The Mitchell Visit: Why it is Important

George Mitchell is due to arrive in Syria on Friday for what promises to be a crucial visit. Syria wants a place in any emerging Obama peace plan for the region. Washington would be short sighted not to include Damascus. The Lebanon has been a leading factor in Syria’s isolation and Washington’s dominant concern in the Levant for five years very much to Syria’s detriment. Because of the election results, Lebanon can now take a back seat to other regional considerations.

The Lebanon elections produced results confirming the political status quo among Lebanon’s competing factions. The Doha, power-sharing agreement that resolved the Lebanon question last year – or something closely approximating it – is likely to be reformulated for the new government. All sides seem to be in agreement about the general outlines of a new government, eliminating the temptation on the part of all sides, including the US and Syria to renegotiate the regional balance of power. Lebanon has effectively been placed in deep freeze.

Obama has yet to speak the word Syria. He has spoken clearly and emphatically about the Palestinian track in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, but not about the Syrian track.

For Syria, this means that the moment of truth for Washington has arrived. If Mitchell is interested in coming to an understanding with Syria, Damascus will be very responsive. Damascus does not want to be left out of a regional peace plan. It is eager to come to an understanding with the US that recognizes its long-term interests. Those interests are: 1. Getting back the Golan and signing peace with Israel. 2. Getting out from underneath sanctions imposed on it due to its struggle with Israel. 3. Working with the US and Baghdad to assure the stability, security, and political balance of Iraq. 4. Moving forward with border delineation in Lebanon; and 5. Encouraging Hamas to work with the PLO in supporting an emerging Obama plan to resolve outstanding Palestinian-Israeli differences.

Damascus fears that Washington intends to “cherry pick,” or to push Syria forward on the Iraq and Lebanon issues, which are relatively easy to resolve, without committing itself to including Syria in the Obama peace plan or to getting the Golan restored, which is much more difficult. After all, the sanctions which weigh on Syria are a result of its on-going struggle with Israel as are the claims that it supports “terror.” Syria want normal relations with the world, but it will not abandon its right to the Golan.

Syrian authorities are unlikely to give to Obama what they refused to give to Bush. Damascus will give gratification on the issues important to Washington if it gets gratification on the Golan, Sanctions, and diplomatic normalization in return. This is why Syria insists on a comprehensive approach to the region’s problems. It does not want to repeat the experience of the 1990s, when it was abandoned at the alter in 2000 after eight years of cooperation in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.

News Round Up follows

Aoun: We Will Contest the Elections, Murr’s Victory

MP Michel Aoun announced Wednesday he planned to contest the elections before the Constitutional Council and said he was not opposed to giving President Michel Suleiman veto power “within the constitution,” in his first public appearance following March 8’s defeat in the June 7 elections…..On his loss in the elections, Aoun said: “We had the support of 70% of Christians at a time when we had nothing in the government. Now we have 27 deputies. Explain to me how does that indicate we lost?” “They admit today that I represent half (of the Christians), then I want half of the Christians’ share in governance,” he added. He said that although the opposition did not win parliamentary majority, it “maintains popular majority.”

Feltman Insists U.S. Will Not Deal with Hizbullah (Naharnet, 10 Jun 09 – via T_desco)

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffery Feltman said Hizbullah should be disarmed and become a political party that functions in accordance with the Lebanese constitution.

Feltman, in an interview with Alhurra Arabic language satellite TV network, said that Hizbullah should abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for the disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Feltman reiterated that the U.S. does not and will not deal with Hizbullah. He said Washington does not deal with a party that threatened its people through the use of arms in May 2008.

He told Alhurra that the U.S. looks forward to cooperate with the new Lebanese government and its people in order to strengthen its institutions, independence and sovereignty.

On U.S. aid to Lebanon, the top official reiterated that assistance depends on the moves the new government will make.

