Interview with Ambassador Imad Moustapha: Peace Talks, Hizbullah, Palestine - Syria Comment

Interview with Ambassador Imad Moustapha: Peace Talks, Hizbullah, Palestine

Ambassador Imad Moustapha

Ambassador Imad Moustapha

Interview with Ambassador Imad Moustapha: Peace Talks, Hizbullah, Palestine
by Camille-Alexandre Otrakji
Syria Comment, October 21, 2008

Camille gathered questions from a wide number of Syria Comment readers of various nationalities. He summarized them before giving them to Ambassador Moustapha. Many thanks to Camille and Ambassador Moustapha. Next week, we will publish part two. [Joshua Landis]

PEACE WITH ISRAEL

1) If peace is signed between Israel and Arab countries, how do you see the future role of Israel in the Middle East?

[I.M.] It is important to understand that any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under its endorsement of the Pan Arab Peace Initiative. Therefore, any long-term relationship with Israel will ultimately fall within a broader Arab strategic plan.

Ultimately, the onus is on Israel in regards to her role in the Middle East, which will inevitably stem from her handling of the Palestinian question and especially its two thorniest issues: Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees. Israel’s ability to address these issues along with the return of all occupied land will help define how the Arab nation regards Israel in the region.

It is unreasonable to expect the Arab states and nation to have warm, friendly relations with Israel while the latter continues to occupy Arab land and to humiliate the Palestinian people.

2) Is a nuclear free Middle East a possibility? Will Syria continue to accept Israel’s current military superiority (nuclear and conventional) years after a successfully implemented peace settlement? 

[I.M.] Is it a possibility? We believe it is a necessity.  We cannot envision a region bristling with nuclear weapons to be one with prospects for peace and prosperity.  If a peace agreement is to be achieved, Israel’s position towards its nuclear weapons will be another determining factor towards its standing and role in the region.  You cannot expect to be a partner in peace while you continue to stockpile the most advanced conventional weapons, as well as weapons of mass destruction. There is a contradiction here that Israel has to recognize and address.

The fact that Israel has maintained a conventional military superiority in our region has not provided it with the ability to dictate events; it has not caused us to surrender our rights. Israel should have realized by now that it cannot depend on sheer military superiority to sustain its occupation of Arab lands while dreaming of attaining security.  Ultimately, in order to nurture peace in the region, Israel needs to adhere to international law, and understand that there cannot be a two-tiered legal system in our region in which Israel is judged by one set of standards and code of conduct, while the Arabs are judged by another.

3) Syria’s regional allies in the resistance camp who do not clearly recognize Israel’s right to exist, such as Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, do not publicly oppose the talks between Syria and Israel which were taking place in Turkey. Is this because your allies do not expect those talks to succeed, or because Syria has fine-tune its peace strategy with its allies? Are they ready to support a successful outcome of those negotiations? Or, can Syria be “flipped,” where by it repudiates its allies who will reject Syria’s settlement with Israel?

[I.M.]I strongly contest the premise of this question. The Hamas leadership has stated time and again that they cannot recognize the borders of the state of Israel when Israel continues to be vague about what it considers as its final borders. Blaming the occupied for not recognizing the ‘rights’ of the occupier is immoral. It is an attempt to overturn the table of justice and to blame the victim. Before setting preconditions, mighty Israel should acknowledge the suffering and despair of the Palestinian people. It must recognize their right to an independent and viable state.

Our allies have always known and appreciated the fact that restoring our sovereignty over the Golan is a matter of utmost national priority. They recognize that Syria will not hesitate to use any means necessary in order to attain this objective.

As for the notion of ‘flipping’ Syria, we find that both, absurd and counterproductive. The U.S. needs not create a rift between Syria and, say, Iran. Instead, the U.S. should benefit from the dramatic paradigm-change in the region to capitalize on Syria’s strong relations with Iran. We can help bridge the stark differences between Iran and the U.S.; we can help find a regional settlement to the many contentious issues of the region. We can help avoid the perils of yet another major conflict in our region. The same applies to Hezbollah, which we regard with much pride and consider a very close ally.

Syria builds its policies on a framework of principles and national interest, just as other countries do. We have many regional and international allies, such as Russia and Turkey. And while our foreign policy reflects first and foremost our national interest, we constantly touch base with our allies and friends, updating them  on major developments in our foreign policy.

The fact that we disagree at times is a testament to our close relationship, where differences in strategies or tactics, are not only accepted, but respected. Syria’s position regarding the peace process and the principle of land-for-peace lies at the heart of the Syrian foreign policy and stands unchanged for decades. Any party, whether an ally or not, understands this position, and therefore, no one can forge and alliance or friendship with Syria without grasping, and accepting, this reality.

4) Opinion polls frequently show that Israelis do not want to give up the Golan. If Israel leadership is incapable of changing its public’s mind over matters of utmost significance to their future and to that of their children’s future, isn’t it time for Syria to consider addressing the Israeli public more directly? Isn’t it possible to do this without officially recognitzing Israel — something Syria understandably believes must take place at a later stage?

[I.M.] We strongly believe that it is up to the Israeli government to decide whether it wants to make peace or to continue its policy of occupation. If it chooses peace, it will ultimately have to convince its own public of the advantages of peace. We do not expect the Israeli government to address our public on why we should engage in peace negotiations to get back the Golan. Syria’s leadership has for decades prepared the Syrian public of the necessity of a peace and the need to regain our occupied land. We have rallied domestic public opinion around peace. If the Israelis have made peace extremely difficult by moving settlers onto the Golan, investing money there, annexing it, and by demonizing Syria, they have themselves to blame. Surely they cannot now expect our government to explain to their people why peace is necessary. Still, Syria’s position towards peace is well known and constantly repeated. We spare no effort to reiterate that our strategic choice is peace. We go one Western TV; we give interviews to Western print media; we do everything in our power to make our position christal clear.

5) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States and Syria maintain low level contact. How do you see the current relationship between the two countries following the recent meeting between Rice and Mouallem? What will it take to bring the Americans to sponsor the peace negotiations?

[I.M.]  The term ‘low-level’ is not applicable any more. During September and during the visit of our Foreign Minister to New York, Secretary Rice asked for a meeting with him, which was then followed by a longer meeting with Assistant Secretary of State, David Welch. Many issues were discussed in detail. Welch voiced the US’s interest in some sort of a political dialogue and re-engagement with Syria. If what they have both expressed will not be vetoed by other centers of power within the Bush administration, then we expect to see more of these high level contacts in the near future.

During the meeting, the Americans expressed interest in the current indirect talks between Syria and Israel. They expressed their willingness to get more involved. While we believe it might be too little, too late, we have made our position very clear regarding the pivotal role for the US as a sponsor of such talks once they mature into the direct-talks stage.

However, the far more important position is that of the US Congress, whose leaders have unequivocally called on this administration to engage diplomatically and politically with Syria. This goes as far back as the Baker-Hamilton report, and as recently as September, when during a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ranking Republican and Democrat members explicitly asked none other than Mr. Welch himself why the US administration has yet to engage with Syria. We also know that both presidential campaigns have sent signals that they are interested in greater involvement with Syria. Ultimately, the Americans will sponsor the peace talks only when they believe it is in their national interest and in Israel’s national interest to do so, (not to mention the Arabs’). When they realize that a peaceful conclusion to the Arab-Israeli conflict is in their interest, the US will return to the table as a sponsor.

6) The Israelis claim that Lake Tiberius has shrunk in size by few hundred meters since 1967 because of receding water levels. Will Syria still accept an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the 4th of June 1967 line that does not give Syria access to the eastern shore of today’s smaller lake?

[I.M.] The line of June 4, 1967 is clearly demarcated based on international agreements. We have made it very clear in Turkey that we can only restart the peace process with the understanding that this line constitutes the Syrian-Israeli border. Early signs indicate that the Israelis accept this premise. Attempting to change the rules of the game will be a nonstarter. Now, when you start discussing details, the answer is simply that very difficult negotiations will need to be conducted over each and every issue, and I believe you must agree with me that we cannot conduct peace talks over the Internet.

7) After three failed attempts to reach a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement — first with Prime Minister Rabin who was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, then with Ehud Barak who “got cold feet” according to President Clinton’s memoirs, and most recently with Ehud Olmert who was forced to resign — have you concluded that Israel is only interested in the peace process and not in peace itself?

[I.M.]  The past cannot constitute the framework or basis for our future policies. It does, however, serve as a lesson. In this case, our past experience negotiating with Israelis informs our understanding of what it takes for Israel to ‘make’ or ‘break’ a deal. A truth in politics is that while caution is necessary, opportunities are very rare and must not be missed. This does not mean that we blindly jump at every opportunity. This is the primary reason for our involvement in several rounds of indirect talks with the Israelis through our Turkish friends.

We need to ensure that if we move to direct-talks, their chances of success will be higher than that of previous talks. The past and present are not the only elements at play here. Any future talks will run a greater risk of failure if these peace talks collapse. As parties approach these talks, this fact needs to be made very clear. Thus, if the Israelis are merely interested in the ‘process’ and not the ‘peace’, they will ultimately be held accountable, morally and politically, for missing the opportunity for peace. History will be Israel’s harshest judge; but most importantly, future Israeli and Arab generations will pay a dear price for this shortsightedness and obstinacy.

LEBANON/HIIZBOLLAH

8. Many Lebanese who listen to Mr. Nasrallah’s speeches are worried that Hizbollah does not want to stop fighting Israel until Israel is wiped off the map of the Middle East. Can you reassure them that their country will not necessarily continue to be paying the heavy price for its “resistance culture” after Syria signs a peace treaty with Israel?

[I.M.] If certain speeches by Mr. Nasrallah have worried some Lebanese, they should address their concerns directly to the leader of Hezbollah. Asking a Syrian official to ‘reassure’ them regarding the Lebanese resistance reflects a profound and disturbing refusal to come to terms withthe fact that Hezbollah is part and parcel of the Lebanese political and social fabric. The notion that Hezbollah gets its orders from outside Lebanon is both absurd and counterproductive. Those in Lebanon who have a problem with the “resistance culture” should understand that it grew out of a purely Lebanese context. I find it embarrassing that I need to explain to anybody in the world, let alone to Lebanese individuals, that this culture evolved as a result of decades of continuous and extreme Israeli violence committed on Lebanon.

By insisting on perpetuating this remarkable state of denial, those who refuse to accept that Hezbollah is a partner in what they consider ‘their’ Lebanon, will do themselves and ‘their’ Lebanon a great disservice. What I urge them to do is to accept that Lebanon belongs to all its constituent parties and not exclusively to one or another. Once they accept that, they will then need to start by conducting a comprehensive national dialogue among themselves in order to reach answers and solutions – not direct their questions to us, or even to the Americans.

9)Hizbollah officials have made it clear that they intend to take revenge on Israel for its probable assassination of Imad Mughniyeh. Has Syria advised Hizbollah against taking revenge for Mughniyeh?

[I.M.]  We don’t usually advise Hezbollah on what sort of actions they should take. This is strictly their business; they know what is best for the Lebanese resistance. Obviously, decisions of war and peace are taken by states according to a complex set of criteria and considerations.

On the one hand, strategic military decisions cannot be discussed publicly unless you want us to make rhetorical statements. On the other hand, we are confident that Hezbollah is capable of defending Lebanon and inflicting another humiliating defeat on the Israeli military machine if it decides to launch yet another war of aggression on Lebanon. We also believe that the Israelis fully realize this simple fact.

PALESTINE

10) Egyptian and Saudi journalists these days argue that Syria, which successfully led the Arab world’s decade long boycott of Egypt after President Sadat signed a separate peace treaty with Israel, now appears to be interested in a similar deal that achieves nothing for the Palestinians. How are Syria’s negotiations with Israel, thirty years after President Sadat’s Camp David Accords, different from Sadat’s? Will Syria insist on negotiating towards tangible gains for the Palestinians in addition to recovering its occupied Golan Heights?

[I.M.] This is an extraordinary question based on a totally false premise. When Kissinger came out with his famous dictum that ‘there could be no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria,’ he realized two important facts. First, by drawing Egypt into a separate peace with Israel, the US effectively eliminated the largest and most powerful military in the Arab world from the Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby, shifting the balance of power in the region decisively in Israel’s favor. Second, it established a new precident in Arab politics: separate negotiations with Israel. Such a culture of every man for himself dashed any hope of a comprehensive pan-Arab peace agreement with Israel. Only sticking to a unified strategy could have given the Palestinians more leverage in their negotiations with the Israelis.

For this reason, Syria staunchly opposed the separate Egyptian peace agreement; we spearheaded a campaign to convince the rest of the Arab states not to be trapped into individual negotiations with Israel.

Unfortunately, we failed and Israel won. After Camp David there was the Wadi Araba agreement, which was then followed by the Oslo agreement. Syria’s position was not that Arabs should not negotiate peace agreements with the Israelis, but rather, that they should not do so separately. The golden adage of divide and conquer has rarely proven more accurate than in this instance. As each additional Arab state signs a separate peace with Israel, those that remain find it more difficult to negotiate peace and achieve their demands.

Today, the Palestinian Authority is negotiating its own peace agreement with the Israelis. We understand their circumstances and appreciate how difficult it is for them to live under the draconian law of occupation. To see one’s land being steadily confiscated by the Israelis cannot be easy. We are not happy with the state of Arab disunity and lack of political coordination that prevails among us, but this, unfortunately, is the sad reality in the Arab world. This is the legacy of the Camp David Accords.

11) This year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the Arab Summit in Damascus despite pressure from his Saudi and Egyptian main Arab allies not to. He is also visiting Damascus more frequently this year, compared to previous years. What is the reason behind Syria’s improved relations with President Abbas? How will Syria manage to keep its Palestinian friends and allies happy given that each Palestinian group have different expectations for a settlement with Israel? Will Syria be able to keep moderate Abbas, islamist Meshal, and Marxist Hawatmeh happy?

[I.M.] It is not Syria’s task to keep all Palestinian factions happy. Sadly, deep differences and strongly entrenched mistrust divide the Palestinian factions. This is very damaging to the Palestinian national interest. It is our moral duty in Syria to extend every possible means of support to our Palestinian brethren. Right now we believe that the best support Syria can offer is through attempting to heal the rifts among the Palestinians and reach a national consensus on matters of paramount importance. For this reason, we are keen on maintaining the closest possible relations with all factions, without exception. Fortunately, all Palestinian parties trust us and lean on us for support at this critical juncture. Syria happily assumes this this role and duty.

Comments (87)


Avi Salam said:

Your Excellency, Dr. Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to the United States of America:
I was troubled to some extent by your answers, particularly to the first and fourth questions!

As for the first one, the question was about Syria’s vision of what role Israel can play in the Middle East after a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA). It is unfair, neither for Israel nor for Syria, to restrict the Syrian-Israeli relationship to a Pan-Arab framework! Imagine applying this proposal to the Syria-Turkey relationship, the Libya-Chad, or the Iraq-Iran ones. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for instance, are heading into internal social and/or economic crisis in the foreseeable future, why should Israel and Syria limit their relationship to the dictates and needs of various Arab states, which are geographically disparate?

