Israel, Peace negotiations, Syria

Sy Says Syria’s Serious

hershOnce upon a time there lived a legendary journalist named Sy Hersh, who wrote for The New Yorker, won five George Polk Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. His coverage of Lebanon, particularly in the period 2006-07, uncovered American complicity in Israel’s premeditated war on Hizbullah and American-Saudi-March 14 complicity in the Fatah al-Islam phenomenon. These were conclusions that many critics took issue with, lambasting Hersh for relying solely on opposition sources, while others applauded the veteran journo for speaking truth to power.

I have a feeling that Hersh’s latest piece is not going to have the same folks clapping. In a long article for The New Yorker entitled “Syria Calling“, Hersh makes the case that while the road ahead is difficult and there are several challenges facing all parties involved, there is absolutely no question about the seriousness of the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. You should read the entire article, but here are some select bits with comments:

“Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal.”

That’s right: Bashar emails. He’s the approachable, disarming kind of autocrat, not stentorian, ruthless, or crazy. He’s just like you and me, just with better job security.

“A major change in American policy toward Syria is clearly under way. “The return of the Golan Heights is part of a broader strategy for peace in the Middle East that includes countering Iran’s influence,” Martin Indyk, a former American Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, said. “Syria is a strategic linchpin for dealing with Iran and the Palestinian issue. Don’t forget, everything in the Middle East is connected, as Obama once said.””

Ahhh, vindication

A former American diplomat who has been involved in the Middle East peace process said, “There are a lot of people going back and forth to Damascus from Washington saying there is low-hanging fruit waiting for someone to harvest.” A treaty between Syria and Israel “would be the start of a wide-reaching peace-implementation process that will unfold over time.”

This is what is so brilliant about Bashar. When Bush was in office, Syria was regarded as a “low-hanging fruit” by the neocons and their democratization agenda. When that agenda crashed and burned, Syria came to be regarded as a “low-hanging fruit” by the Obama realists. Amazing brand marketing! Now that we know Syria is a low-hanging fruit to everyone at all times, all that’s left to ask is what kind of low-hanging fruit it is. My bet is on the Syrian prickly pear, a fruit so evocative that I was once moved to write an allegorical poem about it on Syria Comment (see caption).


"Ode on a Syrian cactus-fruit," By Elliott Abrahms: Orb of rapturous, nettlesome pulp, how I long / To pluck you and make haste to yonder castle to devour you / In the shade of my noble cross-bearing forbears’ walls, / Making ribbons of my palm-flesh as I squeeze / A levantine elixir to quench, if only sparingly, / A thirst for higher, less yielding fruits. / You taunt me, hanging low like the bosom of an old mountain gypsy, / Or the testicles of a fat valley ox, / How I long for you! But do I dare pluck this pendulous orb, / This prickly, persnickety grenade of desert nectar? / Alas, I trudge by, my eyes scanning the lonely path, / For a yet less lofty repast.

Farouk al-Shara, the Vice-President of Syria, was, as Foreign Minister, his nation’s chief negotiator at Shepherdstown. When he was asked whether Syria’s relationship with Iran would change if the Golan Heights issue was resolved, he said, “Do you think a man only goes to bed with a woman he deeply loves?” Shara laughed, and added, “That’s my answer to your question about Iran.”

Indeed, indeed, ha ha, yes exactly…  Actually, wait, I don’t get it. Can someone explain Farouk al-Shara’s point? Never mind, here’s my point: if Seymour Hersh, Martin Indyk, Itamar Rabinovich, Alistair Crooke, and of course Bashar al-Assad agree that Syria is serious about a deal, then how silly do the rest of you look when you say the opposite? (Sorry for my slightly combative tone… March Madness has turned to March Sadness for me, as of last Thursday).
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43 thoughts on “Sy Says Syria’s Serious

  1. Yes QN, we already know Sy Hersh preferred Saddam Hussein to democracy. Fortunately, he isn’t Iraqi.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | March 30, 2009, 2:12 pm
  2. Claim that all you want is to live in peace if ony ……(insert condition that you know the other side will never accept).

    Israel has been doing it for over 60 years, its about time one Arab leader learnt the tactic.

    What happned last Thursday?

    Posted by mo | March 30, 2009, 3:58 pm
  3. 1. Great post, as usual.

    2. I think that “prickly, persnickety grenade of desert nectar” might in fact be a bullet point quote from the Baath Party’s national security doctrine under the headline “Desired regional role”.