Asked about possible cabinet ministers, Feltman said that it is up to the Lebanese people to decide the formation of the cabinet. (Naharnet, 10 Jun 09)

Hezbollah, in a statement on the Web site of the group’s al-Manar television station, said it “strongly condemns the continued harsh and overt interference of the United States in the internal affairs of Lebanon, especially in terms of the statements of its officials on the results of recent parliamentary elections.” (Darhally in “Lebanon’s Winning Bloc Must Try to Placate Hezbollah

(Naharnet, 09 Jun 09)

“A high-ranking State Department source” “said the U.S. and Lebanon’s friends were not comfortable with the experience of veto power in the government because many issues were frozen in the previous period.

A high-ranking State Department source also told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat that it would be easier to cooperate with a Lebanese foreign minister who is not allied with Hizbullah.

About U.S. aid to Lebanon, the source said: “Washington’s assistance to Lebanon depends on what it wants and what it expects from the Lebanese government in terms of its partnership with the U.S.”

Aid also depends on the upcoming cabinet’s formation and policy statement, the official added.”
(Naharnet, 09 Jun 09)

Geagea: Veto Power with Minority Will Cripple Country (Naharnet, 09 Jun 09)

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reiterated his opposition Tuesday to giving the minority veto power in government warning it could lead to the “complete paralysis” of the country.

“I support awarding veto power to the president of the republic because he is neutral and was elected through consensus,” Geagea said following talks with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison in Maarab.

“Regarding the need for a “second Doha Agreement” to form the next government, Geagea believed that the picture conveyed by these elections was clear and did not point in this direction, revealing: “I am against the hindering third. However, this issue will be discussed with all the other forces of March 14. Personally, I am in favor of giving that power to the President of the Republic”, recalling the campaigns that used to be waged by some, even until now, against the president of the republic, who is a consensus president. (Naharnet, 09 Jun 09)

Hariri in al-Hayat:

“Al-Hayat asked Al-Hariri if the March 14 forces have developed a plan for dealing with future decisions, in relation to the leadership of parliament and government, its formation, and representation in it. Al-Hariri answered: “The March 14 forces are working now to formulate the plan and we will meet to decide on it.” Asked if his candidate for heading the government has been decided, he answered: “Only one person decides who the prime minister will be and this person is Saad al-Hariri, of course, in consultation with the allies.” When asked for his opinion of some speculations that it would be difficult for President Michel Sleiman to play a bigger role after the elections following the failure of an independent bloc in the Jbeil district, he replied: “The president’s role is that of the wise man, judge, and protector of the constitution. As for the bloc, my entire bloc is for the president of the republic.”

A.L. Butters in TIME

The temptation to make too much of Hizballah’s failure to unseat Lebanon’s Western-backed government in Sunday’s election is obvious. For past three years, the Shi’ite Islamist movement has been on a roll, withstanding an Israeli invasion, then paralyzing the U.S.-backed government, eventually humiliating its militias in a street confrontation, in the process winning veto power over cabinet decisions. Many had feared that the election would see the Iran-backed movement lead an opposition coalition to victory. Instead, voters on Sunday affirmed the status quo, prompting some observers to claim that the region’s political tide had turned against Iran and its “rejectionist” allies.

One Israeli official claimed that “Hizballah was punished for the [2006] war,” while New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman announced, “President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran” in Lebanon’s vote. Yet these are somewhat far-fetched claims for an election that was decided by Christian swing voters — and that affirmed the raw sectarianism of Lebanese politics.

Sectarianism is the organizing principle of Lebanese democracy, because the constitution allocates a fixed number of seats in parliament to each religious group — on the basis of a formula derived from the population statistics in 1936. (The slicing of the political pie no longer matches the demographic reality: Christians, for example, are allocated half of the seats in parliament, but probably comprise little more than a third of the population; Shi’ites are allocated 20% of the seats but their share of the population is closer to double that proportion.)…

Thomas L. Friedman’s one sentence summary of the region

… Ballots were the only weapons the March 14 coalition had against an Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance that is widely suspected of having been involved in murdering Rafik Hariri(Ballots Over Bullets: NYT, June 9, 2009) thanks T_desco

Milli Schmidt added in the comment section of the last post:

How wonderful that attention is drawn to Rafik Shami! He is very well known in Germany (he publishes in German), particularly for the absolutely wonderful book “A Handful of Stars” – a moving, beautifully written, funny account of his childhood in Bab Tuma, when the old city was still a collection of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Armenians and a handful of madmen and women thrown in. I’m also just now reading a collection of stories that expands on one character out of A Handful of Stars (the old coach driver Salim), called Damascus Nights – all highly recommended!