An Israeli role in a post CPA Middle East may include sharing Israeli technology with its neighbors as a form of mutual economic investment. Israeli companies have developed and matured impressive innovations in several domains, including: agriculture, manufacturing, water treatment, and computer technology, just to name a few. Syria, government and people, will benefit from such mutual investments too. The Syrian unemployment will go down, the technical skill level of the Syrian labor will be enhanced, the efficiency and yield of all aspects of Syrian national production will benefit. The Israeli market will be wide open for the Syrian merchants and produce, just as well as the Syrian one will be open to the Israeli counterpart. Conversely, it is of utmost strategic importance to Israel to have political and economic stability in its neighboring states in general, and in Syria in particular.

Can you imagine the positive impact of this beautiful future on the Israeli and Syrian people?

Regarding the fourth question, your Excellency, I beg to differ with you on the subject matter. I do not want to engage in a political comparison between the Israeli and Syrian governments out of respect to the respective nations. Nevertheless, due to the difference between the Syrian and Israeli governments, the roles of these two governments are also different vis-a-vis helping and preparing the population of the other to embrace for peace. In Israel, the people remake and reproduce the government in a much faster dynamics than that in Syria – Again I mean no disrespect or accusation to one country or the other regarding levels or types of government democracy. Should the Syrian government extend a hand of peace to the people of Israel, the repercussions will be in terms of a long lasting impact on the Israeli people mentality, and that will be reified into a more powerful, peace-making Israeli government. Why doesn’t the Syrian government allow centrist-minded Israeli journalists to visit Syria? Why doesn’t the Syrian Parliament invite moderate Israeli counterparts from the Knesset, preferably with journalists, to visit Syria, and discuss matters of mutual concern face-to-face? Why restrict such an invitation to Mr. Azmi Bishara exclusively, while depriving several other Israeli peace activists from similar opportunities? Conversely, such a staunch move by the Syrian government, will give the Syrian people a chance to meet with Israelis, and will help collapse the psychological barrier between the two nations, and enhance the readiness for peace. To put it in simple terms, the people of Israel are the key towards a comprehensive peace agreement, not the relatively short-lived Israeli government.

Once again, can you imagine the positive impact of this beautiful future on the Syrian and Israeli people?

For the curious reader, I am a US citizen of Syrian descent.

Avi Salam, Ph.D.

October 22nd, 2008, 8:24 am

 

A Response to Imad Moustapha « Qifa Nabki said:

[…]   The indefatigable Camille-Alexandre Otrakji, over at Syria Comment, has published an exclusive interview with Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States. The interview consists of questions submitted by […]

October 22nd, 2008, 8:29 am

 

Shai said:

Dear Ambassador Moustapha,

First, many thanks for this opportunity that enables also many of us, on the “other side”, to hear firsthand from a very highly respected diplomat (your) views and Syria’s policy in the region.

Second, I would like to address one main issue that is still of great concern to me:

The “Convincing” Game (Question 4 in the Interview): I agree with Avi Salam in his comments above regarding the need to change Israeli mentality, and Syria’s role in helping bring this about. You’ve stated that “Surely they cannot now expect our government to explain to their people why peace is necessary.” While I very much understand and respect your view, and if this were a court of law, justice would likely reside with your side, certainly over the last number of years with Syria’s endless attempts to demonstrate on various arenas (including Western media) its readiness for peace. And yet, as my fellow Israeli commentator stated above, it is the Israeli public that will be deciding the fate of our nation, especially when it comes to Syria.

The unfortunate and new law recently enacted in Knesset, calls for a mandatory national referendum to take place before the Golan can be returned. And as you know, recent polls show that some 70% of Israelis are already against it. So while you are correct in stating that it is the job of the Israeli leadership to convince its people to opt for peace, the fact of the matter is and has been so for over two decades, that our leaderships have simply been too weak (not to mention worse than that). So where does that leave Syria? Syria would be right in saying “How can you expect US to do YOUR job for you?” But this isn’t only about justice, it is also about what’s in our best interest. And if the Israeli public does not yet understand that it is in its best interest to have peace, should Syria give up? Is it inconceivable that our public has had the wrong “educators” all these years? That in fact it cannot be expected to change its mind as long as near-impotent leaders show up every few years to “lead” us forward?

I still ask – is it inconceivable that Syria should target Israel’s “Board of Directors” (its people) rather than its Management (its government)? And Sir, please understand that while going on endless Western-media interviews is of course important, it is simply not enough. Our own media decides what and how to report such interviews. Few Israelis watch CNN or Fox, or BBC, on a regular basis. So such an interview would have to be mentioned (briefly) by Channel 1, or 2, or 10. And it is very different to see the Syrian President addressing a CBS interviewer than an Israeli journalist, speaking directly to the Israeli people. Avi Salam’s ideas are exactly what is desperately needed in our region now.

Like India and Pakistan, whose animosity and ongoing mutual hostilities do not shame the Israeli-Syrian ones, have found the way to communicate with one another directly on endless occasions, and well before signing any peace agreement. Their leaders have met in person on their border, their journalists have crossed over to conduct interviews with “the enemy”. They’ve had cultural exchanges. Endless scenarios, which have undoubtedly helped break down the emotional and historical walls that have disabled progress for so long. Syria and Israel can and should learn from this case. Except that here, ours is so much easier. Given enough opportunity for Israelis to see Syria’s “real face”, rather than the one they’ve been brainwashed to see, you will find most people here ready and able to return the Golan to its rightful owner. But the barriers of misconception must begin to break down. And, it seems, no Israeli leader in recent decades has been able to make that happen. Therefore, Mr. Ambassador, we turn to you. Help us, by engaging our people more directly, more closely. Invite our journalists, our MK’s, our sports clubs, our business leaders, etc. Don’t wait for our leaders to do this job – the record shows they have been far from capable. And the people wait.

October 22nd, 2008, 9:35 am

 

Alex said:

Shai,

Avi Salam is not an Israeli, he is a Syrian : )

October 22nd, 2008, 9:42 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

You see why we are ready for peace?!? I can no longer tell us apart! 🙂

October 22nd, 2008, 9:59 am

 
 

norman said:

Alex,

you made it to the news,

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

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Last update – 12:52 22/10/2008
Syria envoy: Future generations will pay if Israel scuttles peace talks
By Haaretz Service

Syria’s ambassador to the United States on Tuesday warned that should Israel scuttle peace negotiations with Syria, the citizens of each country will pay the price.

“If the Israelis are merely interested in the ‘process’ and not the ‘peace’, they will ultimately be held accountable… Future Israeli and Arab generations will pay a dear price for this shortsightedness and obstinacy,” Ambassador Imad Moustapha said in an interview with the Syria Comment Web site.

Israel and Syria announced in May that they were holding indirect peace negotiations.

In the interview, Moustapha described Hezbollah as “a close ally” which Syria regarded with pride. A key Israeli demand in peace talks is that Damascus cut its ties with the Lebanon-based militant organization against which Israel fought the Second Lebanon War.

He also said the group was capable of defending Lebanon and “inflicting another humiliating defeat on the Israeli military machine if it decides to launch yet another war of aggression on Lebanon.”

On the issue of Syria’s relations with Iran, Moustapha asserted that the United States shouldn’t seek to distance his country from the Islamic Republic. He said that the U.S. should instead use Syria to defuse tensions tensions.

“We can help bridge the stark differences between Iran and the U.S.; we can help find a regional settlement to the many contentious issues of the region. We can help avoid the perils of yet another major conflict in our region,” said the envoy.

Related articles:

Syria’s Assad calls for Israel-Syria talks to continue

Netanyahu, on Syria talks: Peace with dictatorial state won’t last

Olmert labels Syria talks ‘historic breakthrough’

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October 22nd, 2008, 1:13 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Your Excellency

First, please allow me to thank you for this honest and eloquent interview. We in the Syrian community abroad need to hear you as often as possible, and I hope that this will not be the only opportunity for us to engage in dialogue. I for one, am very impressed and proud of your ability to “hold the fort” in DC despite of all the odds over the past few years. Your distinguished service to our home of origin and to our community here is much appreciated.

On the one hand, I agree with most of what you said regarding the peace process, especially your accurate and honest assessment of Syria’s position regarding previous attempts and the reasons for the failure to achieve a comprehensive peace to date. I also agree that Israel’s role in the region will depend to a large extent on Israel itself. Yet, I am forced to side with Avi-Salam on whether the Pan-Arab framework is the only mechanism for Syria and Israel to recognize the benefits of peace. I am concerned that given the current fragmentation within the region, Syria would be first yielding initiative to countries whose interests do not always parallel ours. By doing so, we allow others to speak on our behalf and present “alternative” initiatives, only to hand the hawkish camp in Israel additional opportunities to stall the process as they study such initiatives. The Pan Arab framework has been agreed to already, and to my understanding it is based on the principles of land for peace and the rights of the Palestinians. As long as Syria continues to adhere to these principles, Syria should be able to proceed without hindrance and without allowing game changing initiatives and political maneuvering by others. I am speaking of recent Saudi attempts to reshape the process, which I find unnecessary and counter productive. This of course does not negate the need for coordination between Arab countries, but from an historical perspective, Syria is in a much better position than others to hold the initiative and to take bold and “out-of-the-box” steps. The Syrian leadership, which includes your Excellency, has already demonstrated a long-term vision and a strategic commitment to peace and we should not allow anyone to “out-bid” our strategic interests.

I believe that one of the reasons the Camp-David accord failed to improve the Palestinian situation was the fact that it did not openly discuss Israel’s role in the region. The failure of the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian normalization has left both countries without any influence in Israel. Influence can only happen if there is interaction at various levels and restricting the interaction to political leadership and official channels leaves both sides hostages to changing political environment in Israel instead of shaping that environment. It allows for the marginalization of the Israeli peace movement, which should be, and in fact has proven itself a natural ally to anyone yearning for a just peace in our region including the Palestinians. It his here where I respectfully differ with you on the role of the internet because here at SC we have demonstrated, times and again that dialogue only leads to better understanding and that we do have partners inside Israel who are as committed to long lasting just peace as we are. Let us help them out and give them voice inside their country as well as inside ours. Let us also have a voice inside Israel, as both Shai and Avi-Salam have indicated, Israelis of various stripes trust their press more than they trust western media. The hardliners and racist inside Israel will have much harder time demonizing a contingent of their parliamentarians and journalists who travel to Syria on an “exploratory” mission than they had demonizing Azmi Bishara.

Your Excellency

I had the advantage of reading some of the comments on your interview which were posted on haaretz. First the newspaper (online version) was rather selective in cherry picking quotes from your interview, giving fodder to the racist comments that followed. I believe that they would not be able to do so if a similar interview is conducted directly with an Israeli newspaper. However, on this one, I fault the Israeli peace camp, as I have not seen anyone from that camp responds to the article or address the racist comments that followed.

October 22nd, 2008, 2:05 pm

 

Shai said:

OTW,

The selective parts on the Ha’aretz article are an excellent example of the problem we face. You see, even the clearly Leftist paper such as Ha’aretz isn’t aware of the negative impact it is having on Israelis, essentially reinforcing their hardened views of Arabs, of Arab regimes, and of the peaceful horizon always seeming farther away the closer we get to it. Even Ha’aretz errs in its attempt to portray the other side as ready for peace with Israel. Hence interpretation should be a second-option, not first. Let famous TV-journalists travel to Syria (and Syrian journalists come to Israel), and let them report things as they see them. Invite Maccabi Tel-Aviv to come play a basketball game with the strongest Syrian team. Conduct a business conference in Kuneitra. Have Assad meet Livni on the border for an hour with some “silly” ceremony, nothing more than “we are doing what we can”.

I’ve written here before that in 1977, I still recall as an 8 year-old at the time the tears that ran down people’s faces (adults and children alike), watching on our black-and-white TV sets as Sadat arrived in his EgyptAir plane, and shook the hands of our leadership at Ben-Gurion Airport. Believe me, after these things I mentioned above are done, tears will once again appear in Israel, and this time tears of hope, not of pain. And peace will happen.

October 22nd, 2008, 3:00 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Shai
Please keep arguing for what you believe in. Trust me my friend, you are making headway.

October 22nd, 2008, 3:41 pm

 

SAGHIR said:

I would like to come to the defense of the Syrian Ambassador with regards to both his comments on Israel and Lebanon:

The criticism directed at the Ambassador with regards to his comment on Israel seems to center on his remark that “any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under its endorsement of the Pan Arab Peace Initiative”.

Syria’s official name is the Syrian “Arab” Republic. The Syrian political framework is built on its embrace of the Palestinian cause as well as its pan-Arab credentials. Were the Ambassador to have phrased his remark differently, many would have pounced to characterize his remark as a sign that Syria’s leadership is now ready for separate talks outside the Palestinian track. Had the Ambassador not linked Syria’s path to that of the wider Arab world, he would have been accused of parting way with the main tenet of his Government’s foreign policy. The Ambassador was not outsourcing his country’s foreign policy to Saudi Arabia or the Arab League as some have suggested. His remarks must be seen from the prism of Damascus’s preference to solve the Syrian track along side the Palestinian and Arab track as part of a comprehensive regional approach. Whether the Palestinian part sticks to the same plan is another matter of course.

Let me now move to the Lebanon question. My good friend Qifa Nabki was not exactly satisfied with the Ambassador remarks on Hizbollah. I would like to again side with the Ambassador here.

Can you imagine if Mr. Moustapha affirmed that his country “will” assure the Lebanese that their country “will not continue to pay the heavy price of its resistance culture”?

Were he to go along with this line of reasoning, it would amount to effectively claiming that Hizbollah and the Lebanese resistance is Syria’s puppet. I am aware that many people believe that this is indeed the case, but for the Syrian Ambassador to say so is tantamount to political suicide. In truth, the question itself is designed to leave Mr. Moustapha with no option but to answer it the way he did. Could the Ambassador have phrased his answer a little differently? The answer is probably yes. But, not by much.

October 22nd, 2008, 4:40 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai,

I just realized that everyone on this page is a “Dr.” except you and me.

Dr Moustapha, Dr. Landis, Dr. Avi, Dr. Qifa Nabki, Dr. Norman, Dr. OTW

Back to the interview, I think Dr. Moustapha sent a number of nuanced messages but they are well hidden under what might look like, at first glance, hard line answers.

I realized that Qifa Nabki will be unhappy with the way Dr. Moustapha answered the Hizbollah question. Perhaps it is my fault. I wrote the question and I should not have said “can you assure the Lebanese that Hizbollah will not do A or B or C”

Imad is right, he should not be asked to reassure the citizens of Lebanon about the future conduct of one of their largest organizations/parties.

Having said that, I think my badly worded question was, in essence, valid and reasonable… Mr. Nasrallah himself states in a Lebanese TV interview last year “Syria helped us tremendously in the past. We owe Syria a lot. If Syria asks us for a favor, we will try our best to fulfill their requests”

So .. they don’t take orders from Syria … they are not a Syrian tool … but they would take an advice or a wish from Syria.

As for Shai’s suggestions. I am also sympathetic to some extent. On the one hand, Syrian leadership is wise not to take too many chances on peace given the uncertainties in Israel (leadership and popular opinions) and the waiting game in Washington (two more weeks!). But on the other hand, Shai made a very good case for Syrian engagements with Israeli people … selected Israelis for now.

