Israel, Lebanon, Syria Launches

I’m pleased to announce the launch of, a website that has been in development for about a year now. Here’s the skinny on it: is an online discussion arena intended for raising and debating ideas central to the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The project, which represents the first joint Syrian-Israeli online dialogue of its kind, was formed through the efforts of private individuals from both countries — bloggers, academics, political analysts, journalists, and businesspeople — who set out to produce an extensive list of objections to peace commonly encountered in both Syrian and Israeli societies.

Through a voting process, the group collectively settled upon two “Top Twenty Lists” of objections to peace (one Syrian, one Israeli), and then set about attempting to produce the most effective counter-arguments to each objection.

The results of the project are available for download (text and podcast) on the website. During its next phase, will invite experts and opinion leaders from both countries to discuss the challenges associated with the Syrian-Israeli peace process, and to submit constructive feedback for publication on the site.

Credit for the lion’s share of the thought and work behind this project must go to my friend Camille Otrakji, who is a true dynamo. Other folks involved include Joshua Landis of Syria Comment, Yo’av Stern of Ha’aretz and the Peres Center for Peace, and many other folks who regularly read this blog.

The site has already been profiled in The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian and The Huffington Post, and will also be covered by a few other news outlets in the coming days. I’ll have more to say about the project as well, but for now please feel free to check it out, and come back here to comment (as I don’t think that we’ve enabled commenting yet on the actual site).

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32 thoughts on “ Launches

  1. Credit for many reasons, but especially for ensuring that the site’s content was in a good enough shape to share publicly goes mostly to Mr. Qifa Nabki who worked very hard to fix/change/update/or rewrite the messy things that we originally wrote 🙂

    Posted by Alex | May 19, 2010, 10:58 am
  2. Yet another doomed attempt to normalization with the Zionist-settlers state (l’État des colons juifs, according to George Corm).

    Posted by Jihad | May 19, 2010, 11:42 am
  3. I don’t understand why “Israel cannot survive without a conflict” is listed as a Syrian objection to peace with Israel. It says that without conflict, Israel would “dissolve in Middle East’s vast sea of religious and ethnic minorities”. I would think this would be an argument for, not against, peace between Syria and Israel. If we accept the premise of the argument, a peace treaty would make it more likely for Israel to dissolve, which presumably would be a good thing from a Syrian point of view.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | May 19, 2010, 11:48 am
  4. Also, why is the argument about the one-state solution listed as a Syrian objection? I support the one-state solution, but I don’t see why Syria would care whether a one-state or a two-state solution is adopted (as long as the Palestinians are satisfied with whichever option is chosen), or why this would affect its interest in a peace treaty.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | May 19, 2010, 12:09 pm
  5. Benjamin

    With regard to your first question, it is listed as a Syrian objection because the assumption by many is that peace is impossible because Israel needs conflict to survive. In other words, you hear many Syrians say that striving for peace with Israel is futile because Israel needs the conflict to survive.

    The second objection may not have been phrased clearly enough. I think that what is intended is the idea that Syria should not make peace with Israel unless a one-state solution is adopted. Signing an agreement with Israel before that stage will further weaken the prospects for such a state, so this is in effect an argument against peace with Israel [b/c there is no one-state solution right now]

    Let me underscore that these objections (on both the Israeli and Syrian side) are not necessarily held by the participants themselves. We tried to come up with the most common objections that one hears when talking to members of both countries. So it’s reported speech.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 19, 2010, 12:18 pm
  6. OK, I understand now. On the first point, I think it would be clearer to say not that this is an objection to the idea of a peace treaty, but rather a reason why Israel would never agree to a peace treaty.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | May 19, 2010, 12:22 pm
  7. QN
    (1) No one can tell whether this effort will make a contribution towards a solution or not but it sure is worth trying. Best of luck for all.

    )2) For whatever it is worth, I do believe that the list of objections can be winnowed to ,say ten objections. I think that will address the overlap and focus the discussions.

    (3) I just posted a couple of lines and it seems to be working, the comment section that is.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 19, 2010, 12:35 pm
  8. QN, One more thing, why is the organization and position required for posting? That has very much of an elitist attitude:-) If the posts are to be moderated then wouldn’t it make sense to judge each submission on its content rather than the position of the writer?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 19, 2010, 1:02 pm
  9. You are right Ghassan : )

    I think we wanted to make it more clear that it will be heavily moderated.