    3. Isn’t in fact this the most interesting part: “The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect.” — whether it’s true or not?

    4. Like the bosom of an old mountain gypsy: “Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday urged Arab leaders convened in Qatar for a regional summit to reject a 2002 Saudi peace initiative, as Israel had demonstrated that it was not a “real partner” to peace.

    Posted by alle | March 30, 2009, 4:00 pm
  4. QN,

    You said: “if Seymour Hersh, Martin Indyk, Itamar Rabinovich, Alistair Crooke, and of course Bashar al-Assad agree that Syria is serious about a deal…”

    Ah, forgive me, but where’s “… and Shai…” in there? 🙂 Of course Sy is right and, even if in theory he isn’t, let Israel call Bashar’s “bluff”.


    Interesting point about the Obama transition team. In Israel, it seemed pretty obvious that we were withdrawing “by chance” just before the inauguration ceremony was to take place, but no one knew whether or how much influence was actually there. I would not be surprised if you’re right. And, I would have paid good money to have been a fly on the wall in Cheney’s room, as he got that frantic call from Israel… 🙂

    Posted by Shai | March 30, 2009, 8:16 pm
  5. Shai,

    There was no need to slip you in because you were the original believer. Everyone else is catching up with you. 😉

    Mo, on Thursday, Duke lost to Villanova in the NCAA tournament.

    So, what you’re saying is that Bashar is a good enough actor/bluffer that he has fooled all of these usually very cynical people?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 30, 2009, 8:29 pm
  6. QN,

    In the past few days, Israel marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. And many here are recollecting on those days.

    It’s amazing to see, just how many similar voices to those of today there were back then. How many pessimists and nonbelievers there were. Our own COGS Mota Gur wanted to ready special commandos at the airport, for fear that instead of Sadat emerging from the EgyptAir plane, a team of Egyptian assassins would come out spraying bullets into the entire Israel cabinet that arrived to welcome the worst of our enemies. Our own, relatively-intelligent COGS, believed it was all a ploy. And when Sadat finally landed, and sat down with everyone, he made a special remark aimed at Gur, saying “You see, General, this is no trick!”

    So back then, like today, there were AP and AIG-type voices that called out for rejecting Egypt’s calls for peace. In fact, few remember this, but our own Ehud Olmert, even after hearing Sadat speak at the Knesset and offer an end to the endless cycle of bloodshed, still voted AGAINST giving back the Sinai! What a difference 30 years can make in a person’s life, eh?

    Funny how people like Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and even Bibi Netanyahu, can change. But people like AP and AIG cannot… Let’s see what they say, when their favorite Bibi will shake the hand of that brutal dictator Bashar… 🙂

    Posted by Shai | March 30, 2009, 9:14 pm
  7. Wow, Bashar is serious. Yes but about what?
    How can you tell the difference between Bashar being serious about talking and being serious about a deal? You may think you can’t but you actually can. Bashar can make confidence building moves like Sadat. Any argument about why he can’t make such moves, is actually an argument about why he can’t make peace. If he is afraid of internal opposition, wouldn’t that be even stronger with an actual peace deal? So, it is actually easy to call Asad’s bluff without giving him any of the benefits he expects from the negotiations such as issues related to the tribunal and the nuclear issue.

    Asad’s plan is simple. He will keep negotiating with brinkmanship and this will make the naive believers say things such as: We almost have a deal, let’s not press Asad on the tribunal or the nuclear issue because we may lose the deal.

    Unless I see Asad in Jerusalem talking to the Knesset like Sadat, I am not buying any of his spiel.

    Posted by AIG | March 30, 2009, 9:35 pm
  8. I also think Assad should come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli Knesset, and the Israeli people. Like Yossi said earlier, Syria would have the Golan the next day.

    But we must also understand that in the Arab world, Sadat was perceived as a traitor that capitulated to the Zionists. There is, ever since 1977, a very negative symbolic value to the historic visit to Jerusalem, and one that Bashar surely cannot ignore.

    From our end, certainly there must be other ways to “check” Bashar’s sincerity, other than his physical presence inside Knesset. I believe that a few CBMs could go a long way, such as allowing an Israeli journalist to interview Bashar, and/or ordinary Syrians, in Syria.

    But eventually, Bashar will have to meet face-to-face with Bibi. There is no alternative. From my point of view, it can be aboard the International Space Station. But it will deliver Syria’s sincerity in the most personal way possible. And Israelis will not be able to ignore it.