I have no idea why Syria finds it a big challenge to invite a couple of Israeli journalists to do an interview with President Assad. Shai is right when he points out the way Syria’s news and opinions are almost always distorted before they reach Israeli readers and viewers. Haaretz for example selected the most confrontational parts of the interview instead of noting that Dr. Moustapha mentioned the Arab peace plan, just like Ehud Barack and Prince Turky Al-Faisal did this week .. this sounds to me like a regional agreement. Maybe we need to pay attention.

Can anyone here explain to me how granting an interview to an Israeli journalist can imply recognition of Israel?

Shai … I must say though that It takes two to tango. If Syria is still consistently reduced by Mr. Netanyahu to a terror-supporting dictatorship, then the millions of hard line Israelis who trust Mr. Netanyahu more than any other politician will simply automatically reject President Assad’s answers in that desired interview with an Israeli journalist.

And reading the Haaretz readers’ comments, I am reminded again of this great communication challenge: Those who are nto fans of Syria in Israel, the ones that Syria needs to communicate with directly, are of two opposite types:

1) Those who see Syria (plus its “terrorist” friends) as a real danger that can only expand if Israel makes a mistake and gives the Syrians control over the Golan heights.

2) Those who see Syria as apathetic harmless beggar who is dreaming to even imagine that Israel will give “up” the Golan Heights.

I can see how I will have a chance to convince one of the two groups above … I can plan my communication strategy to achieve that objective. But if I do succeed … I expect to also reinforce the convictions of the other group of Syria critics in Israel.

But then again (and I am thinking out loud here) … since now already 30% of Israelis are convinced that Israel needs t give Syria “back” the Golan Heights, then Syria only needs to convince another 30% … not the other 70%

Another complication … every time Syria communicates with Israelis, the Arab “brothers” in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are listening… waiting to catch a “Sadat” in Assad’s words.

October 22nd, 2008, 4:46 pm

 

Alex said:

President of Romania was in Damascus.

He said that when it comes to dealing with the region’s various conflicts, Syria is the most influential country in the Middle East.

October 22nd, 2008, 5:22 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

You’re right, it is also easy to make a case against opening up to Israel. At the end of the day, the onus truly is on us to prove we are interested in peace. And you’re right, Netanyahu’s supporters are going to be less “impressed” than certainly those on the Left. However (and it’s a very BIG however), I’m willing to wager almost anything that ALL Israelis will be impressed, and ALL Israelis will be changed somehow if and when such an opening occurs. Even Liebermann will sit at home, and quietly tell his wife “I never thought he would do it…” Or “Shit, we’re in trouble…” 🙂

Look, at the end of the day we need to start removing the guessing, the interpretation, the “first-you” games from our quest for peace. This is precisely why I fear Ha’aretz articles reporting to Israeli readers (from the Left) what some Kuwaiti paper interpreted about some Palestinian puppet leader bringing with him to Assad from Olmert…! Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, and ends that way too – in fantasy land. Let our two nations start to know one another, up close. Let exchanges take place, on any level. I don’t care if our respective Mukhabarats accompany the journalists to the bathroom, the basketball players to the locker room, the businessmen to the cafeterias. I just want to see Syria on our TV, the way an Israeli journalist could show it. And Israel on Syrian TV the way a Syrian journalist would.

For Israelis to view Syrians as normal, red-blooded, peaceful neighbors, they must see them, hear them, feel them, in some fashion, and on some level, but directly, not through some interpretation or satellite channel that no one watches here. If there is honest intention on both sides to reach peace, why not demonstrate it already now, on other levels? Why first receive written guarantees from some fresh U.S. President and Israeli PM who might last 6 months or 12 before new elections take place again…? Why not start with those who will make the decision in the end – the people! It is their minds we must change, not their elected leaders. Don’t forget 1977. Then, too, 70% of Israelis were against giving back the Sinai, even in return for peace. And after Sadat arrived, and Begin presented a draft agreement, they became 70% for. Why? Because Sadat found a way to communicate with the hearts and minds of Israelis. Maybe it was too bold a move. Maybe it was bound to be misinterpreted (as weakness, as resignation) by all those who feared and opposed peace. But even Sadat had other options, and so does Syria today.

Let’s focus on the reasons FOR doing something, not on the reasons NOT to…

October 22nd, 2008, 5:36 pm

 

Rumyal said:

Alex,

The exclusive interview with Dr. Imad Moustapha and the quick pick-up by Haaretz illustrate the high level of impact that SC is attaining, proving what you, Shai, OTW and Norman have argued to me this week. Awesome job—congratulations!

October 22nd, 2008, 5:45 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Saghir,

You said:

Were he to go along with this line of reasoning, it would amount to effectively claiming that Hizbollah and the Lebanese resistance is Syria’s puppet. I am aware that many people believe that this is indeed the case, but for the Syrian Ambassador to say so is tantamount to political suicide.

I personally do not believe that Hizbullah is Syria’s puppet. As I suggestedin the response on my blog, I think that Ambassador Moustapha could have addressed the question in a different way.

While it is not the case that Hizbullah takes its orders from Damascus, it also cannot be the case that Hizbullah does not consult with Damascus on strategic matters. The reality about the relationship must lie between these two poles. Therefore, it is entirely legitimate to wonder how the current negotiations will affect Hizbullah’s own political identity in Lebanon, should the negotiations result in a peace settlement.

Maybe it is unrealistic to expect anything but an evasive answer to this question, given the fact that the negotiations are nowhere near a conclusive deal. However, there are evasive answers and there are evasive answers.

🙂

October 22nd, 2008, 6:33 pm

 

saghir said:

Frankly, I think it is a little disindengious to have Isrealis imply that the Syrian leader must travel to Israel to somehow convince that country’s population about the merits of a peace deal.This is not his job but the job of that country’s leadership. Israel’s leaders are effectively asking whether they can outsource marketing this deal to their Syrian counterparts. Just beacause sadat did it, it does not mean that Syria’s leadership ought to do it too.

October 22nd, 2008, 6:38 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

It is not Israel’s leaders that are “effectively asking whether they can outsource marketing this deal to their Syrian counterparts”, but rather it is the minority in Israel (myself included) that are doing so, out of recognition that our leaders have not even attempted to educate their constituents about the merits of peace. As I mentioned above, this is not about whose role it is to do what. You are correct that ordinarily you would expect a leadership to lead. But when that leadership fails time and again, with that leader or the next, for more than two decades, don’t you think you (as Syria) should at least consider a different approach? Perhaps a more direct one, which addresses the ones that bring these “leaders” into power in the first place – that is, the Israeli people themselves?

I’m not asking Assad to come to Jerusalem on his hands and knees, or become a 2nd Sadat, if that seems the consequence to most. I’m merely suggesting that we need to open up this common quest for peace to alternative methods, including and especially the beginning of an education of Israelis (I’ll speak for my side) about Syria and Syrians. We know next to nothing about you, except for what we hear on our TV sets (again, interpretations). Most Israelis probably know more about the Bush Doctrine (unlike Sarah Palin), than about Syrian culture or history. Ask the average Israeli what organizations Syria belongs to, and half will tell you the Arab League, while the other half will say the Axis-of-Evil… It is too serious and unfortunately true, to be funny. It is time we began learning about one another. Finding out the “real face” of our respective nations, and not just what our leaders and newscasters have told us all these years. Don’t you agree?

October 22nd, 2008, 7:30 pm

 

Innocent_Criminal said:

QN,

I think you answered your own question better than anyone else. And i would also like to remind you that the evasive answers you prefer also includes a certain level of speculation. Something seasoned politicians are not advised to do how ever certain they are.

October 22nd, 2008, 7:38 pm

 

Saghir said:

Israel views Syria as a weak country. Its supporters within the higher echelons of U.S. policy makers have succeed at painting Syria as a country in that axis-of-evil group of nations. This has made it easier for Israel to hold on to the Golan. Rather than giving it back as part of a peace deal, it is so much easier to use the execuse of Syria is an evil dictatorship whose people and leaders we don’t know much about. Turning the discussion into Syrians-need-to- comfort-Israelis as a prerequisite for a deal is simply a ploy in delay and deception in my opinion

October 22nd, 2008, 8:06 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Alex, thanks for your awesome efforts and your undeniable service to Syria and peace in the region.

I don’t see anything new in Dr. Moustapha’s answers; as his position is reflective of a long-standing Syrian policy. While his answers are important, it is the consistency of the Syrian message that should be observed and underscored.

The West expects policy formulation (and its associated rifts and shifts) to be reflective of certain dynamics (e.g, in the Sixties, the US had the so-called legitimate right and obligation to defend the South Vietnamese from the tyranny of Communism. But facts on the ground caused a massive shift of that “right” to the tune of completely pulling out and let Communism take over. Both positions were sold to the American public in some shape or another with a certain level of acceptance).

Not in Syria. Those who dream of Syria “flipping” or radically changing its position based on some “carrots” are genuinely misinformed of the dynamics Syrian policy-making process (or lack thereof).

It’s what sometimes is referred to as “Brand Syria,” a brand of slowly-changing dimensions. Syrians naturally resist drastic changes in anything – let alone changes that touch what they strongly believe as their inalienable right of pride and dignity. The Golan Heights came to be a defining character of the Syrian National identity (based on decades of manufacturing consent) and as such, no amount of negotiations can succeed unless that right (and that “right” is much more important than what the geographic boundaries constitute) is fully recognized.

It is hard for the Western world to understand that specific Syrian cultural subtlety. While the West considers individuality as the basis of liberty, Syrians considers their “national right” (al Haqq al Watani) and dignity as a basis of their individual national identity and liberty. Big difference here – there is no individualism in Syrian ethos. And if it is there, it is not as accentuated as it is in the Western World.

This fundamental difference is highlighted by the Ambassador’s argument that the Israeli government needs to collectively convince its people of peace while the Syrian government is taking care of honoring its people’s national right and dignity. The difference between the two is of huge importance. No selling is needed to the Syrian people to restore what is lost, the Ambassador argues. And I see his point.

But the Israelis are correct in requesting a formal people-to-people dialogue, confidence building measures, and an open forum to hear each other’s concerns. This is part of the Israelis Western-derived cultural institutions (Land-for-Peace is translated into Arabic as The Land for The Peace).

Syrians are raised to believe that making peace requires that the other party is willing to recognize your dignity and legitimate rights – not as an act of compassions but as a genuine act of legitimacy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Syria relinquishes all of the Golan Heights to someone if that someone truly needs these heights for survival and that this someone is fully prepared to indefinitely recognize and respect Syria’s right and the dignity of its people.

What I see happening, thankfully, is a transformation of how Israel looks at Syria and how Syria looks at Israel. This is a very good thing!

October 22nd, 2008, 8:27 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

Look at how misconceptions are further causing our divide. Your knee-jerk reaction (which I am not arguing) is to assume any request from Syria to prove anything, made by an Israeli, is “simply a ploy in delay and deception” (your words). Yet if you ask most commentators on SC, who’ve heard me here over the past 6-8 months, sometimes exhaustively, they’ll tell you I don’t exactly belong to the “delay” club. The levels of distrust, suspicion, and let’s face it, even hatred, between our peoples is such that few can still consider these ideas openly, without fearing delay tactics (or others) are at play. I am not blaming you for thinking this is the case. But it only reinforces my belief that it is high time Israelis and Syrians got to know more about one another.

Why would you fear or reject any exposure of Syria or Syrians to Israelis, and vice-versa? Do you really need Tzipi Livni’s “guarantee” to withdraw from the Golan first? And what if she can’t deliver that, precisely because most Israelis (70%) are against it right now? Then are you willing to sit and wait, because it is the Israeli leadership that should talk to the Israeli public, not Syria’s? And what would cause most Israelis to change their minds? We must shed this instinctive belief that it is only leaders of nations that have to be engaged, not the people themselves. That if a given leadership is able to signal its intentions for peace, that it could also deliver. In Israel’s case, at least, and especially with governments from the Left or Center, this has simply not been the case as you’ll recall.

See my first comment above, in regards to India and Pakistan, who are no less bitter-enemies than Israel and Syria are. Why has contact between their people, leadership, cultural groups, etc. worked long before any peace agreement was signed? Why can’t it work for us?

October 22nd, 2008, 8:31 pm

 

Saghir said:

“Why would you fear or reject any exposure of Syria or Syrians to Israelis, and vice-versa? Do you really need Tzipi Livni’s “guarantee” to withdraw from the Golan first? And what if she can’t deliver that, precisely because most Israelis (70%) are against it right now?”

This is not a beauty or love contest. International disputes and conflicts do not get resolved by exposing the populace of the two countries at hand to each other. You have a democracy. You elect your leaders. You must spend your energy and resources convincing your country fellow men and women to elect the leaders that advance what you seem to believe in. By your admission, 70% of your people are not ready. Somehow, we are to believe that not knowing each other is partly to blame. I don’t buy it. Instead, it is because Israel simply feels that it need not give the Golan so why should she do so? Painting Syria’s leadership as mysterious, opaque and even evil makes it easier to rally 70% of the troops back home.

October 22nd, 2008, 9:00 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

I do understand you. But you said it yourself: “Painting Syria’s leadership as mysterious, opaque and even evil makes it easier to rally 70% of the troops back home.”.

So it’s time to let Israelis see what Syria and Syrians are really all about. Not through media interpretations (see how today the Leftist Ha’aretz newspaper screwed up even a simple summary of the interview), not through a “painting” of any sort by various political leaders, and not through satellite channels no one watches here. But instead through some sort of interaction, on any level. What could be wrong with exchanging journalists for a day or two? With having two sports teams meet? With sending direct messages to each other’s people?

With all due respect, I think you are giving the Israeli people (or any people for that matter) much too much credit. Do you honestly think most Americans are voting for a President based on what they “believe in”? Do most people out there “believe” in some policy, or another? Or are most people voting based on emotional, rather than rational, beliefs shaped during election time and finalized on election day? So if neither McCain nor Obama ever bring up the advantages of engaging North Korea in dialogue, instead of isolating it, how could you expect any American to decide anything favorable about N. Korea? People, unfortunately, do not go out of their way to shape their own belief systems. They decide based on what they are “fed”. And if their leaders don’t feed them anything about the advantages of peace with Syria, and they know absolutely nothing about Syria, why would you expect them (the average person) to see Syria in any other light, other than that of the “Axis-of-Evil”?

What seems so obvious to you, is unfortunately very unclear to most in Israel. Yes, 70% of Israelis do not want to give back the Golan, even in return for peace. But have you asked yourself why that is the case? Is it because most Israelis are evil? Is it because most are war-mongers? Probably neither one. But quite likely because they don’t even know who is on the other side of the equation, aside for a dangerous enemy that attacked us 35 years ago this month. That’s it! We know almost nothing more! Oh, and that this enemy also supports Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas. Can you believe it? So how do you expect the average Israeli to change their mind?