    Posted by Alex | May 19, 2010, 1:28 pm
  10. The site could be a great time saver. Instead of repeating the same arguments again and again one could reference it.

    The thing is, that the site assumes that there is a rational way to analyze the conflict. This is like the fallacy behind mainstream economics that assumes the existence of a rational economic agent when in fact there isn’t one. A typical experiment showing this fallacy involves giving a one person $100 dollars and telling him that he can determine how much money he will get and how much a second person will get. The only catch is that if the second person refuses the offer, both persons do not get anything.

    If we were truly rational, we would accept even a proposal to share the money $99 and $1 because otherwise we would receive nothing. But in fact most people reject such offers and are content with receiving nothing as long as the person making the offer also gets nothing.

    I fear that the Israeli-Arab peace process is stuck in such a dynamic. Israel makes proposals that it believes reflect the relative strengths of the parties and the facts on the ground while the Arabs cannot bring themselves to take an agreement that they feel is too favorable to Israel even if it means the continuation of a sub-optimal situation for them.

    Posted by AIG | May 19, 2010, 4:54 pm
  11. AIG,
    Behavioural Economics claims that agents do not always act rationally but it does not claim that we are always irrational. (I am sure that you know that since Behavioural Economics was practically invented by an Israeli).
    The real quandary is why do the players in the Middle East always act irrationally? 🙂

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 19, 2010, 5:02 pm
  12. What, no “colonialism should not be rewarded with normalization” as an objection?

    How about “we don’t want the multitude and plethora of benefits heaped upon the Egyptians and Jordanians for signing a peace treaty”?

    No? Oh well I guess your “contributors” are better than placed than I to decide what the top objections amongst Syrians are.

    When you do the Lebanese one, count my vote under the objection that hell hasn’t yet frozen over.

    Posted by mo | May 19, 2010, 5:19 pm
  13. Congratulations for putting together a highly interesting and rational summary for the arguments against peace from both sides. Seeing those well known reasoning side by side does put it into perspective.

    I would like to comment on a major reasoning missing from the Israeli list, in my opinion, and that is how the peace agreements with Egypt & Jordan are seen as failures from some aspects, which gives reason to believe a peace agreement with Syria will be no different.

    The reason many in Israel see the current peace agreements as failures, despite their stability and despite both Egypt & Jordan keep to their side of the bargain, are numerous. To quote a few:
    – Despite the peace agreements, both nations (Egypt & Jordan) remain highly anti-Israel an no positive dynamic has ensued within these countries.
    – No positive impact has resulted on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    – No significant economic benefits have been reaped, trade is insignificant for Israel & similarly so for the peace partners.

    I could go on, but my point is that many people in Israel project these outcomes to a peace with Syria.

    Please remember that it’s not enough to counter-measure the arguments against peace, you also have to bring arguments in favor of it. Considering the above outcomes of the peace agreements with Egypt & Jordan, and considering the likely prospect of an Israeli-Syrian deal to be the same, I think this should be high on the list of Israeli objections.


    Posted by G | May 19, 2010, 5:35 pm
  14. A very timely article in the May 17, 2010 issue of The Hew York Review of Books.

    It is an excellent and an informative article about the tensions between the right wing Zionism prevalent in the current Israeli government and those that are liberal Zionists.
    Here is a small sample to what your appetite{

    “Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

    For the full article go to:


    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 19, 2010, 10:14 pm
  15. What the fuck! Why is there a picture of “The Ancient City of Byblos” in the photo banner on top?!! Are the participants hoping to bring Byblos under control by either Syria or Israel?

    Posted by A Purple Monkey | May 20, 2010, 2:15 am
  16. AIG,

    Your judgment of rationality is totally materialistic, without any consideration for morality!

    Posted by Badr | May 20, 2010, 5:23 am
  17. It is an excellent and an informative article about the tensions between the right wing Zionism prevalent in the current Israeli government and those that are liberal Zionists.

