Rime Allaf | Chatham House United Kingdom
June 7th, 2007

Re: ‘Syria's Occupied Golan Heights

The time has come to rain on the love parade. Observing a 40th anniversary not of peace, but of war, reminds us that there is clearly one party which is a big winner and another a big loser, a victor and a victim, an aggressor and an aggressed. A wrong, and a right. A strong warmonger, and a weak prey. Israel, and Arabs.

But judging from the commemorations, it would be easy for a newly landed Martian to think it was actually the other way around, given the unbelievable propensity, spreading like a virus, to convince, reassure, persuade, sweet-talk and beseech Israel to give back some land so that we could please have some peace. In fact, with every so-called peace initiative, Israel‚??s victims are left asking for less and less.

Every statement tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to begin, as if by default, with a disclaimer pledging recognition of Israel‚??s ‚??right to exist,‚?Ě a denunciation of ‚??terrorism‚?Ě and a sincere wish for ‚??all concerned parties‚?Ě to live ‚??side by side‚?Ě in peace. And that‚??s not even getting into the notion of a ‚??viable‚?Ě Palestinian state (not one, interestingly, which has the ‚??right to exist‚?Ě) which is supposed to see the light through the ‚??painful concessions‚?Ě that peace-loving Israel is willing to make in order for an overwhelmed IDF to be relieved of the burden of having to kill more people in self-defense, to grab more land in self-defense, and to build more ghettos in self-defense.

Only after the disclaimer can the arguments for Israel to give ‚??up‚?Ě (and not back) land begin, and can ‚??civilized‚?Ě lines of reasoning be presented to comfort Israelis with the many advantages to be had if they would only consider letting us share our own land. They weave fairy tales describing the wonderful life we could have shuttling between different old cities, playing backgammon by the various holy sites while sipping tea and digesting the falafel and hummous sandwiches we shouldn‚??t have eaten so late into the starry night. They practically make promises to love, to respect, to cherish, and even to obey ‚?¶ if only Israel would be so kind enough to believe us. We even pretend our grievances only go back 40 years, not to pressure our dear foe too much.

There are other approaches which seem to confuse our little Martian even more; in some cases, instead of extolling the virtues of a Pax Israeliana to reassure our kind neighbors, the victims proceed to analyze the ‚??defeat‚?Ě in a war we never really had a chance to fight. It‚??s all Nasser‚??s fault, apparently. Or Abdul Hakim Amer‚??s fault. No, wait, it‚??s a collective failure of all Arabs, their governments, their media, their lies. Actually, it‚??s not just the governments, it‚??s all the Arabs who are to blame, having allowed this to happen, and still wallowing in misery 40 years later while Israel has developed into a land of milk, honey and technology. It‚??s our fault, goes this strange argument, for having wished for war and having pushed Israel‚??s feelings of vulnerability; this nonsense, having already been put to rest by prominent historians, has even been countered by Israeli politicians and soldiers who admitted having provoked this war. The argument that Arab regimes are as much to blame for this situation is moot, anyway, as it in no way reduces Israel‚??s responsibility and criminality.

Some resort to romanticizing the visit of Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem; wouldn‚??t it be wonderful if Bashar Assad did the same? Or, even better, King Abdullah? Didn‚??t this gesture by Sadat bring long-lasting peace to Egypt, which even got back its entire Sinai? See how ready and willing Israel is to make peace, if only the Arabs would make the first step? Never mind that Sadat‚??s visit, a divide and rule example of the most basic level, caused more long-term damage to the Palestinian cause than any other action, that Camp David allowed the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and that most Egyptian people still don‚??t seem so enamored with Israel, nearly 30 years after they stopped making war. Why oh why has the love gone from this marriage? Go figure.

Nowhere does blame for Israel seem to take center stage, where it should be, showing how much we seem to be collectively losing track of reality. Israel has even managed to intellectually terrorize people into obedience, waving the anti-Semitism stick with every mild criticism of Israel, and passing the baton to a most acquiescent media to continue its dirty job. Naturally, opinions like the present one will be presented as ‚??proof‚?Ě that such ‚??hardline‚?Ě Syrians do not want peace, that they do not accept Israel, and that inbuilt ‚??hatred‚?Ě cannot be rewarded with negotiations, let alone land. As if our land and our rights had become rewards for which we must first perform to the satisfaction of the master. Luckily for Israel, the Syrian regime has not actually been that uncompromising of late, even considering a Golan ‚??peace park‚?Ě where we can visit and toast each other‚??s good health — that is if our partners agree to spare us some of the water that will have been ceded to them.

