|Camille Alexandre | Founder of Creativesyria||Canada|
Some of the most popular reasons for opposing peace talks with Syria that I read in the comments section of every Syria related article in my favorite Israeli newspaper, Haaretz:
1) Syria attacked Israel in 1967 and it deserves to pay a price (The Golan)
There are numerous reliable sources that explain what really happened in 1967. Syria was part of the Arab world that was led by Nasser’s Egypt. If we put Arab politics and public rhetoric aside, it would be clear that Syria was not posing any existential, nor serious threat to Israel at the time. For a backstage look at what really happened, I recommend watching the excellent PBS documentary: the 50 Years War. Or better still, read what your legendary defense minister Moshe Dayan admitted in a 1976 interview that was banned for a decade until his daughter published it in the 90’s: Dayan said
The Syrians were not threatening us at the time.’ The attack proceeded not because Israel was threatened but because of pressure from land-hungry farmers and army commanders in northern Israel. ‘Of course [war with Syria] was not necessary. About those shellings: Syria shelled and otherwise emanated cold hostility. But, Dayan told his interviewer, ‘at least 80 percent’ of two decades of border clashes were initiated by Israel.
So, Syria does not really deserve the “punishment” of Israel’s “capture” of the Golan in an unprovoked aggression. Ask every country on earth that supports UN resolutions 242 and 338.
2) The Syrian regime is not democratic, Israel can not do business with a dictator.
Well then why did you support signing a peace treaty with Egypt and then with Jordan? And why is prime minister Olmert so eager to sit down with the Saudis and the other Gulf Arab rulers? The only way Syria is different from those other Middle Eastern countries is in the fact it is not a US ally. Is this a potential strategic threat to Israel?
3) Syria must cut its relations with Hamas/Hizballah/Iran before we can talk
This is the fantastic approach that was first made popular by the current American administration which is, so far, not known for its experience, wisdom or achievements in the Middle East. On his first visit to Damascus, secretary of state Colin Powell told the Syrian president that from now on there will be no negotiations with Syria until it agrees to and meets a number of American demands. The idea was to show the new Syrian leader that the United states will not anymore tolerate his late father’s 5-hour marathon negotiation sessions at the end of which he often succeeded in convincing the exhausted visiting American officials to agree to his recommendations. The new strategy of dealing with Syria was: “these are our demands .. take them or leave them”
The fact is, you can only dictate stern terms like these to a country you just invaded and destroyed in a totally one-sided war. Whoever came up with this new Syria policy either did not know much about international relations, or he wanted to have an excuse for avoiding an inevitable settlement with Syria.
Why does Syria have relations with these organizations? For various reasons. One of them is that these are very popular organizations. Hamas scored a landslide victory in the latest free elections in Palestinian territories. Hizbollah is highly popular among Lebanon’s Shia community, and also among many others in the Arab world. Do not blame Syria for “supporting Hizbollah and Hamas”. Blame Israel’s strategic blunders that led to the creation and increasing popularity of both Hamas and Hizbollah. Just imagine if Israel did not invade Lebanon in 1982, or even if they invaded and departed right after the PLO was sent to Tunisia. Just imagine how much less popular Nasrallah would have been had he not been handed the opportunity to defeat the mighty IDF last summer. In effect, it is Mr. Olmert who is mainly to blame for “supporting Hizbollah”
While many Arab leaders share Israel’s desire to weaken or destroy Hizbollah, the Arab street is still full of Nasrallah posters. If Israel does not understand the need to deal with these popular Palestinian and Lebanese forces, Syria is not obliged to make the same mistake. Syria’s ability to communicate with Hizbollah and Hamas can be used in the most positive ways if you can manage to look beyond the non logical demand “Syria must cut its relations with these organizations”.
4) How can I be sure that Assad is solidly in power? Can he deliver? Can he respect a signed peace deal?
If after 37 years in power the Syrian regime still needs to prove to you that it is solid enough, then please tell your Syrian counterpart who is worried about Mr. Olmert’s popularity which these days falls within the margin of error, how can Syria take the risk of making commitments to an Israeli government that has a very high chance of collapsing anytime soon.
Syria is taking a big chance by offering to engage the Olmert government with all its internal fighting and highly incompatible members. You are not the one who should worry about stability of the other government.
Syria never violated a signed agreement that it negotiated carefully without outside pressure. There is a difference when Israel withdraws from Arab occupied lands after a negotiated agreement compared to withdrawing unilaterally such as Israel’s non effective unilateral withdrawals from Gaza or from the south of Lebanon. Don’t expect “the Arabs” to respect a solution you forced on them, but remember that Syria, Egypt and Jordan all respected their negotiated agreements with Israel for decades.
5) Why should I give away the Golan back to a weak and harmless Syria? we can keep it for ever, can’t we?
No, you can not. I have been discussing the Golan issue with Syrians from all kinds of backgrounds. Regime supporters, regime opponents, Islamists, communists, secular types, poor and rich. With the exception of one Neocon favorite, Farid Ghadry (who did not set foot in Syria for decades), all Syrians want the whole Golan back. Don’t try to understand why, it is not relevant. They want their land back and they will not allow any Syrian leader to sign on anything less than the full return. If you want the Syrians to respect their signed agreement and to have a warm peace with Israel, try not to support your government’s attempts to pressure their government to sign on anything less than a full withdrawal from the Golan. If prime minister Barak did not try to keep part of the Golan in 1999 then we would have had seven years of peace and normal relations by now. There would have been no Lebanon war, and it is quite possible that the Middle East would have been in a much better shape.
Israel has two options: negotiate a peaceful settlement with Syria that include the full return of the Golan Heights, or keep waiting. Syria will not be foolish enough to attack Israel. But Syria will simply continue to remind Israel and the United States that nothing will function smoothly in the Middle East before a proper settlement is reached. Managing the ongoing conflicts will not be within the compass of your attainment. The same way Hamas and Hizbollah appeared, new players and new conflicts will periodically emerge until the scene is over crowded with angry competing players. At some point, the Middle East’s pressure cooker will finally explode.
6) How will the Syrian people react to visiting Jews?
Just ask the generic taxi driver that all American journalists like to quote while they report their stories from Damascus “The American people are very nice, their government not too nice .. a bit like Syria too”.
Despite the Atrocities of the Iraq war, Syrians have been exceptionally hospitable to visiting Americans, including many visiting Jewish American reporters … the types that you would normally expect Syrians to dislike because of the media bias towards Israel.
Have you heard how pleased Syrian Jews living in Brooklyn are with the way Syrians treated them when they used to live in Syria? They are among the biggest supporters of peace talks with Syria.
Did you also hear of how Syria opened its doors unconditionally to millions of refugees from all neighboring countries no matter what religion or ethnic background they had? ‚?¶ starting from the tens of thousands of Armenian refugees in 1915, to the Palestinians of 1948, the Lebanese who escaped the civil war in 1976, the Iraqis who escaped Saddam, the Kurds who escaped the Turkish army, the 1.3 million Iraqis who escaped the war in Iraq today. Can you match that? Can you ask for more proof that Syria is the most generous and hospitable and honorable nation a peaceful and good neighbor can hope for?
Return Syria’s occupied Golan, respect its legitimate rights, respect its dignity, and your “painful concessions” will be quickly forgotten the first time you have lunch in Damascus.