News Round Up (Mon Aug. 10, 2009)

The Dutch and some other EU members have been hesitant to let Damascus into its Mediterranean trade agreement because of its human rights violations. All other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are members, no matter how egregious their human rights violations are.

It might be right to keep Syria out if this were to produce results, but it is unlikely to. I have argued on these pages that Europe is likely to have better success in bringing liberalism to Syria if it follows a China policy. By drawing Syria into the global economy and producing a larger middle class that has a real interest in abiding by international laws, the West is likely to have a greater impact than through sanctionsRound

Britain backs Syria-EU pact despite concerns
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Wed Aug 5, 2009

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Britain supports signing an economic pact between Syria and the European Union despite its concerns about human rights violations by Damascus, a British official said Tuesday.

Ivan Lewis, a deputy Foreign Office minister, called for a “new beginning” with Syria and said Damascus should be encouraged to change policies, despite its alliance with Iran and support for the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah militant groups.

“(Britain) will try and play a positive role to help that happen, although some European countries still have concerns about elements of Syrian policy. We still hope we can overcome those concerns and that an agreement be signed,” Lewis said after meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem…..

Fred Hoff Visits Damascus to discuss the Obama peace plan and lay foundations for next steps. He is accompanied by a delegation to carry out discussions with various Syrians (although the following article does not say who is accompanying Hoff in the delegation, it is likely that they are military and will develop the new security agreement on Iraq.

يستبق خطة أوباما عن السلام …هوف يزور دمشق خلال أيام لإجراء محادثات “مهمة”

تزامناً مع زيادة الحديث عن احتمال إطلاق الرئيس الأميركي باراك أوباما خطته للسلام الشامل في الشرق الأوسط، نقلت وكالة الأنباء الألمانية عن مصادر مطلعة مواكبة للعلاقات السورية الأميركية أمس عن أن السفير فريدريك هوف نائب المبعوث الأميركي للسلام في الشرق الأوسط السيناتور جورج ميتشل يعتزم زيارة سورية خلال الأيام القليلة المقبلة.
وأكدت المصادر التي لم تسمها الوكالة أن وفداً غير سياسي سيرافق هوف في زيارته إلى دمشق بهدف إجراء محادثات مهمة مع المسؤولين السوريين استكمالاً لزيارات سابقة قام بها ميتشل وهوف في الأشهر القليلة الماضية في إطار “خريطة طريق بين واشنطن ودمشق” كما اصطلح على تسميتها في وقت سابق.
وتدور محادثات مباشرة بين إدارة الرئيس أوباما والقيادة السورية من خلال ميتشل منذ عدة أشهر تشمل العلاقات الثنائية ومسارات السلام في المنطقة والوضع في العراق والأراضي الفلسطينية ولبنان والملف الإيراني.

PR-Inside, VIA FLC

“Engagement with Syria has emerged as a high priority for US President Obama’s administration, as evidenced by the flurry of diplomatic activity since the new president took office in January. We expect these efforts to bear some fruit, not least because of the poor state of the Syrian economy. The prospect of improved trade ties and the likelihood of increased inward investment will act as a major incentive………

The path to peace will not be easy for Syria, as illustrated in its spiky relationship with Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel´s prime minister, had declared himself hostile to the return of the Golan Heights to Syria – one of Damascus´s key demands of the regional peace process …. There are also still plenty of questions hanging over Syria´s commitment to the US vision of peace: its support of Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah is popular at home, and there is some suggestion that Syria has concealed the extent of its nuclear research facilities. Washington has also called on Syria to take action against al-Qaeda fighters entering Iraq from its territory. The Syrian economy is under attack on several fronts in 2009, and we are forecasting a slump in real GDP growth to just 1.4%, down from an estimated 4.1% in 2007. Conditions will remain tough in 2010, when we see growth rising only slightly to 1.8%, before recovering further to 2.6% in 2011. A poor growth outlook, twin deficits on the fiscal and current accounts and a lack of inward investment are likely to exert downside pressure on the currency during our forecast period.