    Posted by Shai | March 30, 2009, 9:49 pm
  9. Asad’s plan is simple. He will keep negotiating with brinkmanship and this will make the naive believers say things such as: We almost have a deal, let’s not press Asad on the tribunal or the nuclear issue because we may lose the deal.

    AIG –

    When the little boy cried wolf three times, he was not only ignored, he was eaten by the wolf.

    Let’s just say, only the Obama administration is dumb enough to check it out again.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | March 30, 2009, 9:55 pm
  10. First, Faroukh has to meet Ivet. I think that would be a constructive first step that would make everyone happy.

    Posted by AIG | March 30, 2009, 10:03 pm
  11. Duke? Duke? For the love of christ, say it ain’t so, QN.

    I now have to rethink linking to your blog.

    Posted by dadavidovich | March 30, 2009, 10:14 pm
  12. QN,

    I don’t think he’s acting or bluffing. I think if Israel offered the ’67 border he would take it and sign a treaty. If you want, I could go into a long essay into why this would mean absolutely nothing to Iran or the relationship Syria has with Iran but there’s no point because it won’t happen. Did you hear Assad at Doha today? He’s so confident it won’t happen he is almost daring the Israelis to make it happen.

    In regards to the cynics, I don’t think they are fooled at all. In fact I think they are all thinking along the same lines as Assad. They believe that if they call his bluff, if they can get Israel to agree then they have eroded yet another front against Israel. So, for now, they are happy to buy into it, because there is no alternative.

    But Israel give up the Sea of Galilee? Not until they have pumped it dry they wont.

    Posted by mo | March 30, 2009, 10:26 pm
  13. Mo,

    Israel doesn’t actually have to give up on the Sea of Galilee. At the rate the waterline has been receding, the amount of actual lake shore Syria will be left with is minimal, if at all. Bibi was arguing for a couple hundred meters, Barak over a few tens. At this rate, Bashar will need an Israeli visa to wash his feet in the last few drops of the Kineret Crater (my nickname for what it is becoming).

    Posted by Shai | March 30, 2009, 10:51 pm
  14. While we can disagree if Syria really wants peace, we can agree that it wants the end of sanctions and better relations with the US. Israel and its friends in the US will do their utmost to make sure that Syria will get none of the above until it delivers something actual. Bashar will soon find that he is wasting his time.

    Posted by AIG | March 30, 2009, 11:45 pm
  15. Shai,

    It will be unimportant someday but the Dan and the Banias are still vital sources of freshwater, not to mention the Hasbnani which would also be under threat if Syria regain the Golan.

    Nevertheless, of the 2000mcm of water Israel uses every year, 700mcm still comes from Kineret which remains the single largest source of Israeli water, despite it being a very impure source that requires heavy filtration. Its levels are falling and falling fast and the impurity of the water is causing a blossoming of toxic phytoplankton. But without an alternative it is still too vital.

    Now when Dayans wish comes true and Israel’s border is north of the Litani, then we can talk about Israel giving up the Golan – Although I suspect Kineret will be long gone before that ever happens.

    Posted by mo | March 31, 2009, 12:53 am
  16. Mo:
    The Sea of Galilee is dry for all practical purposes. So no problem there.

    I think you’re wrong about an alternative test (to a Jerusalem visit). Peace in Assad’s case would need to be wider then in Sadat’s case to be worthwhile. This is still a quid quo pro move. Egyptian peace removed the threat of combined invasion including a large armoured component. Syria is not such a threat. Whatever they have to offer lies in the subtle & in the long term. A promise not to role tanks across the border is not worth much. A promise not to fund friends is easier to break (they don’t fund them now right?). The fact that Assad would be ostracised might mean that he cannot do what is necessary, but there is no way around it. For a Syria peace to be useful, it needs to be warmer then the Egyptian model.

    Why all this talk of peace all of a sudden? Why is Mr. Assad so keen even at the prospect of negotiating with Lieberman? He’s being snubbed but is still relenting. Even an attack on some secret base didn’t break his stride.

    What’s the deal? Or more importantly, what does he think is the deal? This deal is looking less compelling to Israel & it’s public then ever. It’s not a good time to get a good deal for Assad on land. Something is motivating Syria more then usual & I think it might not be the Golan Heights. What is it that this kindly autocrat wants & thinks he can get? Does it have anything to do with Lebanon?

