Saturday, November 27, 2004

Israeli President says Syrian Peace Offer is Significant

UN Mideast peace envoy Terje Roed-Larsen reiterated Friday that Syria was willing to resume peace talks without conditions with Israel. A Syrian government newspaper said Damascus was ready and willing to make peace based on UN resolutions.

Mr. Roed-Larsen's comments followed a meeting in Damascus with Mr. Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.

Israel's leaders should take up a Syrian offer to renew peace talks, President Moshe Katsav said in remarks published Thursday, rejecting assertions by Israeli officials that the offer is not significant.Israeli officials had played down the Roed-Larsen's statement, saying it contained "nothing new."

“In my opinion it is important and worthwhile to thoroughly check out the intentions of Bashar Assad, if he really wants to make peace with us,” Mr. Katsav told the Maariv daily.

“Since (Israel's establishment in) 1948, we have always declared our willingness to conduct peace talks with any Arab leader who wants to come and negotiate with us. I think this should be the case with the Syrian President,” he said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would not comment on Mr. Katsav's remarks. Already struggling to overcome strong domestic opposition to his plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip next year, Mr. Sharon is believed to be unwilling to open another contentious diplomatic front.

“The problem is not with Syrian words, it's Syrian activity,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Regev said. He said Syria could not claim an interest in peace while supporting the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, accused by Israeli leaders of supporting attacks against the Jewish state.

"There is a real chance at present to reactivate the peace process and, at the same time, we find strong momentum to lay the pillars of peace," Larsen told a news conference in Beirut. He called on Israel and Arab countries to "take advantage of this passing opportunity" warning otherwise the "future of the region will be even darker."

Elie Ferzli, Lebanon's information minister, says the implementation of UN resolution 1559, calling for Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon would reignite Lebanon's sectarian war if it is not done in the context of a regional peace agreement.

"Pending a regional solution, we want the great powers, led by the United States, to accept the current status quo in Lebanon, without provoking divisions in our society which could have serious consequences," he said, referring to the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war.

"Syria dearly wants not to be in conflict with the international community," he said. Ferzli said the disarmament of Hezbollah, which still controls large parts of southern Lebanon after Israeli forces ended their 20-year occupation there in 2000, would be impossible without "overall regional peace, which remains our strategic objective".

"Lebanese law and order forces cannot proceed with the disarmament without Syria's security cover, which is a factor in the country's internal stability," he said.

The comments echo those made by Lebanon's pro-Damascus Prime Minister Omar Karameh who said Wednesday that: "We must not move too quickly (with the withdrawal of Syrian troops) as that might lead to the destabilization of Lebanon."

Syria is holding out for the Golan and refuses to give up it's Lebanon card without a regional accord with Israel. It is unclear whether the US has abandoned the Sykes-Picot agreement and 1922 treaty hammered out between Britain and France on "The Palestinian borders with Lebanon and Syria." They have been the foundation of legitimate state borders in the region and the basis of all Western and UN diplomacy. It would be very foolish for the US to drop the ball on this one. Now that the US has Bashar in a headlock, it should put its advantage to good use and push forward a final deal on all the borders between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.

I can't believe that Sharon can only do Gaza. That is a smokescreen. Getting peace with its neighbors has been an Israeli quest since its inception. It would bring credit to any Prime Minister. Most Israelis want normalcy.

As Larsen said: the momentum has been created for regional leaders "to work hard and shoulder their responsibilities. If not, it could turn into a fleeting, or passing moment, and such a moment may not come again." "Starting now the future may be saved. Without changes, we might face a dark future."


At 11/27/2004 09:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh -
First of all, I'm glad to see that you're posting again, since I enjoy your blog a great deal.
Secondly, I wish I could agree with you and say that Sharon can "do" the Golan simultaneously with Gaza. God knows a peace agreement between Israel and Syria ought to be less complicated than one between Israel and the Palestinians, and now that Bashar has offered to resume talks without preconditions, Sharon's anti-negotiation stand is considerably weaker.
At the same time, however, Israel's domestic political scene is a mess. Sharon scored two crucial victories this fall: he won Cabinet and Knesset backing for his disengagement plan without having to hold new elections, and Tzachi Hanegbi (who's considered Sharon's man) triumphed over Uzi Landau (who led the "rebels," the anti-disengagement Likudniks) in the Likud Central Committee chairmanship election. But his coalition is still highly unstable, especially now that next year's budget is being debated and Sharon and the Shinui party are butting heads over monies to be allocated toward the interests of the NRP and the UTJ (National Religious Party and United Torah Judaism). The whole debate over bringing Labor into the coalition has reopened, and will likely accelerate once disengagement begins this winter/spring. This can only weaken the grasp that Sharon has regained on his own party, and he needs to control Likud to stay in power, whether or not Labor is in the coalition. With this sort of political precariousness in mind, it is not likely that Sharon will reopen the Syrian track on his own volition, even if Katsav and Ya'alon and other people in the military establishment say it's a good idea.
There are two things, however, that could probably force Sharon's hand (or give him the freedom to negotiate, if that's what he wants to do, though it's probably not). The first would be a combination of American pressure and encouragement - from Bush or Rice themselves. The second would be Bashar Asad "pulling a Sadat" and actually addressing Israel publicly, maybe even visiting the country. Nothing would sway Israeli public opinion more. Statements to Terje Roed-Larsen or the New York TImes can only go so far. Giving back the Golan might be an unpopular idea in Israel, but I think that a majority of Israelis would be deeply moved if Bashar indicated that he's indeed interested in making peace with them, and not just the United States. On the other hand, who knows how that would play in Damascus. The danger of "pulling a Sadat" is, of course, ending up like Sadat.