    Ghassam Karam,

    As you stated above, liberal or “right-wing”, they are both Zionists, which, as you know, already disqualifies them with regard to the “resistance” nuts who govern Iran, Syria, and Gaza and who hold Lebanon hostage.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 20, 2010, 6:38 am
  18. Hi Ghassan,

    Thanks for sharing that article. What I found most interesting was this statement:

    Luntz urges American Jewish groups to use the word “Arabs, not Palestinians,” since “the term ‘Palestinians’ evokes images of refugee camps, victims and oppression,” while “‘Arab’ says wealth, oil and Islam.”

    I think it just underscores the fact that for many Israelis it’s not matter of morality or doing right by your own terms… It’s simply a matter of perception.

    Not to say this doesn’t happen on the other side of the divide, but I think this is the biggest obstacle to peace.

    If we cared as much about being humane as we care about being perceived as humane this ‘conflict’ would have passed us long ago.

    Posted by Johnny | May 20, 2010, 8:25 am
  19. Badr,

    The moment you bring an elusive concept like morality into the mix, you will get a war of civilizations.

    Is it moral to drink alcohol? Are gay relations moral? Is it moral to have a cartoon of Mohamed? And these are not really the hard questions about morality even (in the shadows lurk promises about land on one hand and a gaggle of virgins waiting in heaven on the other).

    Economic gains is something we can measure though and all agree upon. I am not dismissing non-rational or if you prefer subjective criteria like “morality”, I am just saying that they complicate peace making immensely.

    Posted by AIG | May 20, 2010, 9:18 am
  20. A great idea and an interesting site, however it lacks any form of actual dialogue. I believe the comments here would be better located there, but there’s no forum and the comment system seems to be aimed at representatives from organizations (not plain folk like us).

    Posted by Yonatan Amir | May 20, 2010, 1:15 pm
  21. I’m really sceptical of anything that Josh Landis is involved in. He is quite close to the regime.

    The Blogosphere’s Foreign Informant

    by Michael Young
    The Daily Star [Beirut, Lebanon]
    March 15, 2007
    Print Send RSS
    What is it about the blogosphere that can transform perfectly credible academics into unethical hit men? The object of my inquiry is one Joshua Landis, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma who hosts a widely read, once respectable Weblog called Syria Comment.

    I make no pretense of maintaining the high road here. My question is prompted by Landis’ putting up a post on his blog last week that made serious and unsubstantiated allegations about me. Nor is this the first or second time this happens. Landis was so pleased with his text that he e-mailed it to various correspondents for dissemination. On Sunday, Landis asked for my permission to post a rebuttal I had sent him. I agreed. But when I next checked his site, he was telling readers he wanted “passions to cool” before posting his response to my unposted comments. I mentioned his promise unkept; he offered an unpersuasive excuse, saying my rejoinder would go up on Wednesday. That calculated delay made any rebuttal meaningless, so I asked him to forget about it.

    Having been denied a timely chance to respond on his site, I do so here. Why should a row matter? It matters to me because in the polarized Lebanese atmosphere, fabricated accusations can be irresponsible, even dangerous. The theme of Landis’ post is that Lebanon’s Shiites, since they are under-represented in Parliament, are comparable to black slaves in America. For some reason Landis makes me the embodiment of those Lebanese denying Shiites their rights. This is troubling for being visibly personal in intent, given how inconsequential I am in the matter of Shiite power; but also because I’ve repeatedly argued that the Taif agreement needs overhauling so Shiites receive a greater stake in the system. I wrote last summer that “Taif was designed to build a post-war state. It should be re-tooled to bring the Shiite community back into the Lebanese fold.”

    Landis builds his case on false pretences. He writes that I believe “the Shiite Crescent is the true enemy of the West and liberty in the region.” I responded that he might want to supply a quote, since I rarely use the term “Shiite Crescent,” negatively or positively, find the idea simplistic, and have written so. Landis states that I back disarmament of “the Shiites” in South Lebanon by international forces. I again requested a quote. None was forthcoming, possibly because I’ve argued that such a step would be disastrous. In June 2005 I wrote here that “no one wants to see [Hizbullah] disarmed by force, nor is that a sensible option … [And] no one in Washington or Paris, let alone at United Nations headquarters, is contemplating going down such a reckless path.”

    Most disturbing, Landis writes: “Young once said to me that if Taif were rewritten and Christians were allocated less than their present 50 percent share of Parliamentary seats, he might be forced to leave Lebanon.” Landis made this up, and I can confirm that through the four other people present at the dinner where the subject was broached. I wouldn’t make such a statement because I disagree with it.