Syrian tourism grows fast amidst economic crisis 2009-08-10

DAMASCUS, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) — Despite the global financial crisis, Syria saw a 23 percent increase of Arab and European tourists in July compared to the same month last year, showed the latest official statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism.

According to the statistics, Bahrain accounted for 55 percent of the tourists, followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Tourism in Syria has recorded strong growth in recent years. Minister of Tourism Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa told a Brazilian commercial delegation last month that visitors to Syria increased by 9 percent in the first half this year even amidst the international financial crisis, compared to the same period last year.

According to the minister, tourism has accounted for 11 percent of Syria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in recent years and Syria is now receiving 5.4 million visitors per year on average.

So far, Syria has tended to attract visitors from other parts of the Middle East, but promotion campaigns by the state and tour operators last year have targeted Asian and European tourists.

One important partner with Syria in the sector is Turkey, and relations between the two countries have grown significantly in recent years.

Turkey and Syria have signed deals to foster bilateral tourism and jointly promote the two countries as tourist destinations abroad, which means Turkish and Syrian operators could sell packages including both countries.

US Fines DHL express for Dealings with Syria
German express delivery company DHL has been fined USD 9.4 million by the US Treasury for dealing with countries under sanctions, including Syria.

Syria: Slow and Steady
Oxford Business Group, 7 August 2009

In March, the long-anticipated Damascus Stock Exchange (DSE) was launched and now, some six months into trading, the DSE has 11 companies listed, with three more currently undertaking initial public offerings. …

As further encouragement to entice Syria’s major privately owned family groups to list, Al Jleilati explained to OBG that, “Companies who restructure to have more than 51% of their ownership held by multiple shareholders will be taxed at 14% compared to historical rates that sometimes reached as high as 65%. Companies will also be forced to recalculate their past incomes, with the government granting immunity on all reporting discrepancies by imposing a flat back-tax of 1%, which we see as a very fair compromise.”

Despite the incentives provided, many companies are still reluctant to report their earnings, according to Sofian Haikal, the director of brokerage firm Cham Capital. “Family companies lack trust in the authorities and many are afraid to be the first guinea pigs in reporting their taxable incomes. That said, I am optimistic of the eventual transition from family to public business, as it only needs a few successful examples to gain collective popularity,” he told OBG.

Investors also face difficulties in measuring the intangible assets earned by these companies, such as brand equity, and there is reluctance on the part of investors to sell-off shares. According to research produced by Bemo Finance, share prices have risen 57% over the past four months. As a result of this upward trend, combined with a perception that due to the 2% daily fluctuation cap most listed companies are currently undervalued, many investors are holding onto their stocks. …

QNB Syria unit $37 mln IPO oversubscribed

Mon Aug 10, 2009 (Reuters) – The Syrian unit of Qatar National Bank QNBK.QA (QNB) has raised at least 1.7 billion Syrian pounds ($37 million) through a public offering that is closing on Monday evening, a person close to the matter said.

QNB on June 30 said it aimed to raise 1.7 billion Syrian pounds by selling a 34 percent stake in its Syrian unit. The shares are offered to Syrian private investors at 500 pounds a share in an IPO running from July 12 to Aug. 10.


Jumblat: I Alone Am ‘Entitled’ to Set a Date for Syria Visit

MP Walid Jumblat reiterated that he was the only person “entitled” to set the date for his visit to Damascus, according to comments published Monday in al-Anbaa newspaper. “I am the only one entitled to set the date, nature, circumstances and timing of my visit to Damascus. I will also study – at a later time – the possibility of visiting any other capital,” Jumblat said in his weekly interview with the daily. He said pending issues between Lebanon and Syria “can be resolved between the two states according to protocol.”

An excellent article by Sami.
U-turn puts Hezbollah in the driving seat
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS – Those who rejoiced at the election results in Lebanon on June 7 had a big surprise this week, as the tables seemed to turn on the pro-Western coalition in favor of the Hezbollah-led opposition, and Damascus.