October 22nd, 2008, 9:22 pm

 

Saghir said:

Nations, just like people, act to further their self-interest. Moreover, the stronger you are, the more leverage you have. Syria has done a very poor job in the world of international media and public opinion. In contrast, Israel has done an outstanding job in shaping international and particularly western public opinion to her advantage. This has made it easier for Israel to do what is in her perceived national interest. Presently, 70% of its people seem to feel that keeping the Golan is part of that national interest. Syria must do a much better job at framing her arguments and selling them to the court of public opinion. Syria Comment has morphed into such a forum but this has taken place totally outside the sphere of official government policy. There is not much to know about Syrians frankly. Their DNA is not unlike that of other people in the world. They are just as interested in higher standards of living, education and survival. Their leadership has supported Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran because it has correctly concluded that its back is against the wall and that it needs to find any allies it can find to help it stay alive. If 70% of Israel cannot understand that, there is precious little that Syria can do. Ask your leaders to swap seats and then come back to me with a an alternative survival approach than the one Damascus has embraced thus far.

October 22nd, 2008, 9:47 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

Wallahi, I’ve asked my leaders not only to swap seats, but in fact to give up their seats, and allow some young, fresh and talented politicians to replace them. Do you think it helped? 🙂 Look, at the bottom of all this is our differing opinions on what influences the general public’s opinion. You give too much credit to Israelis, I believe, in thinking that Israel’s perceived “current policy” (I claim that Israel hasn’t had a policy in more than 40 years) is dictated, or is even representative, of the will of its people. But I can tell you that many Israelis are afraid right now that Obama might win, because they think he’s a Muslim! And you know what – a few of my so-called “intelligent” friends from the Right have mentioned this to me, and I was flabbergasted. They’re buying what they’re fed and, in this case, I know for certain that none of our major media has ever stated that Obama IS a Muslim, only that some in American think he is, and that he’s denied that on numerous occasions. So not only are many Israelis quite ignorant about the person who may soon head the strongest nation on earth, but not many are even asking themselves “So what if he’s a Muslim?”

Alright, it’s past midnight here, so I’m heading in. Thank you for this discussion, and I hope we can one day agree. I am much closer to your views than you might think.

Alex, Joshua, well done with providing us this wonderful opportunity to hear firsthand Imad Moustapha’s eloquent response to these tough questions. I know many on “my side” will benefit from hearing them.

October 22nd, 2008, 10:05 pm

 

norman said:

They asked Hafez Assad once about going to Israel to break the Israeli fear , He answered that the conflict is not an emotional one but it is over rights of Syria and the Palestinian people and this kind of conflict can be only resolved with hard work and preparations , we should all remember how many times Sadat was almost ready to declare the talks as failure ,What saved these talks was the Israeli desire to take Egypt out of the war .

If Israel is serious about peace it can do something simple , Declare the law that allowed it to annex the Golan as illegal and that the Golan is Syrian and it has to be returned for a comprehensive pease ,I doubt that they will do that ,

I do not see any chance for peace with Israel without a war that will make the Israeli see that occupying the Golan and denying the Palestinians their rights is costly ,That was the only way they left Gaza and south Lebanon , they did not leave because Hamas leaders or Nasrallah gave interviews or offered visits to Jerusalem.

Syria should not be eager for peace to the point of ab banding the Palestinians or the Syrian rights .

The Crusaders stayed in the Mideast for 200 year then left,

We should not be in a hurry , Israel should.

October 23rd, 2008, 3:02 am

 

Off the Wall said:

Dear Saghir

You are interacting, aren’t you? and I must say, you are an excellent debater with an enviable command of conciseness. You kept your cool and made several strong points. Some here are convinced by what you wrote, even if partially. Others, presented few counter arguments. This is what we are talking about. And this was the essence of my own plea to his Excellency Dr. Mustafa.

You said, quite eloquently,

There is not much to know about Syrians frankly. Their DNA is not unlike that of other people in the world. They are just as interested in higher standards of living, education and survival. Their leadership has supported Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran because it has correctly concluded that its back is against the wall and that it needs to find any allies it can find to help it stay alive.

But as Shai said, what is obvious to you and me is not as clear cut to others. We all know that there exists a very distorted picture of Syria, her people, and her political leadership, not only in Israel, but also in most of the western world and chiefly in the US. Who and what we are will never become as clear to others as it is to us if our message continues to be filtered as happened to Dr. Mustafa’s message earlier today on Ha’aretz’s pages. We need to do something about that, and Shai has a heartfelt sincere suggestion of how to do so. We should at least give his argument due thinking for after all, he knows his own society.

I agree that this is not a beauty contest, but it is a war of ideas. The goal is to make sure that all sides recognize that peace is in everyone’s interest. Please note that none of us argued against the principles for a just peace as outlined by our capable Ambassador herein and elsewhere, for most of us are fully behind him in recognizing the fundamental tenets of a just peace. What we are doing, including you, is to explore the merit of bypassing those in Israel who have interests in prolonging the occupation, and assessing the value of talking directly to the Israeli society through some of its enlightened representatives and their own press. No one is saying that such discussions will be rosy and full of complements.

Personally, I am not in favor of a direct meeting with the Israeli leadership before both sides agree that direct negotiation is essential. The negotiations are a tricky process and I am old enough to recognize that no official can risk a meeting where her or his words could be misinterpreted and misrepresented. As such, and similar to most Syrians, I am not in favor of Mr. Assad attempting to repeat Sadat’s trip before solid agreement is made and is on its way to implementation, but I think that eventually a meeting in a neutral ground (e.g., Turkey), followed by a border meeting is a good idea in due time. Needless to say, I can not and will not belie Shai’s description of the impact of Sadat’s trip to Israel on her people. He was there, I was not. In fact, i was in Syria where people were angry, and felt betrayed beyond measure. At my age then, i definitely shared these feelings.

That said, I am all for an exchange of Journalists, an exchange of water experts during the negotiation but outside the official channels of negotiations, and most importantly, a visit by few Israeli parliamentarians to Syria, again outside the official channels.

October 23rd, 2008, 4:29 am

 

Alex said:

I am for an exchange of journalists … a couple of months after we establish good contacts with a sane new American administration.

If we hear logical views and we are sure we can do business with them, then we should try to take more risks for peace.

Otherwise, probably there is no use … it all starts in Washington.

October 23rd, 2008, 5:15 am

 

Shai said:

Norman,

“I do not see any chance for peace with Israel without a war that will make the Israeli see that occupying the Golan and denying the Palestinians their rights is costly…”

You may be right. But I hope you’re not. I hope there’s still a chance to avoid war. Remember, we’re not talking about changing the minds of most Israelis, only 20% of them (30% of them are already for peace). When Menachem Begin presented a draft agreement with Egypt to his own Likud party, they called him a traitor. But the entire Left supported him, and some on the Right. That was enough. This is a democracy (well, sort of), and if 51% of my nation supports peace, that’s good enough for me.

Norman, I’m asking you to understand that from our side, this conflict is absolutely NOT about rational things, but about emotional ones. Israeli fears of Syria are anything but rational. Why would Israelis fear Syrian tanks rolling off the hills of the Golan headed towards Tel-Aviv, in this day and age, when it is doubtful that a mechanic can change the oil in such a tank, without spy satellites showing if he shaved that morning or not. We are no longer living in 1973, and Israel’s military might has only increased exponentially since. True, we cannot conquer Syria, or Lebanon, or even Palestine (as I’m hoping my people are starting to understand), but we can certainly thwart any attempt to destroy us. Most Israelis are not convinced by that. They still think Syria and Syrians are sitting in their living rooms each evening, after dinner, with operational maps depicting Israeli cities, not just the Golan. I’m being cynical, but the psyche is probably not that far from the truth. They are afraid of you Norman, and they find Assad’s visits to Tehran less than “reassuring”.

I am more of a “scientist” than I am an “artist”, so I tend to look at life through my own set of rational-lens. When faced with a problem (like the Arab-Israeli conflict), I try to remove any emotional barriers that may be in the way, and analyze the problem through every angle I can find, including and especially my enemy’s (how does my enemy see me, through his skin, not mine, and what rationale sits behind his actions as a consequence). But most cannot do that. Most wake up in the morning, hear of some Arab kid throwing a stone at a settler (or rather 12 settlers with masks coming to beat up on the poor kid), and say “You see – they hate us! And (the implied) will not stop until we’re gone.” Most Israelis don’t ask themselves why Arabs hate them. They don’t turn on their self-introspection engine. They don’t look in the mirror. They don’t empathize with the Arabs, in any fashion. And this is what I want to change. If it is the emotions of most Israelis that are blocking their decision for peace, it is on this realm that we must traverse as well.

If Israelis learned about Syria, if they saw Syrians through the eyes and camera of an Israeli journalist, if they heard Syrian voices speaking (interviewed) directly at them, demonstrating their human, natural peaceful tendencies, the Israeli viewer would change. He would open up more. He would start thinking about you, not only about himself. He would consider, that indeed there may really be a human being behind that “Syrian enemy” label he’s always heard of. He would, finally, consider YOUR rights and legitimate concerns, not only his own.

Look at AIG’s argument, about democracy. He claims he’s not sure most Syrians want peace. To me, that’s an absurd argument. But wouldn’t it be easier for me to say to him “AIG, you saw the interview last night, you saw the people talking to you, stop pretending. Stop demonizing, and stop the excuses. If those Syrians spoke Hebrew, you couldn’t tell they weren’t Israeli. We look the same, we talk the same, we ARE the same.” Norman, this is what I want. I’m not asking Bashar Assad to kneel to Israel’s might. I’m not asking him to recognize the Zionist project. I’m not asking Syrians to give up on anything, to put on a show, to “please” Israelis. I simply want to lift those covers off my people’s eyes and hears when it comes to Syria. I want Israelis to see and learn what I have here on SC over all the past 6-8 months. Was it clear to me before that Syrians are normal peaceful human beings, with similar DNA, with legitimate rights? Of course. Did SC still change me? Absolutely! How? By making me want peace EVEN more. By realizing EVEN more how my own leadership has hijacked my nation’s past, present, and future. How idiotic and cruel this 60-year conflict has been, and still is. I understand EVEN more your legitimate concerns, and I am able to understand even better why things happen as they do, and yet still derive great optimism.

This interaction, Norman, is of utmost importance. It is not meant to replace the hard work of negotiation, the courage required by leaders to choose the right fate for their people, the price that must be paid in order to have peace. It is merely meant to help change the minds of simple men and women who know more about Sarah Palin, than they do about their neighbors. The emotional barriers that have blocked progress in my country have to come down. It is our job to start this process, and not only with handshakes in some obscure executive lounge in a Turkish hotel.

October 23rd, 2008, 5:18 am

 

Rumyal said:

Hello all,

I believe Shai’s question regarding why Syria wouldn’t do anything that would imply the littlest of recognition of Israel has been left answered.

Shai has asked why is it the case that Pakistan and India can participate in mutual cultural activities while some of their biggest differences haven’t been resolved yet, while Syria cannot do the same with Israel. I don’t think we need to go as far as India. Syria has lost territory not only to Israel but also to Turkey—the Askandaron region. In fact I think the family of the honorable ambassador Dr. Moustapha is from that region, I remember reading in his blog that he still has family there. Yet Dr. Moustapha lists Turkey as one of Syria’s regional allies. What is the difference between Turkey and Israel, in the eyes of Syria? There is really just one fundamental difference, which is not the difference between the “Turkish occupation” and the “Israeli occupation” of Syrian territory but really is the fundamental lack of legitimacy of the Israeli regime in Syrian eyes.

The Syrians and Turks have lived alongside each other for centuries. While there is much to divide these peoples, they are intimately aware of what the other “looks and feels” like and have earned each others’ recognition. On the other hand the Israel phenomenon is recent and has been extremely disruptive to the fabric of the area. If the dispute between Turkey and Syria can be thought of as a dispute between two farmers whose families have been cultivating adjacent plots for generations, then the Israeli-Syrian dispute is conceived by the Syrians (and all Arabs) to be between a farmer and a band of squatters. Recognizing a squatter as somebody who has the right to exist on what was formerly your land is a huge blow to your dignity and dignity is extremely important to Syria.

Another difference is of course the total lack of knowledge that we have about each other. Since the conflict is so recent and so traumatic, we never had the time to know each other and this means fertile ground for demonization. While the demonization may be accurate at the national level it is almost always inaccurate at the personal level.

Now we as Israelis have taken both what happened to be defined as “Palestinian” and “Syrian” land. The Syrians as guardians of Arabism must see to it that there is something just done about those two “plots”, not just one. They do that by empowering Palestinian organizations to reach a just settlement for their “plot”. However, as long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved in a satisfactory manner, we cannot expect the Syrians or the Arabs in general to be all warm and fuzzy about their new peace deal with Israel. How would it look if SANA had to write in its front page about an Israeli soccer team coming to Damascus AND right next to this about a Palestinian youth that was killed in the West bank? (In this respect, promising the moon and stars from economical perspective to the Syrians, as Avi Salam suggested, is both unrealistic (didn’t happen with Jordan, why would it happen with Syria?) and irrelevant.)

Israel is leading a very lonely life in the region. After a hundred year of isolation, being surrounded by enemies, people in Israel are hysterical and aggressive and it influences every aspect of their lives, public as well as private. This is apparent from the talkbacks you see on Israeli news papers. The Israelis are desperate to be recognized but they are unable to fathom the radical changes that are necessary in the Israeli society and regime in order to be accepted in the Arab realm.

I believe the Israelis are aware of the above facts in a very intuitive manner, even if these truths are not voiced frequently. The Israelis want to maintain the “Jewish character of Israel” which is a code name for less friendly things and they know that as long as this is going to be the case the Arab nation will not reconcile itself with Israel’s existence. Under those circumstances a peace treaty between Israel and Syria will be a “cold” one, tantamount to a non-belligerency pact, such as the one we have with Egypt. Cold peace with Syria may empower Israel to further suppress the Palestinians which will further increase the popular animosity towards Israel and will delegitimize the regime in Syria. Thus it’s in nobody’s best long-term interest to leave the Palestinians hanging.

Given all of the above I find Imad Moustapha’s stance towards government-sponsored CBM’s highly logical and responsible. But I DO believe that there is a lot to be done on a non-governmental level—that is the only way out of the deadlock. We just shouldn’t expect it to be sanctioned by governments. This blog is a great example of the progress that can be made in a grass-roots manner. However, the fact that the Internet cannot be used freely inside Syria guarantees that such exercises will be limited to ex-pats. So, there you have it—the only way to transform the minds of the populations is through grass-roots activities, and those are impossible due to regime restrictions that block them.

If I were in the Syrian regime’s position I would recognize the urgent need for transformation that Shai is talking about. There is no way that Tzipi Livni can tell the average Moshe on the street “trust me, the Syrians will be awesome” and Moshe accepting, because Moshe needs to see and hear with his own eyes. Even if Moshe trusted Livni he is keenly aware that she probably knows as little as he does—she grew within the walls of isolation, too. He needs hard evidence that will convince him it’s OK to let go of the battle axe. But as discussed it is exceedingly difficult for the Syrian government to provide such evidence. If I were the Syrian regime I would consider allowing some grass-roots peace movements to spring and do the job for the government. Risky for the regime, maybe, but necessary, too.