    Here is what I wrote in The Daily Star in August 2005, in a piece on how Taif might be used advantageously to reform Lebanon’s political system: “What is expected, first, of Christians, is to collectively initiate a process realistically assessing where they stand now … In that sense, the Taif agreement … offers guidelines to a system gradually moving away from political confessionalism: administrative decentralization, but also the elimination of a 50-50 ratio of Christians to Muslims in Parliament, and the creation of a Senate – probably evenly divided between the religious communities – to deal with major national issues.”

    Landis confused our conversation with an exchange published on his blog, in which I plainly made reference to how I thought Christians in general might respond to elimination of the 50-50 ratio. I never mentioned how I myself would react – an issue pertinent here because Landis’ reference to my being “forced to leave” implies that I somehow fear paying a personal price if Muslims are granted a greater share of power. In fact, a peaceful transfer of power through the removal of the 50-50 quota in Parliament, provided there are institutional guarantees to reassure Christians, is the only long-term hope for the Christian community.

    These illustrations, and others, are typical of Landis’ style. He chronically puts harmful words into the mouths of others, with no evidence for his sleights of hand. But when such behavior drifts into articles in respected publications, it becomes a different matter altogether, pointing to a far more worrisome abandonment of academic integrity.

    Take a piece on the Syrian opposition that Landis co-authored in the Winter 2007 issue of The Washington Quarterly. In it he asserted that the Damascus Declaration, an October 2005 document signed by Syrian opposition figures calling for democratic change, “grew out of a clandestine trip to Morocco only a few months earlier by intellectual Michel Kilo to meet with [the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddin] Bayanuni to discuss a new initiative to unite forces.”

    This item was quite damaging to Kilo, who had been languishing in Adra prison for having purportedly colluded with Syria’s enemies. Where did Landis get this information? In reading the article you see that the authors have footnoted an article by Andrew Tabler, which I happen to have read. But as an astute reader reminded me, Tabler only wrote that “two unnamed members” of the Syrian civil society movement had met with Bayanouni. There is no mention of Kilo at all in the piece, because Tabler could not confirm his presence in Morocco. One of two things happened: Either Landis read Tabler as carelessly as he reads everything else he quotes, which still doesn’t explain how Kilo’s name slipped in; or, knowing the impact of what he was saying, Landis mentioned Kilo intentionally, effectively justifying his arrest, then dishonestly attributed this to Tabler.

    I’m increasingly inclined to believe the latter. My theory, and take it for what it’s worth, is that Landis’ ambition is to be the premier mediator with and interpreter of Syria in American academic and policy-making circles – a latter-day Patrick Seale. In this context, and again this is just a coagulating hypothesis, Landis has frequently used his blog to prove his worth to the Syrians – perhaps to enjoy better access. He has also maligned those offering perspectives different than his own. In the post where he went after me, Landis harshly attacked the An-Nahar Washington correspondent, Hisham Melhem, as well. My conviction is that Landis felt he had to discredit us both, mainly because we fear that Lebanon will pay if the US engages Syria. As he once, revealingly, put it to me: “Your anti-Syrian line is the most coherent and best packaged.” I would dispute the term “anti-Syrian” and find his use of the word “packaged” peculiar. Perhaps I’m just not partial to Syria’s leadership.

    Is court scribe really a role an academic should aspire to? And what does it say about Landis that he has consistently promoted the idea that the United States should sign off on renewed Syrian control over Lebanon in exchange for a deal with Damascus in Iraq? What kind of esteem does a scholar invite by wanting to return a recently emancipated, fairly democratic country to its former subjugation by a foreign dictatorship?

    Consider Landis’ oblique, but very clear message in a PBS interview last November. It merits being quoted in full: “Syria is demanding a number of things. They’re demanding the Golan Heights back that was occupied in 1967 by Israel. They want influence in Lebanon, and they don’t want Iraq to fall apart … And, you know, the United States and Syria have dealt together for two decades. And the US in ’91, when it first went to war against Iraq in the Gulf, had Syria on its side, because in a sense it said, ‘You can keep Lebanon in your sphere of influence.’ And Syria said, ‘Yes,’ they kept Lebanon in their sphere of influence. And what happened to Lebanon during that period? It repaired itself in the Civil War. It grew. [Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri … rebuilt Lebanon. It was pro-Western. Because of Syrian influence … in Lebanon [it] does not mean that the country turns into … a small Iran on the Mediterranean. It means that Syrian interests are taken into concern, and it doesn’t mean the end.” Hariri might dispute the last observation. Then again, at a Brookings Institution conference Landis once famously remarked that the late prime minister had “died.”