Also, very interesting and well written piece on the Iraqi refugee crisis in Syria, contains a wider analysis of the country’s economic and political situation:

A.B. Yehushua in Ha’aretz: “Why do we insist on a ‘Jewish’ state?”  (Thanks Shai)

Comments (25)

Akbar Palace said:

A.B. Yehoshua asks “Why do we insist on a ‘Jewish’ state?:


Because a “full Jewish life could only be had in the Jewish state.”

There you have it, A.B. Yehoshua answered his own question.

How convenient…

June 11th, 2009, 12:29 am


majedkhaldoun said:

full jewish life
what is that suppose to mean, and at what a price,a price that is sure to endanger the full life.

June 11th, 2009, 1:00 am


norman said:

This for you DR Landis, They seem to notice what you write,

Mitchell: Peace includes Syria, Lebanon

Jun. 11, 2009
The regional agreement that the Obama administration is trying to push forward is not only about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also peace between Israel and both Syria and Lebanon, US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell said on Wednesday, on the eve of trips to both Beirut and Damascus.

Mitchell’s comments came at the outset of a meeting with opposition head Tzipi Livni that concluded two days of meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

After meeting with Livni, Mitchell flew to Cairo. From there he will go to Lebanon on Thursday, and then continue on to Damascus Friday and Saturday for his first meetings there since taking up his position in January.

One senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Mitchell’s trip to Lebanon and Syria was indicative of his overall approach – to talk to everyone and then “try to move the ball down the field one yard at a time.”

While the State Department’s Jeffrey Feltman and the US National Security Council’s Dan Shapiro have traveled to Syria twice since US President Barack Obama was sworn into office in January, this will be Mitchell’s first visit to Damascus and – according to diplomatic sources – indicates an interest in involving Syria in the new US-propelled process.

In addition, it is expected that while in Damascus Mitchell will try to gauge the attitudes of Hamas – which is headquartered in the Syrian capital – toward the recent regional developments. Diplomatic officials made clear that any meeting between Mitchell and Hamas representatives in the city was “out of the question.”

In advance of Mitchell’s visit, Syrian President Bashar Assad sent out signals that he was interested in renewing negotiations with Israel through the Turks. Likewise, Hamas head Khaled Mashaal sent out somewhat softer signals, saying on Tuesday that Hamas would “be a positive force in helping to find a fair solution to the Palestinian people and enabling them to fulfill their rights.”

Despite Mitchell’s visit, the Syrian track is not expected to play a prominent place in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s anxiously awaited speech on Sunday at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

Sources in Jerusalem said Netanyahu was expected to endorse the road map and give a nod toward a Palestinian state, while making clear that it would have to be a demilitarized state without the ability to threaten Israel.

The sources said that on the two-state issue, Netanyahu’s theme would be “yes, but,” and that he would use the speech at the BESA Center to add elements to the overall narrative of the conflict that Jerusalem thought had been missing from Obama’s speech in Cairo.

One source said Israel was surprised that Obama, delivering his speech in Cairo, had not mentioned the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and that Netanyahu’s selection of the BESA Center to deliver his own address was designed to underline that peace agreement, which took on an irreversible momentum after Anwar Sadat flew to Israel and addressed the Knesset in 1977.

Following Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday, Israel is expected to embark on a diplomatic full-court press to push forward his diplomatic program. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is scheduled to go to Brussels next week for the annual meting of the Israel-EU Association meeting, where he is expected to face difficult questioning from the EU foreign ministers, and also to try to promote the diplomatic program Netanyahu is expected to articulate on Sunday night.