October 23rd, 2008, 6:16 am

 

Rumyal said:

From ynet: ‘Assad is the next Sadat’

At the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s conference on foreign policy for 2009, signs of change in ‘the very fundamentals’ of how Israel’s diplomats see Syrian President Bashar Assad. Due to the complexities of the Palestinian situation, say officials, if Damascus proves its earnestness Israel may find it a better candidate for peace

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3611904,00.html

October 23rd, 2008, 6:59 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Their DNA is not unlike that of other people in the world. They are just as interested in higher standards of living, education and survival. Their leadership has supported Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran because it has correctly concluded that its back is against the wall and that it needs to find any allies it can find to help it stay alive. If 70% of Israel cannot understand that, there is precious little that Syria can do.

Signature Saghir… 🙂

It’s important to recognize that people can look at the history and admit that Syria failed here while Israel succeeded; Syria did a poor job on this while Israel did a great job, etc. Everyone from the humblest commentators on this forum to the Ambassador himself is pragmatic and realistic about the record, tactically speaking. My question is: do we want our children to be making the same observations 30 years from now?

Sometimes it is good to be tight-lipped and conservative, but sometimes you miss opportunities to change people’s minds.

October 23rd, 2008, 8:28 am

 

Naji said:

So, what’s with today’s sudden “barrage”…?! Who still remembers the old Beirut stuff these days…?!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/23/opinion/23mcfarlane.html?th&emc=th

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/23/opinion/23gaddo.html?th&emc=th

October 23, 2008
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
From Beirut to 9/11

By ROBERT C. McFARLANE
IN the summer of 1983, I became President Ronald Reagan’s special representative to the Middle East, with the mission of restoring a measure of calm to Israel’s relations with her neighbors, starting with Lebanon. At the time, Lebanon was occupied by Syrian and Israeli forces — Syria since shortly after Lebanon’s civil war began in 1975, and Israel since its invasion in June of the previous year.

Scarcely three months into that assignment, however, I was recalled to Washington and named the president’s national security adviser. Just after midnight on Friday, Oct. 21, I was awakened by a call from Vice President George H. W. Bush, who reported that several East Caribbean states had asked the United States to send forces to the Caribbean island of Grenada to prevent the Soviet Union and Cuba from establishing a base there. I called the president and Secretary of State George Shultz, who were on a golfing trip in Augusta, Ga., and received approval to have our forces prepare to land within 72 hours.

Then, less than 24 hours later I was awakened again, this time by the duty officer at the White House situation room, who reported that United States Marine barracks in Lebanon had been attacked by Iranian-trained Hezbollah terrorists with heavy losses. Again, I called the president, and he prepared for an immediate return to Washington to deal with both crises.

Today is the 25th anniversary of that bombing, which killed 241 Americans who were part of a multinational peacekeeping force (a simultaneous attack on the French base killed 58 paratroopers). The attack was planned over several months at Hezbollah’s training camp in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon. Once American intelligence confirmed who was responsible and where the attack had been planned, President Reagan approved a joint French-American air assault on the camp — only to have the mission aborted just before launching by the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger. Four months later, all the marines were withdrawn, capping one of the most tragic and costly policy defeats in the brief modern history of American counterterrorism operations.

One could draw several conclusions from this episode. To me the most telling was the one reached by Middle Eastern terrorists, that the United States had neither the will nor the means to respond effectively to a terrorist attack, a conclusion seemingly borne out by our fecklessness toward terrorist attacks in the 1990s: in 1993 on the World Trade Center; on Air Force troops at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998; on the destroyer Cole in 2000.

There was no effective response from the United States to any of these. It was not until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that our country decided to go to war against radical Islam.

A second conclusion concerns the age-old maxim never to deploy a force without giving it a clear military mission. In 1983, the Marine battalion positioned at the Beirut Airport was assigned the mission of “presence”; that is, to lend moral support to the fragile Lebanese government. Secretary of State Shultz and I urged the president to give the marines their traditional role — to deploy, at the invitation of the Lebanese government, into the mountains alongside the newly established Lebanese Army in an effort to secure the evacuation of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon.

Secretary Weinberger disagreed. He felt strongly that American interests in the Middle East lay primarily in the region’s oil, and that to assure access to that oil we ought never to undertake military operations that might result in Muslim casualties and put at risk Muslim goodwill.

Cabinet officers often disagree, and rigorous debate and refinement often lead to better policy. What is intolerable, however, is irresolution. In this case the president allowed the refusal by his secretary of defense to carry out a direct order to go by without comment — an event which could have seemed to Mr. Weinberger only a vindication of his judgment. Faced with the persistent refusal of his secretary of defense to countenance a more active role for the marines, the president withdrew them, sending the terrorists a powerful signal of paralysis within our government and missing an early opportunity to counter the Islamist terrorist threat in its infancy.

Since 9/11 we have learned a lot about the threat from radical Islam and how to defeat it. Our commitment to Iraq is now being vindicated and, if sustained, will enable us to establish an example of pluralism in a Muslim state with a flourishing economy.

First, however, we must win in Afghanistan — truly the decisive battleground in this global struggle. Never has there been a greater need for experience and judgment in the White House. Unless our next president understands the complexity of the challenge as well as what it will take to succeed, and can lead his cabinet and our country in resolute execution of that strategy, we will lose this war.

Robert C. McFarlane was the national security adviser from 1983 to 1985.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

October 23, 2008
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Lebanon’s Bloody Sunday

By RANDY GADDO
I REMEMBER that the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, in Beirut was pleasant and sunny; there was a light breeze, and it was very quiet. Sunday was generally a day of rest. We were usually given an extra ration of sleep and then a treat, omelets, at the barracks mess hall. We had no more omelets after Oct. 23.

I had gotten up early because I had work to do. As a Marine staff sergeant and a photographer, I had been sent to Beirut to document the deployment of the troops that were going to try to bring peace to Lebanon after years of civil war. That morning I had eight rolls of film to develop and print before I helped the rest of my unit waterproof our bunker, a necessity because we were heading into the rainy season. I had set up a makeshift photo lab in the only place we could find running water, a third floor bathroom in the barracks, although I didn’t sleep in the building.

At 6 a.m. I was halfway over to the barracks from my tent, and I remember the birds were singing louder than I’d ever heard them, maybe because for a change there was no distant sound of artillery in the mountains. I decided I needed a cup of coffee before I went to work, so I turned back to the combat operations center and got a cup and sat down at my little field desk to plan my day.

About 20 minutes later I heard two or three shots from an M-16. Before I had time to wonder, I felt a hot rush of air on my face, like a blast furnace. Then I heard and felt a thunderous thud and was lifted up and tossed back several feet like a rag doll.

I was dazed, but fortunately I had my helmet and flak jacket on, and they absorbed a lot of the shock wave. My first thought was that a rocket or artillery round must have hit close by, so I went outside expecting to see a smoldering hole outside the tent. What I did see is something I’ll never forget.

Over in the direction of the barracks, where I’d been headed 20 minutes earlier, I saw a mushroom cloud rising several hundred feet in the air. I took off running toward it, and I remember that as I rounded a corner of a building I saw that all the leaves had been stripped from every tree and bush in sight. I saw the cover of an ammo can embedded in the trunk of one tree.

Then, when I reached a spot where normally I would have seen the barracks, I saw the control tower of the Beirut International Airport, which was next to our camp. I stopped dead in my tracks — this simply wasn’t what I was supposed to be seeing. Then things went into slow motion for a while. A heavy gray dust was drifting down, covering everything like a thick blanket. As my brain started engaging again, I focused and began to see things, human things that snapped me back to reality because, without going into gruesome detail, it was obvious many men had died.

I ran back to the combat operations center to report what I’d seen and get help. I saw my boss, Maj. Bob Jordan, our public affairs officer, covered with dust and looking dazed because he’d been blown out of his rack too. I said — or probably yelled, I don’t recall — “The barracks is gone!”

Now, those words in Beirut in 1983 were as impossible to comprehend as the words “the twin towers are gone” were before 9/11. The barracks was a fortress with two-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls. It had served as a headquarters for Israeli troops; it had withstood artillery and heavy naval gunfire with barely a scratch. Yet it was gone. And with it, some 220 marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers died. Hundreds more were injured.

Five years ago, at the 20th anniversary remembrance of the bombing at the Beirut Memorial in Jacksonville, N.C., I met one of the many American children who were left fatherless that day. She had been a baby when the terrorists had killed her father, a Marine captain. She had come to find out about her father from the men who had served with him. Her father had written her many letters from Beirut; she had one with her and let me read it.

He had written it in September 1983. In it, he told her that people back home would question why the United States was involved in Beirut and why it was important to let the people there gain their freedom. He told her that it was far better to confront the terrorist enemy there where they lived rather than have to fight them 20 years later in the United States.

It turns out he was right about everything but the time frame — it took only 18 years for the war to come to America.

Had we stood our ground 25 years ago instead of pulling out after the bombing, it is possible that 9/11 would not have happened. Likewise, anyone who thinks we can pull back into a shell now and hope terrorism will go away simply isn’t looking at the lessons history offers.

People ask if we are accomplishing anything in Iraq and Afghanistan. I say yes. Terrorists no longer have a safe haven in Afghanistan. If we pull out of Iraq before the time is right, guess who moves in: Iran. The same Iran that trained the Hezbollah bombers who killed 241 of my comrades on that October morning in Beirut. Do we want to look back 25 years from now and regret not having stayed the course again?

Randy Gaddo is the director of Parks, Recreation and Library Services for Peachtree City, Ga.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

October 23rd, 2008, 9:33 am

 

Naji said:

I guess that damn spam filter got my last comment…!?

October 23rd, 2008, 9:35 am

 

SAGHIR said:

Habibi Qifa,

Some of us don’t have the Harvard PhD credentials, eloquence or pedigree. We are left with little choice but rely on “signiture” phraseology 🙂

October 23rd, 2008, 12:14 pm

 

kooki said:

Thanks, Norman, for cutting and pasteing the contents of the Haaretz link. The main Syrian broadband provider blocks access to it, and, sadly, in the last week or two, they have added the Jerusalem Post to the list of “access denied” sites.

October 23rd, 2008, 12:26 pm

 

Interview with Imad Moustapha « the human province said:

[…] with Imad Moustapha Via Qifa Nabki, Syria Comment is hosting an interesting interview with Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustpaha. There will apprently be a second part, but […]

October 23rd, 2008, 12:35 pm

 

Joshua Landis said:

My hunch is that Syria feels that it has made significant effort to compromise with Israel and the West.

1. It has tried twice to form a unified Palestinian leadership to promote deal-making. These efforts have met with rejection by Israel and Washington, which prefer to believe they can destroy Hamas in order to divide the West Bank and keep all Jerusalem in Israeli hands.

2. Syria has compromised in Lebanon – allowing for Suleiman’s election and not pushing the Hizbullah victory on the ground to its logical conclusion in order to build up Aoun and the more “acceptable” opposition members in the cabinet. Hizbullah has not asked for a major rewrite of Taif.

3. Syria has curtailed infiltration into Iraq even though Washington has refused to reward it or resend an Ambassador. It has not complied completely with US demands on the border, but it has shown good will in the face of a powerful US diplomatic boycott.

4. Meanwhile the US has shown no indication that it has changed its fundamental thinking. Hizbullah is still regarded as the A team of terror, which must be dismantled – probably by force.

The Syrian leadership, as a “minority regime”, is in a special category of illegitimacy among Middle Eastern dictatorships. Washington must make a special example of it in order to show that it has not abandoned its rather cynical “freedom agenda,” even as it embraces dictators in Riyadh, Cairo, and elsewhere many of whom hold more political prisoners in their jails than Syria does.

Both candidates continue to promise that they will use military force to stop Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear power on its territory.

Clearly distrust is at the heart of the inability to break out of the vicious cycle of wars and violence. It is a mistake, however, to disregard Syria’s willingness to show flexibly. So far, none of this has been rewarded by Washington – at least not overtly.

Many signs indicate that the US and Israel are just taking a breather following the Bush failures – not that they are ready for real change. Syria needs to see some indication of real change.

At the same time, Syrian conservatives can look at Syria’s successes in the regional game of power politics to demand that Syria not make more concessions. After all, they will argue to Syria’s peaceniks, “we are winning! Why make more concessions, if Washington and Jerusalem are too stupid to recognize this.”

Iraqi Shiites are giving Washington the shaft. Iraq’s Shiite leadership will consolidate their hold on power and move in Iran and Syria’s direction, helping to break the US imposed economic sanctions on the two.

Turkey has moved decisively toward a more pro-Syria and Iran policy. Washington and Israel can no longer use it as against its enemies.

Russia has become angered at Washington and more willing to defend Iran and Syria in the Security Council and to arm them. Russian arms are improving in quality again.

France and Europe are not keen to continue Washington’s hard line against Syria.

Europe is also fed up with the weakness of Lebanon and March 14th’s powerlessness to do anything but deliver fine sound bites.

Hizbullah has shown excellent leadership and military prowess that is a game changer.

India and China are on the way up in the world and want good relations with Iran and Syria. They give Damascus hope that in 20 years there will be real changes in the world balance of power. They have no connection to holocaust guilt or the Christian belief that Jews are the chosen people and the messiah will return only when Jews have settled all the land.

The West is in deep economic trouble and will not want to throw more resources away fighting Middle East wars they cannot win.

Afghanistan is going very badly.

Pakistan is moving away from the Washington camp. The Bush military campaign in Wizirastan will cause an alergic reaction against the US.

All of these considerations will cause Syria to hold the line on concessions it is willing to make. Syria is not going to flip. If the West wants change, it will have to deal with Iran-Syria-and-HIzbullah as they are and bring them along together. Not as the West dreams they should be or in divide and rule fashion. There is no trust for this kind of approach.

My hunch is that the Syrian leadership believes that Israel can gain acceptance among the broad mass of Arabs and Middle Easterners, but only by making very painful concessions – concessions that it shows no interest or inclination of making.

Olmert pointed in this direction when he came was out of office, but was widely mocked for his wisdom – and of course he could never have said these things while in authority – a bad sign.

There is a very wide gap between the two countries – perhaps less than there is between Palestinians and Israelis – but it is very wide. I think that is why many believe there will be another war before there is compromise – alas.

October 23rd, 2008, 3:34 pm

 

saghir said:

Dear Professor,

Brilliant commentary

October 23rd, 2008, 3:45 pm

 

Shai said:

Joshua,

Your analysis is, as usual, excellent. It worries me, however, that most in the U.S. or Israel do not see it this way. Most still believe that Syria can be “flipped”. That Syria is just dying for an opportunity to join the exclusive “club” of Western nations, ready to give up on any unnatural alliances such as Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. This stubborn and one-sided view will cause further delay in peace and, unfortunately, lead to further violence. We must find leaders that are open-minded, confident, and suffer from less arrogance. I hope Obama is such a leader – we’ve yet to see.

What is your view of the ideas I’ve raised above, specifically regarding the need for Syria to communicate with the Israeli public? Are we not suffering from a similar mental-block when we attribute too much to Israelis, assuming they’re electing leaders who do not promote peace, because they (the public) are not interested in it? Are we not underestimating the power of communication, and the potential of “educating” the Israeli public through various means, other than handshakes in a Turkish hotel? I’m convinced a journalist-exchange would have tremendous effect on the average Israeli who is, as I’ve stated, terribly ignorant of his neighbors, and sees Syria merely through 2nd-hand interpretations (e.g. Ha’aretz quoting a Kuwaiti paper, etc.) What are your thoughts on this? How do we move forward, despite existing and anticipated stagnation on the political front? Must we truly invest our future solely in the hands of a handful of self-interested, often amateur, politicians?