Anyway, good to see that you're posting again.
Avshalom Rubin

At 11/29/2004 01:15:00 AM, Blogger Ami Isseroff said...

Dear Josh Landis,
From here, it looks different from the way it looks in Oklahoma.

To understand what happens in the Middle East, you have to look behind the headlines of who said what. Of course, we know what Katsav said and what Larsen said and what the Lebanese say.

As much as we may want peace, we have to look at all the signals.

Listen to the US government. Did you hear them pressuring Israel to make peace with Syria? I didn't. Very strange isn't it? Isn't the US always so anxious to make peace between Israel and anyone? So the silence speaks volumes.

It seems that the US is not so very anxious for Israel to make peace with Syria or to legitimate the Syrian government in any way, for the same reason that the Syrians are anxious to get into the good graces of the US and look like good guys. Right or wrong, the US has gotten the idea, shared by not a few Syrians, that lots of Iraqi Ba'thist small fry were allowed to shelter themselves in Syria, and there is talk of various weapons that may have been brought to Syria. The US also believes that the Iraqi insurgents are getting money and support from Syira (not many people though). The US does not take kindly to this, and is also unlikely to view Syria as the ideal peacemaker in Lebanon.

As for Ferzli, what do you expect him to say? What would a Polish or Czech minister say about their fraternal Soviet friends in the good old days? "We love nice fraternal Soviet tanks. Very good for our people." If Assad and his cronies take their hands out of the Lebanese politicians, they have a strange way of collapsing, like Kermit the frog.

The US could hardly abandon the Sykes Picot agreement or the Hussayn-MacMahon correspondence, any more than they could abandon the settlement of the Napoleonic wars, since Sykes Picot was unofficial and secret correspondence of the British with the French government, and the USA was not a party to it. The Israel/Syria frontier is not based on the Sykes-Picot agreement in any case. The border that the Syrians insist upon is based upon acquisition of territory by aggression by Syria in 1948. The areas they claim were in Palestine before 1948.

As frontiers were changed by one war, they might be changed again by another. However, at present, that isn't the issue. The problem is not the border line, but the question of whether or not Israeli-Syrian peace is opportune for the US in the eyes of the US government.

As for Sharon, he may be politically unable to pull off even the Gaza disengagement. He is facing a serious revolt on the right, and opening another front of possible concessions would probably cost him the leadership of his party.

Ami Isseroff

MidEastWeb for coexistence

At 11/29/2004 02:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Update to this thread - A spokesman for Mubarak has said that Egypt might be willing to play a mediating role between Syria and Egypt, and that the topic will be discussed when Asad comes to Sharm al-Sheikh on the 30th. or

Enjoy! - Avi Rubin

At 11/30/2004 09:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the best situation you can enter negotiation with someone? Wouldn't be when the other party is weak and desperate for negotiation?
Israel refuses Bashar's offer on the ground that he merely want to release his country from the enormous pressure Syria is being under. That is might be true, but it makes Israel's position stronger in those negotiations because Bashar will be willing then to agree on many terms and conditions that no Syrian government would agree upon if it is stronger and under better position. In Syria, it looks like Bashar IS willing to break away from supporting Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups he harbors, but he cannot justify this unless it is done under the cover of an overall peace deal with Israel. He WILL do what Israel wants after the peace deal but he, nor any Syrian president, will be able to fulfill the Israeli demands as pre-condition to peace talks because it will make that president loose his credibility to even enter a peace talk with Israel in the eyes of his people.
Opening these negotiations would also somehow help Sharon pass his Gaza plans while the main attention of the media is focused on this new breakthrough.
The only rationale for the Israeli government's decision of ignoring the Syrian offer is that they put their money on a situation in Syria in the future similar to that of Iraq.
If that happened then they are right in their decision, but it seems unlikely. If the situation on the Syrian front does not develop into something like Iraq, then Syria will never be as weak as it is now. That is what Larsen meant by saying that Israel should take advantage of this opportunity.

At 12/02/2004 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

I was about to write down some of my thoughts on this, but Michael Young beat me to it. here it is. It's more articulate than anything I would've written!

At 7/12/2006 11:55:00 PM, Blogger naochan said...

Update to this thread - A spokesman for Mubarak has said that Egypt might be willing to play a mediating role between Syria and Egypt, and that the topic will be discussed when Asad comes to Sharm al-Sheikh on the 30th.


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