    Posted by netsp | March 31, 2009, 1:29 am
  17. QN,
    This is a marketing campaign. Who doesn’t benefit by saying they want peace, and are serious about peace? Even Hitler claimed to want peace in Poland, the Soviet Union and on…

    The question is: why does an email from Assad to Sy Hearsh make you think that anything has changed? If you analyze the “facts on the ground”, which Mo began to do, you will see that there is no reason to be more optimistic about “peace”.

    “the deal” is Obama. Syria has been explicitly waiting for a new American government since the day GWB was elected for a second term. Syria thinks that is has a chance to get Obama to pressure Israel to give it the Golan back. I think this is very unlikely. I also think that Syria feels more confident in itself because the strength shown by Hizbullah (and Iran in confronting the USA/Israel). I highly doubt that it has to do with Lebanon in another capacity.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 31, 2009, 3:11 am
  18. Joe M.,

    That doesn’t sound right to me. First, let me start from my position that Assad is indeed more excited about getting a deal done then usual.

    If Obama is all that is going on, that’s just not enough to explain it if you consider all the factors affecting their (bargaining) position. The Israeli administration & national mood has got to be included in the calculation.

    The new Government will need more compelling to (Bibi) evacuate settlements & (Lieberman) compromise strategic positions or rather to justify those to their voters. Assad will also need to be willing to take some rhetorical slaps & insults that are likely to come from the new Israeli FM.

    Since ‘peace’ today is really about support for Hizballah & Hamas, not actual war with Syria Israel will be less inclined to accept leaky agreements. Enforceability will be all they talk about at home. That makes their demands more tricky.

    Basically, I don’t think that Assad thinks he can get away cheap, or at least more cheaply then 5 years ago.

    Side question: If a Golan agreement materialises including the Shebba Farms… What (if any) affects does that have on your neck of the woods?

    Posted by netsp | March 31, 2009, 4:26 am
  19. Netsp,

    I politely disagree with you. Syria is absolutely a threat to Israel, although not with tanks rolling off the hills of the Golan. As Syria has wisely managed to do in recent years, it has invested in building a threat to Israel via some perceived “Shia Crescent”, and by supporting the resistance (Hamas, Hezbollah). That means Syria has something to offer. If it chooses to, it can cut Hezbollah off from its major supplier Iran. Most of HA’s weapons come by land via Syria. It will be much tougher to get these by sea or air.

    Syria will not disconnect itself from Hezbollah or Iran (nor should it), but it can change the nature of its alliances with both. By the way, Syria also has something VERY important it can deliver – water from Turkey! There have been a number of plans suggested over the years, one of which (probably the most serious one) is of my friend’s, Boaz Wachtel. The water problems of this region could come as close to being “solved” as one could get, if the Peace Canal plan goes through. Turkey is offering it, it is viable, and Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, will benefit from it.

    I know AIG also wants Bashar to give up his iPod and the country music he has on it, but I’m not sure we could get everything… 🙂

    Joe M.,

    Maybe foolishly optimistic, but I still remain hopeful that the Obama administration can surprise us all, and force Israel to “make the impossible possible” (using Netanyahu’s words from his speech in Knesset yesterday…)

    Posted by Shai | March 31, 2009, 8:09 am
  20. Netsp,

    A Golan deal would be very good for Lebanon. Lebanon has much to gain from an end to hostilities with Israel.


    Assad has no reason to bluff for peace if he’s not going to get anything out of it. And the only way that he is going to get anything is by making a serious move, not theater (I actually think that AIG is kind of right on this one.) When he looks around the region, he sees the axis that he would like to belong to (Turkey-Qatar-UAE-etc) dealing with Israel in a kind of cold-peace fashion. He also sees those countries prospering while his own country heads for the abyss. Bashar is playing it smart. If he can sign a deal and put Syria in the West’s good graces, he’s going to do it. It may be a long shot, but this has been the strategy all along.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 31, 2009, 9:28 am
  21. I’d like to say one more thing, if I may:

    Too often, people who support the “resistance camp” tend to make the mistake of believing that those actors (Syria/Iran/Hizbullah, etc.) are any less cynical about politics than the actors in the “moderate” axis. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While both Hizbullah and Hamas have exhibited, at times, a dangerous political naivety, I think everyone has more or less grown up by now. These ties are marriages of convenience, no less so than the ties between Egypt/KSA/Jordan and the United States. Get a Hizbullah cadre member started about Syria (as I have on several occasions) and he’ll sound like an LF’er in less time than it takes to say “Arab nationalism”.