From Brussels, Lieberman will go to Washington for his first visit there as foreign minister. The following week Netanyahu will make his first trip to Europe since he became prime minister, where he will attend three days of meetings in Italy and France.

This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1244371065699&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
[ Back to the Article ]
Copyright 1995- 2009 The Jerusalem Post –

June 11th, 2009, 1:16 am


Yossi said:

full jewish life means living in nj and monitoring sc all day long.

June 11th, 2009, 1:58 am


norman said:


i guess I am living a full Jewish life.

June 11th, 2009, 2:39 am


Shai said:

I guess I’m not leading a “full Jewish life” then. Only a partial one.


Using your logic, to lead a “full Christian life”, we must have a place called “The Christian State”. Do you know of such a place? Are Christians therefore leading a less-than-full life?

June 11th, 2009, 4:42 am


offended said:

I heard that many Jews are atheists, doesn’t that mean they are living a full Jewish life by the mere fact of their existence in this world? or do they also require God’s vision on earth (aka Jewish State in the Holy Land) to fulfill this predicament?

June 11th, 2009, 8:51 am


t_desco said:

Journalist vs. blogger (or why journalists should read blogs):

Andrew Lee Butters:

“The two sides will probably reach a compromise that allows the opposition to veto major Cabinet decisions as long as it has the approval of the country’s President, Michael Sulieman, widely regarded as a genuinely neutral figure.”

As’ad AbuKhalil:

“Another miscalculation by the opposition is the selection of Gen. Mishel Sulayman. The man was picked by the Syrian intelligence chief, Ghazi Kan`an, for the job and enjoyed very close relations with Hizbullah. But the opposition is always surprised when people switch positions and alliances: Sulayman quickly became an ally of the Saudi camp, and yet Hizbullah foolishly assumed that Sulayman would stay neutral.”

“Friedman” “then adds: “Ballots were the only weapons the March 14 coalition had against an Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance…” Well, yes: Ballots and: 1) Saudi and Western money; 2) acute sectarian mobilization and agitation that would have made Zarqawi proud; 3) Hariri money; 4) intervention by the Lebanese president against `Awn; 5) intervention by the Maronite church in favor of March 14; among other factors.”

One important factor is missing from that list (although it has to do with 1.), as Gen. Aoun points out:

“The difference in votes was the result of the increasing numbers of voters by more than 100,000, especially from abroad,” he added.”
(Naharnet, 11 Jun 09)

“AN estimated 12,000 Australians turned out to vote in Lebanon’s fiercely contested election yesterday”.
(The Australian, June 08, 2009)

12,000 plane tickets from Australia, that’s plenty of dough.

June 11th, 2009, 9:19 am


Off the Wall said:

12000 ticket, the Hariri foundation has been very busy

No need to be sad about it, I have no clue what life I am leading 🙂

June 11th, 2009, 9:41 am


Akbar Palace said:

Using your logic…


As I said in my post, those were A.B. Yehoshua’s words. You’ll have to ask him.

Apparently, you and Syria Comment took the trouble of posting his odd question, so now, perhaps, you can take a similar effort to find out about his contradictory answer.

Speaking for myself, I would show Mr. Yehoshua the words of Israel’s national anthem as a clue:

I’m guessing most Israelis want a Jewish state. It is their right.

June 11th, 2009, 10:24 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I prefer the expression ‘Hebrew state’, over ‘A Jewish state’.
Our Founding Fathers (Ben Gurion, Begin etc) used that phrase, and
they were right.

Only when you arrive in Tel Aviv ( and not Jerusalem !! ), you
are able to grasp the full significance of the meaning “Hebrew”.

Hebrew state, not in the religious spirit, but in the political,
historic and cultural sense.

June 11th, 2009, 12:43 pm


Shai said:


And that’s precisely why God invented Romeo y Julieta… 🙂


Finally something we can agree on! Go explain to AIPAC that most Israelis do not want a Religious state (a Jewish State), but rather a Secular state that is safe for Jews.