During the elections, the March 14 Coalition, which is close to the United States and France, won 71 seats in parliament, while the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, came out with 57, maintaining the minority they had held since 2005. On August 2, however, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon and one of the March 14 heavyweights, sent shockwaves throughout Beirut by announcing that his alliance with March 14 had been “driven by necessity and must end”. ….

…Jumblatt has also changed his views on who killed Rafik Hariri in 2005. He had previously accused Syria, but he told the magazine that he was no longer certain who had carried out the assassination. ….

Why did Jumblatt – known to be a political chameleon – change his colors so dramatically? The Druze warlord was a strong ally of Syria during Lebanon’s civil war, and was royally rewarded for his services with government posts for him and his entourage throughout the 1990s. But when he realized that Syria’s fortunes were turning in 2004 – shortly after the war on Iraq – he shifted towards the opposition, calling on the Syrians to leave Lebanon, though more than anyone else it was him that helped legitimize the Syrian presence in Lebanon, for nearly 20 years.

Jumblatt managed to read the political landscape in Washington well , realizing that the Bush White House was at daggers end with the Syrian government, because of its lack of cooperation in the war on Iraq. ….

Jumblatt is a political animal who follows the prevailing wind, whether it comes from Moscow, Washington or Damascus. When Syria and the US were allies in the 1990s, he reasoned that it was best to be on Syria’s side, due to its excellent relations with the Bill Clinton administration. When he saw that relations were irreparable between the Syrians and George W Bush, he decided to abandon ship – especially after the passing of resolution 1559, seeing that a head-on collusion between Damascus and Washington loomed on the horizon.

That happened when Hariri was killed in 2005, and Jumblatt tried to ally himself with Washington’s “regime change” movement, but by late 2008 it was clear that Bush was leaving, having repeatedly failed at toppling – or even weakening – the Syrians. Now with Obama in power, there is no sense in maintaining hostility with the Syrians, since Obama is interested neither in regime change, not even instability in Damascus.

Obama’s focus is on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan – not the worries of Lebanon, and Jumblatt has realized this from day one. The Americans are willing to tolerate a reborn Syrian influence in Lebanon, if it guarantees peace and quiet in Beirut and Iraq. ….

Israel PM Warns Against Including Hizbullah in Lebanon Government

Israel warned on Monday that the Lebanese government as a whole would be blamed for any attack from its territory if Hizbullah is part of the new government. “If Hizbullah joins the government it will be clear that the Lebanese government will be held responsible for any attack coming from its territory against Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.


Baath party leader and former Saddam Hussein aide Izzat al-Douri called on both armed and unarmed groups in Iraq to engage in politics. Al-Douri claimed that the formation of a national council would create a forum for promoting a unified Iraqi political platform and facilitate a greater political role for many actors in Iraq.

Comments (100)

Shai said:

“The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything”

THE two-state solution has welcomed two converts. In recent weeks, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, have indicated they now accept what they had long rejected. This nearly unanimous consensus is the surest sign to date that the two-state solution has become void of meaning, a catchphrase divorced from the contentious issues it is supposed to resolve. Everyone can say yes because saying yes no longer says much, and saying no has become too costly. Acceptance of the two-state solution signals continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle by other means.

Bowing to American pressure, Mr. Netanyahu conceded the principle of a Palestinian state, but then described it in a way that stripped it of meaningful sovereignty. In essence, and with minor modifications, his position recalled that of Israeli leaders who preceded him. A state, he pronounced, would have to be demilitarized, without control over borders or airspace. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and no Palestinian refugees would be allowed back to Israel. His emphasis was on the caveats rather than the concession.
As Mr. Netanyahu was fond of saying, you can call that a state if you wish, but whom are you kidding?

As for Hamas, recognition of the state of Israel has always been and remains taboo. Until recently, the movement had hinted it might acquiesce to Israel’s de facto existence and resign itself to establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This sentiment has now grown from hint to certitude.
President Obama’s June address in Cairo provoked among Hamas leaders a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. The American president criticized the movement but did not couple his mention of Hamas with the term terrorism, his recitation of the prerequisites for engagement bore the sound of a door cracked open rather than one slammed shut, and his acknowledgment that the Islamists enjoyed the support of some Palestinians was grudging but charitable by American standards. All of which was promising but also foreboding, prompting reflection within the Hamas movement over how to escape international confinement without betraying core beliefs.