    The Syrians will do what is in their own best interests.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 31, 2009, 9:34 am
  22. Shai,I don’t think you do.

    I am not claiming Syria is harmless. I am saying that there is less that can be achieved via a treaty with Syria then could be achieved with Sadat. Peace treaties, like the rest of the war institutions make more sense in the conventional war framework (tanks rolling down the hills). Peace treaties can prevent invasions more easily then they prevent checks. Hizballah & Hamas are not closing for business at the end of any Syria-Israel deal, regardless of its form. They may take a strategic hit, but it’s not really the kind of war where that makes that big difference. Doubling or halving Hezballah’s budget (for example) is not that big a deal to Israel’s long term position. Not comparable to removing the threat of Egyptian Armed Battalions was. Hezballah, in all its might has more or less one big card it can play. It can force Israel into a war that can’t end well. Assad can’t even remove that threat. To put a serious hole in it he needs to be a lot warmer the Egypt needed to be.

    Anyway, I find it hard to picture the Israeli public (Israel has a street too;) supporting this while Hamas representatives speak from Syria.

    I also think that an end of hostilities means wins all round. But what I was asking is what kind of effect does this have on that front. Does it mean an end of hostilities? The commonly held belief in Israel is that the Sheba Farms have always been an excuse.

    Posted by netsp | March 31, 2009, 9:59 am
  23. Another thing,

    Why does Assad need an Israel treaty to join the moderate camp anyway? Is that really a non-negotiable item?

    Posted by netsp | March 31, 2009, 10:01 am
  24. Netsp

    The commonly held belief in Lebanon is that Shebaa is an excuse too. Even Michel Aoun, back in 2005, called Shebaa an excuse for Hizbullah to hold on to its weapons.

    But it’s important to ask: whose excuse is it? Hizbullah’s or Syria’s? There’s a wide range of opinions on this issue, which might be summarized as follows:

    1. Hizbullah has no intention of EVER disarming, so they will find excuse after excuse.

    2. Hizbullah would consider disarming in exchange for some kind of grand bargain on the political level in Lebanon, essentially trading weapons for Shi`a rights.

    3. What Hizbullah wants is completely irrelevant because Shebaa is essentially a Syrian excuse to keep the resistance among its cards at the negotiating table. This position can be summed up by the formula expressed to me by one reader of this blog: “Hizbullah is essentially a transnational organization stuck in a national context.”

    4. Some combination of the above (bearing in mind that Hizbullah is not a monolith, and there are different schools of thought within the movement.)

    As for needing an Israel treaty… to me that’s obvious. The whole point of joining the modarabs is to be welcomed by their patrons… that is impossible without a treaty with Israel.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 31, 2009, 10:13 am
  25. Netsp,

    I do (disagree). I think you’re underestimating the contribution that a peace treaty with Syria would have to the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. I believe, that such a peace agreement is precisely the kind of jump-start that we need, to get as close to (if not fulfill) the Arab Initiative since 2002. We returned Gaza. If we return the Golan, we will be signaling to the entire Arab world that we ARE accepting their “3 Yes’s”, that we DO want to withdraw from the West Bank as well, but cannot do it yet, or without their help.

    Following Syria, will almost undoubtedly be Lebanon. And following Lebanon, my guess, will be the ENTIRE Arab world, except for the Palestinians. What a signal would that be for the Palestinian people (not Fatah and Hamas, the people that vote for them). How much more pressure can Israel hope for, than to have the entire Arab world screaming: “You see? They’re ready to end the conflict! They’ve taken the 2nd-to-last step. Now mend your differences, get it right, and work together to resolve the issues!”

    That’s the kind of (positive) pressure that only the Arab world can create. Not even the U.S. can, or should, do so. Also, in my opinion and as I’ve stated many times before, Syria is in perfect position to help bring the Palestinians resolve their differences, and then to help broker peace between them and Israel.

    The ENTIRE regional picture could change. Not to mention Syria’s influence both in Iraq, and with Iran. Syria can help bridge gaps between the Shia and America (Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah). With all due respect to Egypt and its mighty armored divisions, it has never been in such a strategic position as Syria is in now, nor serve as a potential key to the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, as Syria can. When Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, the entire Arab world rejected and banned her. If Syria will do so, it will have the exact opposite effect. Everyone is waiting for Israel to make the last two steps – Golan and W. Bank. If we can’t do the latter (and today there’s no doubt that we cannot), then we MUST do the first.