This is not about relative degrees of compromise, or about confidence-building measures, promises of everlasting love, nor even about dignity (which is certainly not more important than food for the hungry) or the tired Orientalist notions that Arabs are supposed to attach more importance to certain things like land. It is about legality, human and national rights, and all the other rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including, of course, the right of return.

That we should convince the Israeli public to give back the Golan, or indeed parts of Palestine, is a laughable concept, as is the notion that the Israeli people would convince their government to wage peace if they knew they stood no danger. The proverbial silent majority has certainly remained true to its name, responding with only deafening silence to its government‚??s brutality in Lebanon, in Palestine, and anywhere it pleases. The uproar about the army‚??s performance in Lebanon isn‚??t because of the massive civilian casualties it inflicted, the senseless destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, or the hundreds of thousands of inhumane cluster bombs left to maim and kill innocent civilians on a daily basis; the uproar is because the army didn‚??t win. This is what bothers most of the Israelis who supposedly control the fate of the Golan Heights; the others don‚??t seem to care. If they did, they would revolt against the shooting and killing of a seven-month foetus in his Palestinian mother‚??s womb, around the anniversary of Israel‚??s creation; or they would denounce the killing of an unarmed elderly Palestinian man in his own home, and the shooting of his wife and two sons in Hebron in a literal blood bath, on the sad anniversary of the vicious attack they so proudly name the Six Day War.

That it has become the duty of the victim to reassure the aggressor is scandalous. It must be the other way round: it is Israel which must begin to reassure its neighbors that it is worthy of the repeated peace overtures and the ever-increasing concessions made by Arab regimes in the name of the Palestinian and Arab people, without their permission. Israel must return land, pay compensation, and apologize profusely to all its victims, for all the hardship, misery and despair of the last 60 years of dispossession it forced on them. If anyone should be demanding its right to exist now, it is the Palestinian people, and it is up to Israel to prove that it is a worthy partner in peace, and that it deserves to be treated as the civilized equal it pretends to be.

Rime Allaf, writer and broadcaster.
Mosaics

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76 Responses to the Article

Mr. Israeli Says:

Rime,

We Israelis have been (and still are) committing horrific crimes against Arabs. Most of us know it, some of us deny it. Most of us also want to end it, but don’t know how. It’s not that we don’t know how to pull APC’s out of Ramallah, or army bases off the Golan. We don’t know how to get rid of our very-real and innate sense of fear and distrust of Arabs. I know and understand why it is so difficult for you to accept that this could be the case. It seems like the perfect excuse for land-greedy zionists to throw all about in order NOT to make peace. I cannot hope to convince you that my fears are real, because you find them baseless and absurd.

I understand your anger and frustration in the notion that the world is buying into this “poor Israel” trickery and manipulation, and that any agreement must start with “… recognizing Israel’s right to exist”, while it is very much the Palestinians who deserve this long overdue recognition. But as much as I truly do agree with so much of what you say, I cannot find any way where an attitude of “Let Israel prove… it deserves to be treated as the civilized equal it pretends to be” would work. In a court of law, a judge may very well demand that Israel first prove to the Arabs, then receive, but we’re in a court with no judge that can enforce anything upon the parties. Israel is indeed the stronger side which, unfortunately, means it has more leverage and will get more of what it wants (for instance, no reciprocal demilitarization off the Golan – Israel will most likely have far better army positions than Syria). There is an obvious absurd here, but such is life. You’ll have to ask yourself whether you’re interested in peace enough to accept these absurds. The same goes for a right-of-return to all Palestinians. There is no way that most will be able to return to Haifa, or Jaffa, Ramla, or Lod. So will a truly just peace be made? No. Does that mean we should forget the whole thing, until Israel is forced to accept all the conditions? I’d like to think not, simply because the alternative is far worse, for all sides.

Rime, you’re obviously a well-educated, well-versed, and all-in-all a logical and rational human being. You’re also terribly devoted to doing justice for your people, and for others that are oppressed in our region. What you’re doing is right, I respect it, and thank god for the Arabs that there are people like you that are willing to fight for justice. But please understand my comments above regarding the manner by which you make your criticism heard. It cannot do much except for alienate Israelis further. Find the way to say the same thing differently, without sugar-coating, but in a way that will make us able to listen to you. After all, it is not just “your side” you wish to address. I imagine you want Israelis to hear you just as much.