October 23rd, 2008, 3:51 pm

 

norman said:

Dear Joshua,

well said , we should have a collection of your analysis in one folder for review .

Do you think that time is in Israel side or against Israel?.

October 23rd, 2008, 4:18 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Prof. Landis

As usual, you provided a very informed and informative list of facts followed by a reasoned analysis. I have been thinking of the possible impacts of of a face change in Iran that may result from Iran’s upcoming presidential election in June. I understand that two days ago, Larijani indicated that he will not challange Nejad, but could a challenge from Khatami succeed. Of course, such may depend on the US election. But is it possible that the economic difficulties in Iran may give the reformers a better chance and may result in removing one of the emotional obstacles for improved US-Iran relationship

October 23rd, 2008, 4:28 pm

 

Alex said:

Excellent analysis Joshua.

The very wide gap between Syria and Israel is not too difficult to bridge … if Washington is willing to work on it.

All they have to do is ask our friend Shai to advise them what each side needs to say and do, and in what sequence.

Otherwise, I can imagine the next Netanyahu government in Israel, along with Israel’s friends in the west countering Joshua’s points with:

1) Falling price of oil will make it impossible for Iran to continue supporting terror, and it will hurt Russia and force it to compromise with the west again

2) Syrian economy will suffer as Syria’s oil dries out completely in few years and as the population growth rate continues t be very high …

3) Israel is the only democracy, Syria is a supporter of terror …

Of course, Hizbollah and Hamas and Syria and Iran will continue to be allies… and they will continue to have “the Arab street” behind them … forcing “the Arab moderates” at some point to realize that “moderation” might start to threaten their regime’s survival.

Aging Saudi king Abdullah (84) and his crown prince Sultan (serious health problems) both gone … no successor has the approval of all the power centers in the Kingdom … More is expected in terms of urgently needed reforms yet the ultra conservative half the Saudi population will resist those reforms more and more …

Conclusion? … American strategists and think tankers should not bother analyzing and planning their country’s long term strategy in the Middle East … There isn’t much under their country’s control … only God knows what will happen if a comprehensive settlement is not reached within a year or two.

Everyone will sit and watch.

October 23rd, 2008, 4:35 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joshua,

Great commentary, as usual.

Do you think that the Arab Peace Initiative will have a better or worse chance of success following a deal on the Golan?

October 23rd, 2008, 5:56 pm

 

Joshua said:

Off to teach, habibi!!

October 23rd, 2008, 6:17 pm

 

Aatssi said:

Dr. Landis said:
1.It has tried twice to form a unified Palestinian leadership to promote deal-making. These efforts have met with rejection by Israel and Washington, which prefer to believe they can destroy Hamas in order to divide the West Bank and keep all Jerusalem in Israeli hands.
… “I would think Both the US and KSA Camp were against the way Syria conducted these efforts, Promoted “approved “ the Hamas take-over was only to a testing pad for testing the will of the Western reaction for any future Hezbollah take-over of the stalemated issues in the ground.This was a successful strategic move by Iran and Syria as re-mix the cards for now. but please keep in mind, It’s unfair to assum that the PLO were ready to let\sell Jerusalem..
2. Syria has compromised in Lebanon – allowing for Suleiman’s election and not pushing the Hizbullah victory on the ground to its logical conclusion in order to build up Aoun and the more “acceptable” opposition members in the cabinet. Hizbullah has not asked for a major rewrite of Taif.
—-Aoun Was never part of a Syrian solution to re-gain influence and preserve interest or Strategy. The Syrian Regime never trust him !!
3. Syria has curtailed infiltration into Iraq even though Washington has refused to reward it or resend an Ambassador. It has not complied completely with US demands on the border, but it has shown good will in the face of a powerful US diplomatic boycott.
— I am not sure what kind of reward you maybe seeing? but are you saying that Syria was allowing infiltration into Iraq in the past to hurt the Iraqis and US, now they Stopped curtailed it and asking a rewarded for not doing bad deed anymore… sound like a Mafia act to me!!..
4. Meanwhile the US has shown no indication that it has changed its fundamental thinking. Hezbollah is still regarded as the A team of terror, which must be dismantled – probably by force.
—I agree.

October 23rd, 2008, 6:19 pm

 

Joshua said:

I think the Arab Peace Initiative is a non-starter. I am sorry to say that because I wish it were possible to achieve. It provides a sane and just solution — but I fear the “facts on the ground” have left it in the dust.

October 23rd, 2008, 6:20 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Joshua

Good luck in the classroom.

The original version of my question to you was this:

“Can you explain to me how Syria’s negotiations will factor into the Arab Peace Initiative? The only problem with this initiative, as I understand it, is that it is a non-starter.”

So we agree on that.

The reason it is a non-starter is because of the right of return clause.

Abbas agrees with us, by the way.

So how is Syria, if at all, going to address this?

October 23rd, 2008, 6:46 pm

 

Observer said:

I firstly disagree with Alex that it all starts with Washington. The Arab Israeli conflict will not be resovled in Washington. Washington wants the conflict to continue its empire. If there is peace there is no need to have a significant foot print to open markets insure the flow of cheap oil and hold the hand on the world spigot.
If Alex means an agreement by an illegitamte signing ceremony between the dictators of the ME and Israel without a true plebiscit from the populations then this is possible and you will get a deal that secures Israeli interests and make the Arab dictator a mere secretary of the Israeli prime ministerial office just as Mubarak and Abdallah II are at this time.

If a true peace deal is to be done, I would propose that the Saudi initiative be put to a referendum in the Arab countries first and let us see if the populations of the 22 Arab states are in favor of it.
The conflict will not be resolved without justice. If justice is not accorded to the aggrieved parties then there will be only a lull in the fighting.

If the leadership in Syria think that “re integration ” into the West will result in full acceptance and open borders and cooperation in economic scientific enviromental and social arenas they are mistaken. If they think that Israel will give up the Golan without exacting a complete abrogation of Syrian sovereignty like they did to Jordan and Egypt then they are the most naive people in the world.

The West has expended its use of force without success in Iraq. The Shock and Awe has resulted in a true Shock at how incompetent the US administration is and how short sighted they were.
Now as a deterrent they only have the use of nuclear power and some neo cons are advocating that : “what use are the nuclear arsenals if we cannot selectively use them “.

In a more global sense the situation has dramatically changed: the following countries have debt superior to their GDP Iceland, Ukraine, Hungary, Belaruss, and Pakistan. Argentina is close behind. The UK has also reached a critical point of debt beyond its ability to pay it back.

The consequences of such turmoil are unknown and can go in a number of ways
The dollar loses its role as a reserve currency
The Euro goes back to a level reflective of the true economic power of the eurozone
Recession will be long and deep

On the political side, there will be a withdrawal from Iraq and a complete re examination of Afghanistan. How Pakistan goes will determine to a large extent how much damage there will be to the West.

Instability is increasing and non state actors are replacing failed states in many places: Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Gaza, Pakistan, Nigeria, Columbia, Bolivia. Supranational problems have no national solutions and there are no institutions available to address them. The UN ” le Gros Machin ” as DeGaulle called it is in deep existential crisis.
Cheers

October 23rd, 2008, 7:00 pm

 

Shai said:

QN, Joshua,

I fully agree with you. The Arab Initiative is today a fantasy. Peres’s delusions and his belief in a “New Middle East” tomorrow morning will not be sufficient to make multilateral negotiation with the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians, and the rest of the Arab world, all at once, possible. This is precisely why Olmert sent his advisors to talk to Syria. But, like most wise-men in our region, he was too little too late. And now, our ancient Peres has once again identified a vacuum in Israel’s political arena, and will be attempting to manipulate it as best as he can. He’s already with Mubarak in Cairo today, trying to market the Saudi Plan. See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1030858.html. Please notice, Syria is not mentioned even once!

Tzipi Livni has just announced that this coming Sunday, it will be determined whether we have a new government, or new elections. She is attempting to pressure all the various parties that have tried to pressure her to succumb to their requests (more like blackmail if you ask me). Problem is, they may well call her bluff, and less than 72 hours from now, we may be heading for new elections in Israel. In a way, it may be a blessing in disguise, because it may at least lead to the election of a powerful and determined PM in Israel, namely the infamous Netanyahu (Round II). Seeing how the Peres-Livni-Barak initiative is now pushing for the Saudi Plan, quite likely at the expense of continuing along the Syrian track (which, by all accounts seems to have been progressing extremely well), highlights for me the desperate need for change in Israel (apologies to Obama). Can Netanyahu become a 2nd Begin? I don’t know. But I fear Peres, Livni, or Barak, have just disqualified themselves from such a possibility.

We are left with very poor choices in Israel. My nation is simply not producing the kind of leaders that can take us to a brighter future. So the question remains, what can be done about it? Should we, or can we, give up? It’s the easiest choice, no doubt. We can feel justified in making clear-cut statements like “If Israelis don’t understand the merits of peace, then there’s nothing we can do further…” And as QN said, we can let our children face these questions 30 years from now. But we must also realize that much blood will be shed until then. And we, and perhaps our children, will continue to pay the price.

Are there alternatives? I don’t know. But I do know that in the business world, when you want to close a deal that has strategic significance, and the company’s current management gets in the way, you find a way to speak to its shareholders, or to its board of directors. As a “shareholder” myself, I’ve seen firsthand the effects communicating through SC has been on my own views, and on my understanding of the conflict. I now want to find the way to pass this knowledge onward. It is an education, not a powerpoint presentation. And if Israel can’t educate us, perhaps it’s time someone else does. The only candidate that has proven itself worthy of that, in our region, is Syria. What have we got to lose?

October 23rd, 2008, 7:29 pm

 

norman said:

hi shai,

i will answer you later tonight,

October 23rd, 2008, 8:11 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

If they think that Israel will give up the Golan without exacting a complete abrogation of Syrian sovereignty like they did to Jordan and Egypt then they are the most naive people in the world.

Signature Observer. 🙂

October 23rd, 2008, 8:32 pm

 

Shai said:

Peres just keeps impressing us. Now he’s going to be knighted… http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3611965,00.html

Next he’ll be canonized, and then, khalifized… 🙂

October 23rd, 2008, 8:51 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Observer,

So, what’s going to happen?!

You can’t just leave us hanging…

A long and painful recession is coming, the world is order is collapsing, Israel’s got the region’s dictators by the balls and is hunting for more, the dollar is on its way out along with the Euro, states are failing all over the place…

AND???

October 23rd, 2008, 8:55 pm

 

norman said:

Shai,Rumyal,

When I came to the US in 1980 I was afraid that i will have difficulty in the US as many of the doctors if not most are Jewish , to my pleasant surprised i and my other Syrian doctors freind were helped most by these Doctors we were fearing , That continued after going into private practice , I want to add that the help is mutual most teh doctors i work with are Jewish , What made the change is contact and dealing with each other It is desegregation , It is knowing each other and that is what Israel failed to do after the 1967 war , Integration , even after the 1948 war with palestinian population that was there , during the civil rights movments , the desegragation of schools and the anti discremination laws in housing and employments were essential in decreasing the fear of the wights from the blacks to the point that we are on the verge of having the first African American president, people some time wonder about the reason that the majority wights gave all these rights to the Black , In my opinion it is simple , They had the forsight to know how to avoid a civil war ,
Israel should do the same and show the Palestinian that it care about them , The only way for peace is for Israel is to show the aplestinians that there is a future for them and their children not only the Israeli children ,

Shai, when was the last time or the first time that an Israeli leader said that he care about the Palestinian suffering , never happened , It si apparent that Paestinian and Arab blood does not count and that is one of the most obscle to peace , the only way for people to care about is to show them that you care about them.

Peace between Israel on one side and Syria , Lebanon , Iran and the Palestinians has to come at the same time .

After the agreement is reached these countries should start a marketing campain to sell the deal , I think that people are tired of wars and would love peace if it was p

October 24th, 2008, 1:47 am

 

innocent_criminal said:

Yeah Observer, tell is a bit more about the impending doom and this New World Order. 😉

Shai – like many here, i do not share your enthusiasim for Netenyahu, but i understand it. This is way i’d also tell you that the powers that be (the one that pushes certain leaders to power) will make sure none of them will have a comprehensive mandate. a key factor to reach a peace treaty. Hence why Livni is almost certain to be PM (even if an early election is called)

October 24th, 2008, 2:04 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Responding to Post 38:

1. It has tried twice to form a unified Palestinian leadership to promote deal-making. These efforts have met with rejection by Israel and Washington, which prefer to believe they can destroy Hamas in order to divide the West Bank and keep all Jerusalem in Israeli hands.

Please back up your statement that the US and Israel “…believe they can destroy Hamas…”.

2. Syria has compromised in Lebanon – allowing for Suleiman’s election and not pushing the Hizbullah victory on the ground to its logical conclusion in order to build up Aoun and the more “acceptable” opposition members in the cabinet. Hizbullah has not asked for a major rewrite of Taif.

Syria is no position to control Lebanon anymore. This isn’t a “compromise” and this isn’t a “Hizbullah victory”. What it is is a very tenuous peace that, unfortuntely, can come apart at the drop of a pin (without any outside influences).

3. Syria has curtailed infiltration into Iraq even though Washington has refused to reward it or resend an Ambassador. It has not complied completely with US demands on the border, but it has shown good will in the face of a powerful US diplomatic boycott.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7018256/

4. Meanwhile the US has shown no indication that it has changed its fundamental thinking. Hizbullah is still regarded as the A team of terror, which must be dismantled – probably by force.

How sad. To call a spade a spade… The lack of tact is so unprofessional.

The Syrian leadership, as a “minority regime”, is in a special category of illegitimacy among Middle Eastern dictatorships. Washington must make a special example of it in order to show that it has not abandoned its rather cynical “freedom agenda,” even as it embraces dictators in Riyadh, Cairo, and elsewhere many of whom hold more political prisoners in their jails than Syria does.*

*and don’t support and export terrorism

Both candidates continue to promise that they will use military force to stop Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear power on its territory.

This is troubling…(for some)…

Clearly distrust is at the heart of the inability to break out of the vicious cycle of wars and violence. It is a mistake, however, to disregard Syria’s willingness to show flexibly. So far, none of this has been rewarded by Washington – at least not overtly.

Show more “willingness” and more “flexibility”;)

Many signs indicate that the US and Israel are just taking a breather following the Bush failures – not that they are ready for real change. Syria needs to see some indication of real change.

The term “Bush failures” is waaaaay too overused, especially now that Saddam is gone, al-Queda has been killed off and marginalized, Syria is out of Lebanon, the Taliban is not in power in Afghanistan, Iraq is an ally and democracy, and 2 WMD programs have finally been verifiably dismantled.

At the same time, Syrian conservatives can look at Syria’s successes in the regional game of power politics to demand that Syria not make more concessions.

New definitions for “failure” and “success” has finally emerged here on Syria Comment by the Co-director, Center for Middle East Studies
University of Oklahoma’s Professor Josh!