The result of this deliberation was Hamas’s message that it would adhere to the internationally accepted wisdom — a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, the year Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas also coupled its concession with caveats aplenty, demanding full Israeli withdrawal, full Palestinian sovereignty and respect for the refugees’ rights. In this, there was little to distinguish its position from conventional Palestinian attitudes.
The dueling discourses speak to something far deeper than and separate from Palestinian statehood. Mr. Netanyahu underscores that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state — and recalls that the conflict began before the West Bank or Gaza were occupied. Palestinians, in turn, reject recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, uphold the refugees’ rights and maintain that if Israel wants real closure, it will need to pay with more than mere statehood.

The exchange, for the first time in a long while, brings the conflict back to its historical roots, distills its political essence and touches its raw emotional core. It can be settled, both sides implicitly concur, only by looking past the occupation to questions born in 1948 — Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state and the dispossession and dislocation of Palestinian refugees.

Both positions enjoy broad support within their respective communities. Few Israelis quarrel with the insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. It encapsulates their profound aspiration, rooted in the history of the Jewish people, for a fully accepted presence in the land of their forebears — for an end to Arab questioning of Israel’s legitimacy, the specter of the Palestinian refugees’ return and any irredentist sentiment among Israel’s Arab citizens.
Even fewer Palestinians take issue with the categorical rebuff of that demand, as the recent Fatah congress in Bethlehem confirmed. In their eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal. Their firmness on the principle of their right of return flows from the belief that the 1948 war led to unjust displacement and that, whether or not refugees choose or are allowed to return to their homes, they can never be deprived of that natural right. The modern Palestinian national movement, embodied in the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been, above all, a refugee movement — led by refugees and focused on their plight.

It’s easy to wince at these stands. They run against the grain of a peace process whose central premise is that ending the occupation and establishing a viable Palestinian state will bring this matter to a close. But to recall the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian clash is not to invent a new battle line. It is to resurrect an old one that did not disappear simply because powerful parties acted for some time as if it had ceased to exist.

Over the past two decades, the origins of the conflict were swept under the carpet, gradually repressed as the struggle assumed the narrower shape of the post-1967 territorial tug-of-war over the West Bank and Gaza. The two protagonists, each for its own reason, along with the international community, implicitly agreed to deal with the battle’s latest, most palpable expression. Palestinians saw an opportunity to finally exercise authority over a part of their patrimony; Israelis wanted to free themselves from the burdens of occupation; and foreign parties found that it was the easier, tidier thing to do. The hope was that, somehow, addressing the status of the West Bank and Gaza would dispense with the need to address the issues that predated the occupation and could outlast it.

That so many attempts to resolve the conflict have failed is reason to be wary. It is almost as if the parties, whenever they inch toward an artful compromise over the realities of the present, are inexorably drawn back to the ghosts of the past. It is hard today to imagine a resolution that does not entail two states. But two states may not be a true resolution if the roots of this clash are ignored. The ultimate territorial outcome almost certainly will be found within the borders of 1967. To be sustainable, it will need to grapple with matters left over since 1948. The first step will be to recognize that in the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamental question is not about the details of an apparently practical solution. It is an existential struggle between two worldviews. For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.

Hussein Agha is a co-author, with Ahmed S. Khalidi, of “A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine.” Robert Malley, the director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, was a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001.

August 11th, 2009, 6:59 am


Shai said:

“Damascus and the Road to Mideast Peace”

Though in recent months some have derided the power of dialogue, the truth is that strategic engagement with our enemies remains absolutely essential for our national security. Talking to our adversaries with a clear purpose in mind is not a sign of weakness. At the same time, diplomacy should never be carried out in a way that indicates a lack of United States resolve. While President Ronald Reagan stigmatized the Soviet Union as the