    Posted by Shai | March 31, 2009, 11:20 am
  26. QN,
    I think Assad is intelligent enough to know that the prosperity of those countries in relation to Syria is more to do with their economic policies rather than their relationship with Israel. And Im not sure Syria is headed into the abyss. Most economic forecasts I’ve read say Syria is doing quite well with the more open policies he has introduced.

    While I agree with the fact that Shebaa is more an excuse than a reason why are all your points from the position of being anti-Hizballah? Are we now saying that anything they say or claim is a lie?

    Posted by mo | March 31, 2009, 11:35 am
  27. Mo, Syria is not doing well. There have been a few steps in the right direction but the broad trend is too little, too late. I highly recommend my friend Ehsani’s economy-related articles on over at Josh Landis’s blog.

    Syria has a young and rapidly growing population, dwindling oil reserves, a state-controlled economy, rampant corruption, a Hariri-esque figure in Rami Makhlouf (but without any pretensions to transparency)… and no petrodollars to prop it up. Bashar needs the west and he knows it. Unfortunately, that requires making a deal on Israel. He’s trying to do it without simultaneously becoming a “puppet” so whatever… more power to him.

    As for Netsp’s question about Shebaa, I’m trying to explain the non-Hizbullah position in Lebanon. Of course there are plenty of people who accept Hizbullah’s rhetoric on Shebaa and the “bleeding wounds”, but since we all know what that message is, there’s no need to rehash it.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 31, 2009, 12:26 pm
  28. QN,
    That brings me to the question from before: Why is the Israel deal important?

    It sounds to me like you are think of history as advancing towards the inevitable end of a wide regional peace.

    But from the perspective of the negotiators Palestinian agreement is not a possible reality. The Pan-Arab deal is now an exploding termsheet that will have expired by the time they come to the table. The concept of the Arab World as an entity is not strong lately. Advantages of a deal will need to be more stand-alone to be compelling.

    Posted by netsp | March 31, 2009, 2:30 pm
  29. Not sure I understand.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 31, 2009, 2:31 pm
  30. Netsp,

    The Arab Initiative was not did not require Pan-Arabism. It was a resolution that was offered to Israel, in return for normalization and peace. The Arab world can be disunited, and still make peace with Israel. I agree though, that for Israel, a peace deal with Syria will need to be more “compelling” (at least as our public views it right now, with 70% against the withdrawal from the Golan).

    I certainly believe in the “inevitable end of a wide regional peace”, as you called it, though it is up to us and this region to decide how we wish to reach this end. I’m not at all suggesting that war is out of the question – in fact, if Bibi is NOT intent on becoming the next Begin, then the chances for a “wide regional war” are pretty high. Some look back, and see that the last real wars took place some 30-35 years ago (73, 82), and therefore feel the chances are slim for a repeat. But I’m observing also a growing frustration in the region, by all parties, which is bound to explode one way or another. The only way to avoid that, is by peace agreements.

    Having said that, I do recognize that “real peace” cannot be hoped for until the Palestinians achieve their right to statehood (either two-state, or one-state). But I prefer “cold peace” to “no peace”.

    Posted by Shai | March 31, 2009, 2:43 pm
  31. It’s assumed that a deal with Israel puts Syria on the West’s supported country list, with real estate bubbles sure to follow. Why?

    What’s Israel go to do with it? Why can’t Syria deal directly with the US?

    Posted by netsp | March 31, 2009, 2:47 pm
  32. I haven’t read all the comments, so please forgive me if this question has been answered already, since I’m on my way out the door.

    Why are Israelis so obsessed with Arab leaders going to Jerusalem to “address the Israeli people”? And why should the onus be on the Arabs for this? Why shouldn’t Bibi go to Damascus?

    Posted by sean | March 31, 2009, 4:25 pm
  33. Sean,
    Because the Israelis need “no war” while the Syrians need peace. The status quo is good for Israel. Israel has already excellent relations with the EU and the US, its main trading partners. Syria wants these kind of relations with the West. Therefore, it has to be more proactive if it wants peace. And the only way to get that is gain the trust of the Israeli voter. And the only way to do that is make a Sadat like move. To be clear, no one is obliged to do anything, but if Syria wants to better its economic situation, Asad most wow the Israeli electorate that is currently for the status quo and against giving the Golan back.