After all, they will argue to Syria’s peaceniks, “we are winning! Why make more concessions, if Washington and Jerusalem are too stupid to recognize this.”

What is Syria winning Professor Josh? A stuffed animal at a Damascus carnival? Please be more specific. Please list 10 Syrian “peaceniks” and why you think they are “peaceniks”.

Iraqi Shiites are giving Washington the shaft. Iraq’s Shiite leadership will consolidate their hold on power and move in Iran and Syria’s direction, helping to break the US imposed economic sanctions on the two.

Today’s article from the NYT has a different “spin”…

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9503E6D6173BF933A15752C1A9659C8B63

Turkey has moved decisively toward a more pro-Syria and Iran policy. Washington and Israel can no longer use it as against its enemies.

More opinion without proof. Yes, Iran and Syria have so much to offer the Turks. Why didn’t I think of that?

Russia has become angered at Washington and more willing to defend Iran and Syria in the Security Council and to arm them. Russian arms are improving in quality again.

Methinks our resident Professor is a professional cheerleader…

France and Europe are not keen to continue Washington’s hard line against Syria.

More opinion. Actually the Europeans are more concerned with the increase in Islamic Fundamentalism than the Americans and the Israelis.

Europe is also fed up with the weakness of Lebanon and March 14th’s powerlessness to do anything but deliver fine sound bites.

Europe is not about to change their alliances…

Hizbullah has shown excellent leadership and military prowess that is a game changer.

Their “military prowess” will not defeat Israel and will only create greater animosity within Lebanon. No Islamic dictatorship in the Middle East has produced the Utopia they all promise. Usually, the exact opposite…

India and China are on the way up in the world and want good relations with Iran and Syria. They give Damascus hope that in 20 years there will be real changes in the world balance of power.

The US gave hope to Middle Easteners that they can elect their own representatives and their own government.

They have no connection to holocaust guilt or the Christian belief that Jews are the chosen people and the messiah will return only when Jews have settled all the land.

Of course China and India don’t deny the holocaust either…

A rather normal comment considering the overwhelmingly anti-Israel sentiment on most college campuses and their total fascination with the thugs that make up the Middle East.

The West is in deep economic trouble and will not want to throw more resources away fighting Middle East wars they cannot win.

More anti-American cheerleading. The US will climb out of this economic downtrun within a year. Then, hopefully, our economy will climb to match that of Syria’s;)

Afghanistan is going very badly.

For the Taliban and al-Queda. Maybe. And Barack Obama doesn’t like Pakistan very mcuh either.

Pakistan is moving away from the Washington camp. The Bush military campaign in Wizirastan will cause an alergic reaction against the US.

Of course, Pakistan is being taken over by your freedom-fighter heroes.

All of these considerations will cause Syria to hold the line on concessions it is willing to make.

As Charles Johnson says on LGF: Quelle “Shocka!”

Syria is not going to flip.

OK, but Madeline Albright may not be happy…

If the West wants change, it will have to deal with Iran-Syria-and-HIzbullah as they are and bring them along together.

Translation: allow them to arm, terrorize, and occasionally kill a few Jews.

Not as the West dreams they should be or in divide and rule fashion. There is no trust for this kind of approach.

Saddam had the same demands…

My hunch is that the Syrian leadership believes that Israel can gain acceptance among the broad mass of Arabs and Middle Easterners, but only by making very painful concessions – concessions that it shows no interest or inclination of making.

Translation: Israel must return the Golan for something called peace that allows the Arabs to anihilate Israel at some later time.

Olmert pointed in this direction when he came was out of office, but was widely mocked for his wisdom – and of course he could never have said these things while in authority – a bad sign.

Israelis have been prepared for years to return the Golan for peace. Nothing new.

There is a very wide gap between the two countries – perhaps less than there is between Palestinians and Israelis – but it is very wide. I think that is why many believe there will be another war before there is compromise – alas.

Who knows? It’s been a while since the brave Syrians have fought their own battles…

October 24th, 2008, 2:40 am

 

Alex said:

Now, all of Lebanon knows about Syria Comment and about Ambassador Moustapha’s interview.

Assafir newspaper translated it:

http://www.assafir.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=2200&EditionId=1072&ChannelId=24487

تقاربنا مع إيران يحل الكثير من المسائل الإقليمية
عماد مصطفى: استراتيجية عربية أشمل ستحكم أي »علاقـة طويلـة« مع إسرائيل

قال السفير السوري في واشنطن عماد مصطفى، في حديث شامل مع موقع »سوريا كومنت« رداً على أسئلة وجهها قراء من مختلف الجنسيات، إن إسرائيل تدرك أن »حزب الله« قادر على إلحاق هزيمة أخرى بها، وربط أي علاقة طويلة المدى مع الإدارة الاسرائيلية بـ»خطة إستراتيجية عربية أشمل«، معتبراً أن على الاميركيين »استثمار التقارب« السوري الإيراني من اجل »إيجاد تسويات لكثير« من المسائل الإقليمية.
وسُئل مصطفى عما إذا كان بإمكانه »طمأنة اللبنانيين بأن بلادهم لن تكون مرغمة على دفع ثمن باهظ بسبب ثقافة المقاومة التي ينتهجها حزب الله، بعد أن تبرم سوريا اتفاق سلام مع إسرائيل«. استغرب السفير السؤال وصوبه، فـ»بعض اللبنانيين« فقط هم من »قد يشعرون بالقلق« من خطابات الأمين العام لـ»حزب الله« السيد حسن نصر الله، وإليه »يجب أن يوجهوا أسئلتهم لا إلى مسؤول سوري… أو حتى إلى الأميركيين«، واصفاً بـ»السخيف« القول بأن الحزب ينفذ أوامر تأتي من الخارج.
ولأولئك اللبنانيين الذين لديهم »مشكلة مع ثقافة المقاومة«، ذكّرهم مصطفى بأن »هذه الثقافة تطورت نتيجة عقود من العنف الإسرائيلي المتواصل والمفرط ضد لبنان«. ولأولئك »الذين يصرّون على البقاء في حالة الإنكار والذين يرفضون بأن الحزب شريك في ما يسمونه لبنانهم« حذّرهم مصطفى من أنهم »يتسببون لأنفسهم وللبنانهم بأذى كبير«، وحثهم على »القبول بأن لبنان لجميع مكوناته«. ودعاهم إلى »فتح حوار وطني شامل في ما بينهم«.
وحول ما إذا كانت دمشق قد »نصحت« المقاومة بعدم الثأر من إسرائيل لاغتيالها القيادي الشهيد عماد مغنية، أجاب مصطفى »سوريا لا تقدّم نصائح للحزب… هم يعرفون ما هو الأمثل للمقاومة اللبنانية«، معرباً عن اعتقاده الراسخ بأن »الحزب، الذي نُجلّه بشدة، قادر على الدفاع عن لبنان وإلحاق هزيمة مذلّة أخرى بالآلة العسكرية الإسرائيلية، إذا ما قررت مجدداً الاعتداء على لبنان«، وهـي حقيقة »بسيطة يدركها الإسرائيليون تماماً«.
وحول مفاوضات السلام مع إسرائيل، شرح مصطفى بأن »المقاربة السورية تأتي في إطار المبادرة العربية للسلام. أي أن أي علاقة طويلة المدى مع إسرائيل تأتي حتماً في إطار خطة استراتيجية عربية أشمل«، ستساعد في تحديدها »قدرة إسرائيل على معالجة المسألتين الأكثر صعوبة (في الصراع مع العرب): القدس وحق عودة اللاجئين، إلى جانب إعادة الأراضي المحتلة«، إذاً من »غير المنطقي توقع أن يقيم العرب علاقات دافئة مع إسرائيل فيما هي تواصل احتلالها لأراضيهم وإذلال الفلسطينيين«.
واستنكر مصطفى سؤالاً تحدث عن أن »حلفاء سوريا لا يعترفون بحق إسرائيل بالوجود«، قائلاً إن »معاتبة المحتلة أرضه لعدم الاعتراف بحق المحتل أمر لا أخلاقي، ذلك أشبه بمعاتبة الضحية«، إذ قبل أن تسن إسرائيل شروطها المسبقة »عليها أن تعترف بمعاناة الفلسطينيين«، عليها هي أن تعترف بحقهم في الوجود و»بدولة لهم، مستقلة قابلة للحياة«.
أما الحديث عن أن حلفاء سوريا قد يعارضون مفاوضاتها مع إسرائيل، أو عن إمكان »تخليها« عنهم، فهو بالنسبة لمصطفى »سخيف«، لأن »حلفاءنا يدركون أن أولويتنا الوطنية هي استعادة الجولان المحتل… بأي وسيلة«. وإذا كانت »واشنطن تحتاج أن تخلق شرخاً بين سوريا وإيران مثلاً«، فهي مخطئة، إذ عليها أن »تستثمر علاقتنا القوية بطهران، وأن تدرك أن بإمكاننا إيجاد تسويات لكثير من المسائل في منطقتنا«.
وشدد على أن سياسة بلاده الخارجية »لم تتغير منذ عقود، وهي مرتبطة بشكل وثيق بالتوصل إلى سلام وفق مبدأ الأرض مقابل السلام«، بناء على حدود ٤ حزيران ،١٩٦٧ مذكّراً بأن دمشق أعلنت »مراراً وتكراراً أن خيارها الاستراتيجي هو السلام«، الذي باتت فرصه »نادرة جداً« ويجب عدم »إضاعتها«، وذلك لا يعني »أننا ننقض على أي فرصة«، فبعد ثلاث محاولات سابقة فاشلة »تعلّمنا الدرس«، ولهذا »نقوم بالمفاوضات عبر أصدقائنا الأتراك… لأننا في حال انتقلنا إلى المفاوضات المباشرة نحتاج إلى ضمان أن تكون احتمالات نجاحها أكبر (من سابقاتها). وإذا كان الإسرائيليون مهتمين بالعمـلية لا بالسلام، سيتحملون المسؤولية، معنوياً وسياسياً. والتاريخ سيكون أقسى حكم«. وعما إذا كانت إقامة شرق أوسط خالٍ من النووي أمراً محتملاً، أجاب مصطفى انه »أمر ضروري«، إذ لا يمكن لإسرائيل أن تكون طرفاً في السلام »فيما هي تواصل تخزين أكثر الأسلحة التقليدية تطوراً، إلى جانب أسلحة الدمار الشامل«، وعلى الدولة العبرية »معالجة هذا التناقض«، و»الإذعان للقوانين الدولية«.
واعتبر مصطفى أن مصطلح »متدنية المستوى« الذي استخدمته وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية كوندليسا رايس لوصف العلاقات السورية الأميركية، »لم يعد قائماً«، فرايس هي من »طلبت« لقاء نظيرها السوري وليد المعلم، الذي عقد أيضاً محادثات »معمقة« مع مساعدها ديفيد ولش، الذي تحدّث عن »مصلحة أميركية في نوع من إعادة الحوار مع سوريا«، وعن »اهتمام الأميركيين بالمفاوضات غير المباشرة مع اسرائيل، ونيتهم الانخراط فيها«، متوقعاً أن »نشهد مزيداً من هذه اللقاءات رفيعة المستوى في المستقبل القريب… إلا إذا حُظر ذلك من قبل مراكز قوى داخل إدارة بوش«.
(»السفير«)

October 24th, 2008, 5:00 am

 

Alex said:

AND … in Syria too:

Champress:

http://www.champress.net/?page=show_det&select_page=1&id=31435

And it was also copied in full on All4Syria.org

October 24th, 2008, 5:13 am

 

Shai said:

Innocent Criminal,

Just to make it clear – I don’t share my “enthusiasm” with Netanyahu either! The thought of voting for a man who more closely resembles an arrogant neocon than a peace-loving liberal leader is indeed horrific. But the absurd political reality in Israel is, and has been, that precisely those who preach and rally against peace have the best chance to deliver it. So I can stick to my beliefs and my principles, and support the Left, or other smaller parties, and then what? Wait another 30 years before I look back and call myself naive? Or I can be pragmatic, when the times may call for that, and take a chance on my conscience. For the past 8 years, I know who has failed us. In a democracy, you sometimes have to give the opposition a chance, even if you innately distrust them. We could have had another 3 wars with Egypt, had it not been for Begin’s courage to return the Sinai to its rightful owner. I can’t see Livni, Barak, or anyone from the Left of Center returning the Golan or the West Bank. I wish this wasn’t the case.

October 24th, 2008, 5:18 am

 

Enlightened said:

Has peace broken out yet?

October 24th, 2008, 5:39 am

 

Shai said:

Enlightened,

Depends what you mean by “broken”… 🙂

October 24th, 2008, 6:20 am

 

Rumyal said:

Dear Norman,

(Can I call your ammo already? :-))

(It seems like your previous comment was cut mid-way.)

I am not sure as you are about what would be the correct order to do things. I do recognize the dangers to both sides of a bi-lateral peace agreement, instead of a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and all the Arab states. At the same time negotiating a comprehensive peace deal from the current state of affairs is close to impossible because (a) Israel is not ready to make the sacrifices it needs to do to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians (b) the Palestinians are divided, and no party has the moral authority to negotiate the future of the Palestinian people. You recognize that and you maintain that the deadlock would be broken by another war. I think that this prediction has a great chance of turning out true, but I really hope we will be proven wrong and I’m wondering whether a negotiated sub-optimal bi-lateral peace deal between Syria and Israel wouldn’t be a much better option than war?! If it gets to another war directly involving Syria and Israel (and Iran) it will be the bloodiest ever and we will not be able to look ourselves in the mirror and justify what we have done. I don’t think we ex-pats can be tacitly accepting the breaking of the status-quo using another war, as it’s not our rears that are on the firing line. We have two options: zip it and forget about it, or work to find a peaceful solution.

October 24th, 2008, 6:58 am

 

Shai said:

Norman,

I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to empathize with your “enemy”, if you want to understand him, and certainly if you wish to make peace with him. Israel has never decided if the Palestinian territories are a part of Israel, or not. If it had, it would have either annexed it (like it did with the Golan in 1981), or gotten out. It did neither. In the meantime, it behaved de facto as if it owns the territory and built endless settlements, yet didn’t treat the majority of its residents (the Palestinians) like citizens of Israel. This in itself is one of the worst crimes we’ve committed over the past 40 years – caring for the territory as if it is ours, but not for its people.

Few Israeli PM’s have ever made public statements exhibiting “care” towards the Palestinians. The closest Rabin, Sharon, or Olmert have come, were statements such as “The Palestinians deserve their own nation”, or “This situation cannot continue forever…” But certainly no admission in any crimes we may have committed, or are still committing. This will come years from now, I believe.

As Rumyal mentioned, I just don’t see how Israel can reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians right now. The Palestinians are split into at least 2 parts right now, so who do we talk to? Multilateral negotiations could have been the ideal (comprehensive) solution. But how can it happen now, before Fatah and Hamas figure out their differences? Or before Israel is willing to sit with Hezbollah? This is why the Israeli-Syrian track was the only sensible one, which had any chance of succeeding. By all accounts, much progress was made during the 4 indirect meetings in Turkey, and there was every reason for optimism. Now with talks of the Arab Initiative again, I’m not sure anymore.