Rime Says:

Mr. Israeli, we’ve been going around in circles, so let’s summarize: you basically agree with me about Israel’s crimes againt Arabs, and particularly Palestinians, you agree that I am talking about justice and fairness, etc. But you object to my “harsh tone” and wish I (and we) would speak softly (which I don’t do with the regime either) and pray that Israel hears our cries. Which would be the exact opposite of what I was advocating in the article. :)

Mr. Israeli Says:

Rime,
Going in circles is sometimes better than plunging straight-ahead, especially when emotions are involved, and you’re not sure how the other side is going to perceive or receive you. Although a thousand times different, a relationship between a man and a woman starts off with dating, not with a prenuptial agreement… :-) I’m sure you’ve noticed more (and respected) those corporate leaders that in meetings speak softly than those that yell. You can say the strongest words and achieve so much more, when you say things the right way. What’s the use of having a doctorate in quantum-mechanics, being an expert in your field, advisor to the largest corporations, a regular on international media, if you still don’t know how to teach your students what you know? It’s ALWAYS about HOW with people, rarely about WHAT. Still, I wish you all the luck with convincing the right people. I’ve had to go about it the hard way with you, but I’m not sure most people could, or would… :-)

Alex Says:

Rime and Mr. Israeli

Why don’t you both admit that the exceptionally capable Alex : ) nailed it few days ago when he suggested that Syria should take into account the 180 degree variance in Israeli opinions and attitudes which could only be accommodated through an adaptive, continuously variable communication style… different messages must be sent to try to positively influence each type of Israeli citizen who today does not believe that his country should, or needs to, return the Golan to Syria.

Which is what I hoped to demonstrate through this exercise.

Maybe, each of the 19 posts on this page has a message that can, and will be, useful … we need to start by knowing that we are communicating with many different sub-groups .. not to one homogeneous group of “Israelis”

Just look at Israel’s coalition government to know who you need to talk to and how. You think Syria should talk to these Israelis the same way it talks to this one?

For Israelis who complain that Assad “speaks out of both sides of his mouth” … in a way, that’s right … because he needs to address both the overly insecure, and the bullies .. and every type in between.

Finally, Mr. Israeli … in the real Riyadh (not the 1 or 2), a relationship between a man and a woman supposedly only starts with the man asking for her hand from her father, sometimes before he meets her.

OK that was an unnecessary joke : ) … any KSA fans here?

Rime Says:

Any KSA fans ANYWHERE?

Mr. Israeli Says:

Dear Alex,

Thank you for that clarification regarding the KSA. It is, of course, a degrading custom that is exercised in many cultures, including Judaism as you probably know (ultra-orthodox). By the way, I don’t have any particular desire to see Israelis in Riyadh (1,2, or 15). It just happens that it was there, and in Beirut in 2002, that an Arab summit essentially nullified the Khartoum Conference’s famous “3 No’s” of 1967. I personally find it extremely meaningful, and as strong a gesture as one could hope for, from the Arab world to Israel, towards peace. Unfortunately, too many politicians here decided to ignore it. Historians will undoubtedly judge them wrong, yet again.

You’re probably aware that Israeli media ever since last summer’s war in Lebanon has been discussing our almost-innate ability to miss opportunities. As horrible as things are right now for the Palestinians, and as we see things really ARE terrible, there might be an opportunity here which Israel should take advantage of. Incidentally, I’m not at all sure that it is Mahmoud Abbas that we should talk to (or strengthen), it might even be the Hamas itself, as illogical as that might sound. But the picture is changing dramatically, and we’ll see which way the wind will blow, so to speak. Of course, we might again miss the opportunity… and have to either await a regional summit which many are suggesting, or worse, engage in yet another regional conflict of some sort. But as we sit here typing away into our fancy wireless-capable laptops, 1.5 million Palestinians are worried about the bread supply holding up for perhpas another 7-10 days, not more. I hope Israel will at least find the way to supply the basic needs of the population right away. I hope Hamas won’t get in the way, willing to hurt its own brethren, in order to prove yet-again the demonic and inhumane side of the zionist regime.