What A.B. Yehushua was trying to say (which I guess you didn’t get) was that our founding fathers called it “State of Israel” and NOT “The Jewish State”, and for a reason. That, in fact, most if not all of us identify ourselves with the People of Israel, more than with Judaism. My attachment to this land, and that of my family, has little to do with Judaism. It has everything to do with the history of my people. Most Israelis call themselves that, before they call themselves Jewish. And most Israelis, certainly by most religious standards, are only Jewish by birth, not by practice.

If we wanted to belong to a majority in this region, we should have converted to Islam centuries ago! 🙂

By the way, Judaism worldwide is threatened not by antisemitism, but by intermarriage. The first has a minimal toll each year on the world Jewish population. The latter a HUGE toll, especially in the United States.

Those are two separate battles – the preservation of the State of Israel, and of Judaism. We are losing the battle on both fields, but for completely different reasons.

June 11th, 2009, 1:04 pm


yaser said:

I am sorry but I just want to point out that the group commenting here seems very closed , you would think that such discussions can lead to more open dialuge , but it seems there are just a certain number of commentators here (that seem to know each other very well), and for me as an “outsider” it is difficult to get in this cult-like blog community .there are many things that should be cleared about Syria and being even more closed is not helping .

sorry for the harsh comment

June 11th, 2009, 1:59 pm


jad said:

Hi Yasser,
Nice blog, I like your Visually Enhanced project.

June 11th, 2009, 2:09 pm


yaser said:

thank you for the encouragement ,I’ll be posting more in the coming days .

June 11th, 2009, 2:25 pm


Alex said:

Where is 3ammo Norman?

Qifa Nabki is a big shot now.

Not bad for an 18 year old.

June 11th, 2009, 9:27 pm


norman said:


I did not know that i have a nephew that handsome , You are the only one i know here that can come close or be better.

June 12th, 2009, 2:42 am


norman said:


You are welcome to put up any topic you want to discuss, By the way it might look that we know each other because we are civilized with each other , the fact is that we know only Alex and DR Landis , they are the connectors.

June 12th, 2009, 2:52 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Yaser

Nice blog you have.

We are close but not closed. You are probably witnessing a topical fatigue phase, which is generally characterized by short complimentary comments. It goes through cycles. But it is very civilized around here.

Dear Shai
I add my vote to Joshua’s, you are a treasure. Man I really need a good Romeo y Julieta, but I am so busy today burning yet another midnight oil.

June 12th, 2009, 4:00 am


Shai said:


Speaking of Midnight Oil, it is one of my favorite groups… (I bet another silver dollar that most neocons hate them, because they sing about the Aborigines…)


I’ve been here on SC for what, 1.5-2 years now? And Qifa Nabki is STILL 18? He must be at least 19 or 20 by now… Please check with him and get back to us. 🙂

June 12th, 2009, 6:02 am


Off the Wall said:

Boker Tov Shai, 🙂

June 12th, 2009, 6:13 am


Shai said:


Boker Tov Ya Habibi! Have a great weekend everyone.

(check your mail)

June 12th, 2009, 10:28 am


ramzi said:

Your list of items that are in Syria’s long term interests are laughable. To pick on just no 4. “Moving forward with border delineation in Lebanon”; Yes they are so eager that it took them 50 years to do it and are still obstructing.

You must recognize that Syria is a dictatorship and Assad and his cronies are Syria. Assad has only two long term interests:

1- Staying in power by keeping his people oppressed and keeping the threat of Israel alive to justify continued opression.
2- Dominating Lebanon.

And until you understand that these are their only long term interests your blog will continue to be the English language version of official Syrian propaganda.

June 13th, 2009, 3:39 am


Akbar Palace said:


I agree with you.

June 15th, 2009, 4:05 pm


Molly said:

I think you might be interested in what A.B. Yehoshua has to say about Americans for Peace Now…a pro-Israel pro-Peace organization.

December 10th, 2009, 10:01 pm


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