To include Iran in a peace agreement between the Arab world and Israel is probably unrealistic, certainly nowadays, I believe.

October 24th, 2008, 10:18 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Rumyal,

Only high school kids like me get to call Norman “Ammo”.

Otherwise you will make him feel old.

Keefo Ammo ? 😉

October 24th, 2008, 12:10 pm

 

norman said:

Shai, Rumyal,

I do not see any difference between Netanyahu and Hamas and between Cadima, Labor and Abbas and as shai keeps saying that only Netanyahu can make peace as the left and center will join him so can Hamas make peace and Fatah and the other will join , the only reason that Israel is not moving to talk to Hamas is because it is not really interested in peace , only in domination, and that is something will not happen , the Arabs always contrary to Bernard Lewis only compromised when they felt strong like after the 1973 war while rejected Israel after the 1967 one while Israel only compromised after defeat or stand still.

Rumyal,

you can call me Ammo if OK with QN , he might not want competition.

October 24th, 2008, 1:05 pm

 

Rumyal said:

QN,

I thought you were still in junior high 🙂 I’m an uncle too in real life, guess I’m getting older (ok, I concede the point… my nephew is 3 years old…)

October 24th, 2008, 4:23 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Rumyal,

Well I suppose I’ll concede the point as well… I’ll be in high school next year. (Or at least that’s why I told my parents the past three years… inshallah this year I’ll finally pass.)

October 24th, 2008, 4:26 pm

 

Rumyal said:

Dear (copy-paste no-compete clause with QN here) Norman,

In Imad Moustapha style: it is not for Israel to decide the outcome of the power sharing negotiations between Fatah and Hamas. We can have out-of-band discussions with both but official negotiations are only meaningful once the Palestinians reach an agreement on power sharing.

Suppose Hamas becomes the main and agreed upon representative of the Palestinians. If I recall correctly it was Hamas who didn’t want any sort of negotiations with Israel after having been elected. This doesn’t detract from your point that we should talk to them now or in the future, if they’re ready for that. However I can’t deny that in a very emotional level, as a “radical” secular person, it is hard for me to accept the fact that our neighbors have chosen such a religious and sectarian regime. I am not at all sure that the desegregation, equality and progress you so admire will ever be served in a Hamas country, quite the contrary. Sorry it is difficult for me to want to further empower them (but may be unavoidable).

What would Haniyeh and Bibi bring to the negotiations’ table? Only mutual contempt and deceit. More than promoting peace, it is likely to further poison the well. Still, they should negotiate but with modest tactic goals (as to not poison the well of the final status agreements) such as on terms for an extended Hudna, financial and humanitarian matters, prisoner exchange etc.

Again, I may be unrealistic but I believe the best way out of the deadlock is grass-root transformation of the public opinion of the populations that will empower moderate leaders on both sides to make true and lasting peace. Shai mentioned http://www.onevoicemovement.org/ a couple of days ago (thanks Shai!). I find their model of grass root transformation extremely interesting. What do you think?

October 24th, 2008, 5:05 pm

 

Rumyal said:

QN,

You better keep your promise or they’ll ground you and you won’t be able to trot all around Lebanon with your buddy Abbas…

October 24th, 2008, 5:07 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Alex –

Can I post a response to Post 38? Of course, everyone seems to be in agreement with it (as I’ve read many positive responses here), but I would like to challenge it and offer my comments as “food for thought”.

I couple of my responses either did not post are was considered “spam”.

Thanks,

AP

October 24th, 2008, 6:26 pm

 

Shai said:

Rumyal,

I very much agree with your assessment that Israel cannot negotiate with the Palestinians at the moment, and even if Hamas regains its political stance of two years ago (which, let us recall, it achieved in free, democratic elections!), it is again unlikely that it will accept Israel as a partner for peace talks. If and when that changes, Israel must be there to discuss all matters with the elected representatives of the Palestinian people, whoever that should be.

I also agree that Bibi is unlikely to talk to Hamas anytime soon. But he did talk to the Syrians. And he did send his American buddy Lauder (head of the Federations), to offer Hafez Assad complete withdrawal from the Golan. And my hope is, that he can and will do so once more if elected. Our friends here on SC understandably disagree with anything “positive” I have to say about Bibi, and I occasionally get blasted for the notion of even supporting this arrogant neocon (see most of my exchanges with Joe M.) And I could have kept this internal conflict, between my conscience and my brain, to myself. But I chose to share my thoughts with others here, not only out of a need to explain the political absurd that exists in Israel, but in fact to test out my thesis.

I am willing to change my mind at an instant, if someone can convince me that another leader in Israel can bring us to peace faster. Or that by electing the Likud to power, we are bringing much worse suffering for the Palestinians and for the people in our region. As I’ve said time and again, the thought of choosing “Bibi” in the ballot box makes me quiver. But it may be a smarter choice than Barak or Livni. I honestly wish it wasn’t. I am still hoping Livni can pull something off. But judging by Shas’s declaration today (that they’re not joining her), by her own inability to form a government, and by her apparent support of the Arab Initiative and belief in reaching an agreement with the Abbas government, I no longer have much faith in her.

In a way, I also know that if I’m wrong, and if indeed we are doomed to go through another painful war (and I agree with you, the next one may be far worse than any previously), then perhaps I prefer to have the Likud run the country in that war. If we are to fail, let the Likud fail, and be replaced by a liberal government that will have to make peace with the Arabs, but will at last have support of our people, after suffering the terrible consequences of such a war. God forbid this should happen, but if it does, maybe it’s best under the Likud. I know I’m arranging all the scenario-pieces nice and comfortable, so that I can be more at peace with my decisions. I guess that’s part and parcel of my hypocrisy. I’m not particularly proud of it, as you can imagine…

October 24th, 2008, 7:22 pm

 

Rumyal said:

Shai,

These are interesting thoughts. You’re thinking three steps ahead, to account for the contingency of war and what would happen after it. (I can only think one step ahead, on a good day :-))

I find two weaknesses in your argument.

First, Netanyahu is much less predictable than you want to believe. The fact that he wanted negotiations with Syria in the past tells us one thing: that it served his personal political interests at that juncture, nothing more. It doesn’t mean that it will be in his interest to pursue these negotiations in the future. If Netanyahu didn’t get heat from the Israeli people and the international community, would he enter negotiations? Probably not. If he is going to get wide support in Israel (due to you also Shai!) then the only pressure that will be applied to him will come from Washington, and only from an Obama administration. This means that in the Netanyahu scenario Alex is right—it does start at Washington… The other option is that he’ll enter negotiations to get the media off his back, in case he muddles with corruption again. At any rate not very reliable.

Second, what can I say Shai, it’s impossible to predict the future. In my personal life I tried a few times to act against my beliefs and emotions in order to optimize for some future goal, and it never worked, for me. Maybe it could work for more disciplined people but of course we are not talking about your individual vote Shai. Your best case scenario is that you will convince a sliver of the left to follow your logic and vote for Netanyahu and break the right/left tie. This scenario is dependent on so many factors that are out of your control that you might as well just buy lottery tickets and pledge the proceeds to the Golan Peace Park and it would be more of a realistic contribution to peace.

If I were to vote in the next elections (and I’m not going to, because I don’t feel I have the moral right to participate while I’m an ex-pat) I would just follow my conscience in the most straight-forward manner.

Tough choices ahead my friend!

October 24th, 2008, 9:19 pm

 

Shai said:

Rumyal,

Indeed very tough decisions. And if I thought there was a better candidate, that has even a sliver of a chance in delivering peace faster, I’d vote for her/him. Let me be clear about Bibi – I have absolutely no idea what he’ll do or not as PM. I agree with you, he didn’t send Lauder to Syria because he’s a peace-loving man, who views Arabs and Jews as having equal rights. He’s an arrogant Israeli version of a neocon. But so was Begin. And so was Sharon (aka “Butcher of Lebanon”), who was the first PM to pull out of Gaza, and was planning to continue also in the West Bank. Olmert, too, “flipped”. In 1977, he was one of the Likud members who remained against the return of Sinai. And needless to say what his views were all these years about the Palestinian territories.

I’m not suggesting Bibi is a good choice – he’s not. But can you suggest a better choice? If the once-in-30-years scenario were to happen again, and a peace deal (with Syria, for instance) could be delivered, who that you know of might deliver it better? Would 50.1% support Livni? I doubt it. She can’t even form a coalition with the tiniest majority (61 seats), how will she convince Israelis to get off the Golan? And by the way, when it was leaked to the media, Bibi denied offering the Syrians any such withdrawal. It was Itzik Mordechai, his then Defense Minister, who confirmed the behind-the-scenes offer.

If I had to guess who the Syrian leadership prefers to sit across in negotiations, it would also be Bibi. They know he can deliver (if he chooses to). Livni cannot. Not now, in any case. If I followed my conscience, I would enter the world of politics, and try to influence things from within. My brain, however, tells me to do otherwise… 🙂

October 24th, 2008, 9:50 pm

 

Rumyal said:

Shai,

>> She can’t even form a coalition with the tiniest majority (61 seats), how will she convince Israelis to get off the Golan?

If Livni can’t form a coalition she should go to elections on a platform of peace, get lots of people such as yourself to vote for her and then she’ll have the mandate to deliver. If she isn’t elected or if she wins by a narrow margin and is again at the mercy of Shas then the nation is not ready for peace and we shall pay the price.

If Bibi wins the elections then it’s a Russian roulette. He might give you peace in the Golan or he might give you some ingenious plan such as maybe, I don’t know, building a metal dome around Nablus.

This is what *they* would do. A separate question is what would *your vote* do. Your calculations are based on the assumption that there are many other folks who would follow your exact logic and that the margin is going to be narrow enough such that it would be you that will give Bibi the priemership. If Bibi wins by a wide margin without your help then you might as well give your support to the left, to counterbalance him. If the left wins by a wide margin then you might as well make it even more decisive. So your scenario only matters if there is a stalemate and it’s up to you to break it. VERY unlikely. In all likelihood your vote will crown neither one. More than anything else it should be, in my opinion, a declaration of your beliefs.

October 25th, 2008, 12:40 am

 

norman said:

Rumyal,

By the way QN calls me Ammo because he is my nephew ,

I do not think you should denounce Hamas for being religious based while all the state of Israel is religious based where non Jewish citizens are persecute and have less rights ,
The only way for Israel to survive on the long run is to have a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem , until then many wars will take place ,

Syria will never abandon the Palestinians and as long as Israel keeps trying to divide and conquer it will fail , It is simple ,

Full peace or endless wars and sooner or later Israel will lose.

The Israeli leaders need to lose a war to convince their people to seek peace , that might be the only way.

This was the ending from another note,

After the agreement is reached these countries should start a marketing campaign to sell the deal , I think that people are tired of wars and would love peace if it was presented to them well.

October 25th, 2008, 1:25 am

 

norman said:

Shai, Rumyal,

Look at this,Bibi might be comming soon,

Israel’s Tzipi Livni faces early election after coalition talks fail
Israel appears to be heading for early elections after a key coalition partner refused to join the government of prime minister-designate, Tzipi Livni.

By Carolynne Wheeler in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 1:26AM BST 25 Oct 2008

Ms Livni, the ex-spy and foreign minister who last month was elected head of the ruling Kadima party, had set a deadline of Sunday to either form a coalition or ask Israeli President Shimon Peres for new elections, after stubborn previous partners were reluctant to sign up to the new government.

But now the religious-nationalist Shas party is testing her resolve by announcing it will not join, angered by her refusal to rule out talks with the Palestinians concerning the future of Jerusalem.

The move will make it nearly impossible for Ms Livni to form a long-lasting coalition, forcing the country into elections and jeopardising efforts at peace talks with Syria and Palestine.

“Shas cannot be bought and Shas will not sell out on Jerusalem. This has been our consistent line throughout negotiations,” Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, who is trade and industry minister, told Israeli media, though he hinted a change of heart could not be ruled out.

Of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Kadima holds just 29 and relies on the support of several other parties to carry government decisions. The 19-seat Labour party under Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has already signed on as a senior partner.

However, Shas’s 12 seats were critical in the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the party had set a high price to stay – the removal of Jerusalem’s fate from peace talks with the Palestinians and the promise of large increases in child allowances as a support to the large families which form Shas’s political base.

Ms Livni had hoped to begin the Knesset’s winter session on Monday as prime minister. However her spokesman, Gil Messing, said her Sunday deadline would stand.

“This is the time for decisions for all of us – either a government or elections,” Ms Livni was quoted as telling her Kadima party on Thursday. “I am not willing to pay any price or to cross a line that I think will be irresponsible.”

An election is a risky move for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process restarted at Annapolis, Maryland nearly a year ago.

Polls suggest the likely winner of an election now would be Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud party. A Teleseker/Maariv poll last month showed Likud would finish with 29 seats in an election now, compared to 25 for Kadima headed by Ms Livni and 14 for Labour.

Mr Netanyahu has pledged to end the Annapolis process in favour of a programme of economic development, and has sworn never to divide Jerusalem or give up the Golan Heights, central issues in talks with the Palestinians and in recently resumed Turkish-mediated talks with Syria.

An end to the Palestinian peace process would be an especially difficult blow for Ms Livni, who was led negotiations as Israel’s foreign minister and pledged to continue the process as prime minister.

October 25th, 2008, 1:31 am

 

Rumyal said:

Norman and QN,

>>> By the way QN calls me Ammo because he is my nephew

I didn’t know that! I was thinking this was all just jest on behalf of QN. You guys have a special and gifted family.

October 25th, 2008, 3:52 am

 

Rumyal said:

Norman,

You said:

>>> I do not think you should denounce Hamas for being religious based while all the state of Israel is religious based where non Jewish citizens are persecute and have less rights

I denounce them both for the treatment of minorities but they deserve different types of scorn for different types and levels of bigotry.

October 25th, 2008, 4:06 am

 

Innocent_Criminal said:

Norman & QN,

are you guys really related????

October 25th, 2008, 5:03 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Innocent_Criminal

We are all related.

We are part of the Arabosyriaramaiphoenician family.

You too are Ammo Norman’s nephew.

October 25th, 2008, 12:09 pm

 

norman said:

It is ashamed that ((QN is my nephue did not last more than two comments,))

He is acualy older than me ,

QN,

Can you add Hebrew to the word (( We are part of the Arabosyriaramaiphoenician family )),

That will satisfy my one nation stand ,

October 25th, 2008, 1:38 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

I think the Arab Peace Initiative is a non-starter. I am sorry to say that because I wish it were possible to achieve. It provides a sane and just solution — but I fear the “facts on the ground” have left it in the dust.

Professor Josh,

What “facts on the ground” left the Arab Peace Initiative in the dust?

I would like to respond to your Post #38, but it seems I’m stuck in you anti-spam filter.

October 25th, 2008, 1:56 pm

 

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[…] week Syrian ambassador to the United States, Dr. Imad Moustapha, was asked about the way he sees Israel’s future role in the Middle East after the end of the […]

October 29th, 2008, 7:45 am

 

Syria Comment » Archives » Bush’s Final Violent Outburst Causes Exasperation said:

[…] motives in raising it as a new initiative. As Ambassador Moustapha made quite clear in his interview on SC: “It is important to understand that any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under […]

November 4th, 2008, 4:07 am

 

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