted to illogical arguments that took them no where exactly as your arguments regarding occupation of Iraq and Gaza and WB are taking you no where but deeper into the realm of absurdity.

Have fun sitting on your couch justifying the actions of the Bashar and Bathi cronies from your couch in the USA while he represses his own people and supports violence in Lebanon.

There is a place and time for every thing. However, your obsession with my couch is a little strange. There is a search tool on this site, why don’t you do your homework before lashing out.

October 3rd, 2009, 5:40 pm


Off the Wall said:

To my fellow Syrian expats on SC

Occasionally on the pages of SC and more often on other blogs we face the accusation of sitting comfortably and enjoying luxurious life be it in the west or in the gulf countries while discussing the pains and suffering of our country as if such disqualifies us from making any opinion. Independent of where each one of us stands on the political spectrum, I urge all of us not to fall into this “guilt” trap, whose aim is primarily to make whatever argument each one of us make seem irrelevant. I myself have fallen into this guilt feeling for far longer that I should have, and it was SC and all of you that took me out of that stupid feeling and gave me a renewed sense of belonging and of value. I urge you all first to refrain from using this argument to silence your interlocutors and to avoid falling in the trap of becoming defensive when such argument is hurled against you. No matter what you are, or where you stand, your voice matters, and your argument must and should be made.

Sorry for the seemingly patronizing tone, but I had to say that. Now, back to my couch, which seem to illicit some strange responses today 🙂

October 3rd, 2009, 6:02 pm


Akbar Palace said:

we face the accusation of sitting comfortably and enjoying luxurious life be it in the west or in the gulf countries while discussing the pains and suffering of our country


I may have missed it, but what are the “pains and suffering” of your country, Syria? Can you list them in order of importance?


October 3rd, 2009, 6:21 pm


Off the Wall said:

I meant to say affairs

For pains and suffering, please use the search system coded by Alex. In fact it can help you avoid the customary repetition and remind you of answers you have repeatedly received to your repeated questions. I tried it, and it has kept my own comments in check.

On a personal note, while I am not concerned at our rare agreements, i am getting a little concerned of my own adoption of your no-prisoners taken style every once in a while. I guess on that, I owe you thanks 🙂

October 3rd, 2009, 6:33 pm


jad said:

Dear OTW,
What you wrote in #51 is touching, and I can see the honesty in every word there, I’m just surprised that you really think of the ‘repeated’ ‘boring’ ‘primitive’ comments we read on SC.
For me, all comments that has nothing new, productive, proved by numbers is nothing but ‘3lak’ and I wont even bother myself replying to it rationally.
I discover that the two letter of B and S will be more efficient and I’m being genrouse writing them to whoever deserve them.
And that is my take!

I think you may be right, you defiantly hit a nerve..wink wink…

October 3rd, 2009, 7:53 pm


why-discuss said:


In terms of the Arabs, I see Iran and the extremists who will never accept the State of Israel, and the Arab Moderates who are privately happy when the extremists make life difficult for Israel and who are also afraid to stick their necks out to foward the peace process.

I disagree with you about putting moslems extremists and Iran in the same category. Iran does not claim or rejoice of the murder of jews or Israelis and their regular army never killed Israelis, did they? Moslems extremists (some coming from Iran too) want to terrorize and kill enough Israelis as to force the others to leave (the Talibans are doing the same now with the ‘occupiers’ in Afghanistan, it is a war of attrition)
What Iran say they want is the cancellation of the state of Israel as it is now and the return to pre-1948 status because they believe the division of the land done then was unjust and non-democratic as it was forced on the palestinians without asking their opinion. They add that the UN should then call for a referendum for the people who are now on these lands (Jews and Arabs) to decide about the kind of state they want. It may seem an utopia but this is what they want to see. Ahmadinejad’s declaration have been intentionaly amputated and distorted: ‘Cancel’ is not ‘annihilate’ or ‘wipe from the map’.

I agree with you about the extremists who would not accept the State of Israel and the hypocrisy of the ‘moderate states’

I think I fit in the last category. I am neither a stategist nor a politician so I have no precise idea how to get there. There is so much suspicions, resentments, arrogance, hatred, blood, money interests involved that I find the eventual tasks to reach that goal discouragingly daunting. The petty politicians in the present local and international scene lack the abilities, the vision and the power to come up with a valid plan. I believe it may takes decades before we see some harmony in the region.

October 3rd, 2009, 11:45 pm


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October 5th, 2009, 11:20 pm


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