    The Golan is not really the main issue for Assad. This also answers Netsp’s question. The Golan is an excuse for leaving the “resistance” camp. It was the precedent set by Egypt. Asad cannot leave the “resistance” camp without getting the Golan because then he will viewed as a complete sell out. If he gets the Golan he has some cover, though it will be far from complete.

    Posted by AIG | March 31, 2009, 7:28 pm
  34. And the only way to do that is make a Sadat like move.

    But this is such a fundamental disconnect: do people in Israel even realize what “a Sadat like move” means to the Arab world?

    If there’s ANYTHING that Assad does NOT want to be even remotely associated with when, one day inshallah, he makes peace with Israel, it’s got to be Anwar Sadat.

    It’s like asking Obama to please specifically use the words “peace in our time” to sell his outreach policy to Iran…

    Posted by alle | March 31, 2009, 10:32 pm
  35. alle,
    In the Israeli public psyche, ‘Peace’ is very different from ceasefire. Not just more of the same. See how Shai approaches it (above). The israeli peace proponents use the word as an ideological focal point. Something to believe in. This is a view rarely expressed in public anymore. But it is still part of the psyche. Its very prominent if you look at the the arts & it’s still (I think) taught at schools. It’s a very powerful word in Israel. Almost like ‘Communism’ (the stateless, classless, socialist utopia) was to the Marxists.

    The reason that the peace camp elements in Israel are so excited at the prospect of a Syria deal is intimately related to this. There are all sorts of issues that are urgent to ‘the left’ right now: the rise of powerful billionaires, domestic racism, increasing sectarianism & of course the Palestinian issue. Why bother focusing on a Syria deal? The Golan is not a humanitarian issue, not an economic burden. It’s not degrading the moral fibre of society. etc. etc. Even if you’re in the 30% that wants to hand it back, you’re not in a rush. My guess is that they believe that Israelis will revive the dream.

    In that context, a practical deal signed without the emotional component is not nearly as powerful.

    Sadat’s visit played to that romanticization of peace. It implied (to Israelis) a wider longer term vision, a historical turning point. That’s what is meant by Sadat-like.

    I want to point out that Israeli leaders can also address Syria. This isn’t a matter of establishing subordination. I also want to point out that politicians are not at all this sentimental. But the public mood has an effect on their actions.

    * There is not a wide understanding in Israel of the connotations of ‘like Sadat.’ The closest you would find ‘in the street’ is the distilled version: “They all hated him because he decided make peace with us.” It loses the nuance.

    Posted by netsp | April 1, 2009, 1:04 am
  36. Asad cannot leave the “resistance” camp without getting the Golan because then he will viewed as a complete sell out.


    We all know Assad wants his cake and eat it.

    As impossible as it sounds, the a-holes in the Obama administration may just help him get both.

    I already miss W.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 1, 2009, 2:22 am
  37. Because the Israelis need “no war” while the Syrians need peace. The status quo is good for Israel

    And this, I think, is the weak link in Israeli strategic thinking. Israelis seem so fixated on short-term tactical successes that they ignore the writing on tall. The Syrians are infinitely patient, and when it comes to the region, although I’m sure you’ll disagree, time is not on your side…

    Posted by sean | April 1, 2009, 2:00 pm
  38. If Arabs had not been saying the same thing for 60 years and been consistently wrong then I would take what you say seriously. But the facts are simple. Over 60 years Israel has grown consistently relatively stronger to the Arabs.

    The writing on the wall is the following. The only way for Arab states to grow stronger is to democratize. They are loath to do that because of the vested interested of the elites and because the intellectuals are scared of a civil war. It is you who is not seeing the writing on the wall.

    Posted by AIG | April 1, 2009, 8:39 pm
  39. “If Arabs had not been saying the same thing for 60 years…”
    That’s funny, I could almost swear the 3 Arab summits in Beirut, Riyadh, and Damascus, since 2002, nullified the famous Khartoum “3 No’s”, with the entire Arab world’s support of the “3 Yes’s”. Strange how to some, everything that comes out of an Arab’s mouth always sounds the same…


    Thank you for the clarification about Bashar not wishing to be identified with Sadat. But along Netsp’s words, don’t you think we could achieve so much, if Bashar invited Netanyahu (or even Peres, being the President of Israel) to Damascus? I believe Peres would go. And this would be very different from Sadat.