    One can cite copious contradictions in his posts, as the calculations change. Sometimes Landis will write that Syria is “doing the complete job of guarding [the Iraqi] border”; at other times, he will observe: “By refusing to deal with Syria, the US guaranteed that [Bashar] Assad would not police mujaheddin going in and out of [Iraq] and would work to undermine the US in Iraq.” Sometimes Landis will tell the Council on Foreign Relations that the “Christians in Lebanon are talking about how Israel would be a much better partner than Syria and that they should make peace with Israel”; elsewhere he will affirm that the most popular Christian leader is Michel Aoun, who is close to Hizbullah, and will refer to the “Maronite-Shiite alliance that really frustrated the Sunnis.”

    I’ve long been a believer in the revolutionary potential of blogs, and was a regular visitor to Landis’ site when he used it as a platform to popularize his academic research. But something happened along the way. From an egghead unknown to the public, Landis morphed into a slapdash cyber-pundit, a pamphleteer, a willing agent of influence. Now he always seems to be hawking something. The thing is, his overall value has dived.

    Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

    Posted by Ali | May 20, 2010, 1:33 pm
  22. AIG,

    What I’m arguing is the definition of rationality from a purely philosophical point of view. Let’s say a person refuses to take free money, because he has not earned it, and he does not need a charity. Do you think everyone would agree with your measure on how to judge the rationality of his behaviour?

    Posted by Badr | May 20, 2010, 3:41 pm
  23. AIG,
    I know the example that you have used about human behaviour that is irrationaly rational. (Actually I use that specific example plus many more in some of my class lectures) I am afraid that many have argued that Israel or the one who offers $1 and wants to keep $99 is not acting rationally either. Why take the big risk of being turned down and wind up with nothing when the probabilities of offering $50 increase your chances of getting also $50. The rational party in this case is the one who would have a genuine interest in the total welfare of both players. To opt for gaining 99% is taking the risk of not getting anything and that is not rational.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 20, 2010, 6:14 pm
  24. Badr,

    Morality is also ill defined from a philosophical point of view. There are many philosophical theories of morality which are mostly contradictory.

    To your point, one can argue that it is difficult to know when one has “earned” money. If I find money in the street, have I “earned” it? If I get money by getting interest on money, have I earned it? Muslims say no, others say yes.

    And how do you know if in the future you will not need the money, or you children? And even if you don’t need it, why not take it and give it to charity? How do you know that it will be better spent if it were not given to you?

    Posted by AIG | May 20, 2010, 9:23 pm
  25. Ghassan,

    The thing is that what is being offered and to whom is not clear. Israelis see themselves in a conflict with the Arab world. Does the huge Arab world with its trillions in petro dollars really need the Golan? No. It is just a matter of “honor”, an ill defined term that can mask any irrational behavior.

    As for the Palestinians, if Israel had no problem absorbing 850,000 Jews from Arab countries, what was the big deal for the Arabs to absorb 700,000 Palestinians?

    Posted by AIG | May 20, 2010, 9:29 pm
  26. AIG,
    With all due respect you have evaded the issue that you brought out in the first place. The Palestinian authority was not more irrational in turning down a Swiss cheese West bank than the Israelis who did not make an offer in good faith. If Israel is to be rational then it would make an offer that can’t be refused. East Jerusalem, 1967 borders, compensation in return for borders gauranteed by Nato full normalization. That would be similar to offering say $50 in the game that you had suggested, To me that is rationality.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 20, 2010, 11:27 pm
  27. Ghassan, IMO the issue is trust, i.e. neither party believes it can trust the other to fulfill its part of the bargain.

    Posted by Yonatan Amir | May 21, 2010, 1:55 am
  28. Hussain Abdul Hussain has also written of Landis and his relationship with the regime in Syria.

    Posted by Ali | May 21, 2010, 2:25 am


  1. Pingback: Thinking About a Post-Conflict Syria | Qifa Nabki - August 6, 2014

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