    It is precisely in this area – the “CBM-realm” – that I find it difficult to understand Syria’s hesitation. If Bashar is already stating for over 5-6 years now, on every possible media, his personal and his nation’s readiness for peace with Israel, why on earth can’t he invite an Israeli journalist to interview him, in Damascus? Or send Nadya Cohen any information (or anything at all) that relates to her husband Eli Cohen? Or enable religious leaders from both countries to meet in Jordan? Or, god-forbid, meet Olmert/now-Netanyahu on the border in Kuneitra, in some India-Pakistan border ceremony which their own leaders occasionally conduct?

    Netsp is right – what Israelis seek more than anything, is the emotional effect that will resuscitate their hopes for peace. Although I was only 8 at the time, I still remember well how Israelis all around me, children and adults, were literally crying as we watched (on our black-and-white TV sets) Sadat emerge from that EgyptAir plane, in 1977, at Ben-Gurion Airport. Even AIG knows, that if Bashar could cause Israelis to once again cry, the Golan would return to Syria the next day.

    I understand the issue with coming to Jerusalem. So let’s find alternatives. We Israelis are a stubborn emotional people who, very similarly to Arabs, can heat up and cool down in an instant. We can go from hating and fearing Syrians to almost “loving” and trusting them the next minute, if only the right act takes place.

    Posted by Shai | April 1, 2009, 9:14 pm
  40. AIG: Tripoli was under crusader rule for 300 years. You throw out 60 years like it’s some sort of astonishingly long figure. Again, I can’t help but stress how short-sighted your thinking is.

    Posted by sean | April 2, 2009, 11:37 am
  41. For the Israelis here: has it ever occurred to you that maybe Israel ought to try to convince the “Arab street,” as it were, of your good intentions? In the last couple of years, Israel has level Gaza, pummeled South Lebanon and bombed Syria, all while millions of Palestinians rot in refugee camps. Why is it that we only ever hear about what Israelis need to believe the Arabs are serious?

    Posted by sean | April 2, 2009, 12:24 pm
  42. Sean,

    Excellent question, but unfortunately too many Israelis do not have what you call “good intentions”. At best, most today are ready for “Peace for Peace” (as Mofaz of Kadima and now Lieberman of Israeli Beitenu call it). I haven’t seen recent polls on this, but in theory it can be assumed that around 50% of Israelis would still be willing to withdraw from most of the West Bank (90-95%) if, in theory, a Palestinian state could be formed. And about 70% are against giving back the Golan, even in return for peace with Syria.

    But as I’ve stated before, Israelis can also quickly change their minds. Before 1977, the same numbers were against a withdrawal from the Sinai. After Sadat’s visit, the numbers were reversed.

    Of course there is no justice served in having the Arab side constantly run after Israel (the occupier), begging for peace. I’m not sure I’d have half the patience the Arab world is exhibiting towards Israel, especially since 2002. I’m not suggesting I’d necessarily go to war (at least not a large, frontal regional one), but I may well have terminated or invalidated the Arab Initiatives from Beirut, Riyadh, and Damascus.

    I’ve called upon Syrians in the past to create CBM’s, precisely because I see how incapable (or unwilling) Israelis are. We are numb, apathetic, and suffering from a perceived superiority complex. We believe time is on our side. So now the question is – do the Arabs say “P**s off. You know where to reach us.”, or do they try to reach the Israeli public on the emotional realm? I know it sounds crazy to ask the Arabs for the latter, but that’s precisely what I’m doing.

    Believe it or not – you ARE the stronger side, on almost all grounds except for militarily.

    Posted by Shai | April 2, 2009, 5:02 pm
  43. Sean,

    The answer to your questions is simple. The Israeli street gets to vote in free elections and changes the party in power frequently. And as for the Arab street, if it exists, it does not matter one iota. Public opinion in Arab countries cannot change anything.

    You really want Israel to plan 300 years into the future but you don’t think that taking into account what has happened in the last 60 years is the right thing to do? Your argument is just wrong on many fronts. First, nobody can predict anything 300 years into the future. We do not even know what technology will be like 20 years from now. Second, you want to make predictions not based on past trends? Based on what then? Your imagination of what the future will be like? What, are you a prophet?

    But let’s make a deal. The moment I see Israel beginning to weaken relative to the Arabs even just one little bit, I will reconsider my strategy. But even that is not happening.

    Posted by AIG | April 2, 2009, 10:45 pm

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