Rime, what do you think is the future of the KSA, Kuwait, Yemen, and perhaps other “moderately”-religious states that only go as far as allowing women to drive? What will it take for their citizens to truly enjoy freedom of rights? I’m not even talking about dictatorships…

Rime Says:

Mr. Israeli, I don’t have much hopes that things will improve on that front. The Saudis are relying more and more on the fanatical Wahhabis to reign in any semblance of “dissidence” (be it “moral” or political) with their repugnant “mutaween” walking around with sticks to punish anyone not falling into line. It is truly outrageous that this should be allowed until today.

Unfortunately, I think that the instability in the region has made more and more people accept the “lesser evil” of the status quo wherever they are, rather than take the risk of ending up like Iraq. Of course, every Arab regime absolutely loves this kind of either-or equation. In the Saudi case in particular, there are even more issues at stake, including the oil-rich areas falling mostly in the “wrong” type of people: the Shia. There’s lots to say about Saudi, but this wasn’t your question.

You know, in spite of their tchadors, ironically, Iranian women are right now light years ahead of most other Gulf women. Yes, more and more women have their own businesses nowadays, and the UAE even have a woman minister – Economy and Planning, no less – but I don’t think this kind of exposure trickles down to the population or translates into greater participation in the economy. In contrast, in countries like Syria where agriculture makes up a significant part of GDP, women are as much a part of the economy as men. I must reluctantly recognize that the Baath at least ensured that Syrian women’s relative freedoms were not threatened. It is in the family status laws (based on shari’a mostly) where it is difficult to make changes without ruffling feathers. By the way, did you know that most of the laws still in effect are remnants of the Ottoman system?

That said, a caveat is in order: in spite of the huge obstacles they face socio-economically, it would be a mistake to think that women in this region do not influence the affairs of society, in their own indirect way. But that applies to all societies I guess.

Yazan Says:

Rime,
I dont wanna shift the conversation here to Saudi arabia, but I do have different view on what’s going on there.
You see, Mom is a doctor, she’s been working there for a couple of years now, and given that both my parents are still over-enthusiastic-marxists with a serious history in hizb el-3amal, I find myself compelled to trust what they tell me of life there.

My dad, does not pray, he has made it clear that he was an active communist, and it was quite clear that they are from the “el-Sahel el-Souri”, and they have not been given the least different treatment on the professional level, and even though they live in a not-so-big city, not even from the social [given that you can call it social] surrounding. As far as my dad has told me, [In relative terms ofcourse], The saudi as a people are the real blocking force against reforms, not the state [reforms as a relative term again]. And it makes sense.

Alex Says:

Yazan,

I think Saudi Arabia is a potential future trouble spot. Half the Saudis are looking forward to reforms and American and western ideas. The other half want to go back to the “perfect” state their people experienced at the early days of Islam.

Saudi Arabia is not easily reformable … it would have to be done over 25 years at least. Otherwise, there might be a serious clash.

Rime Says:

Given that Alex keeps wanting to give even Syria yet another 7 years every 7 years, I’m surprised you think Saudi only needs 25! :)

Yazan, many thanks for this personal feedback. I think we don’t disagree, because you’re saying the people are against reform, and I said many people are now preferring the devil they know, or the lesser evil of the status quo. That said, it doesn’t take away from the role of the fanatical Wahhabis, the impossibility of practicing a religion other than Islam, or none at all (which, as you showed in your example, is not something that comes from the people themselves), the ridiculous restrictions on male-female gatherings, and all the other limits on personal freedom, etc. Nor does it take away from the regimes taking advantage of this situation. Would you agree?

Mr. Israeli Says:

Rime, Yazan, Alex,

Since we’re talking a bit about the KSA (which I recognize you don’t exactly have a “love affair” with), what is your take on why it may have had behind-the-scene, possibly direct, contact with Israel? Not to mention the Saudi-plan as of recent. What interest do they have in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ending with possibly two democratic, mostly-secular states? Are they hoping that Hamas will control the Palestinian state, and convert it (by force) into an Islamic Republic? What is in fact the future of this region as long as the fanatics are alowed to continue to grow and strengthen?

What do you think Israel should do at this moment, with what is starting to seem like a real Palestinian civil-war taking place? Aside from serious humanitarian support to Gaza (which I believe we’ve started doing yesterday), what sort of contact should we have with Abu Mazen? If we show him too much support, that could weaken him in the long run. If we remain “out of the equation”, the Fatah could become too weak to withstand Hamas even in the West Bank. How do you see this crisis playing out? I’m not terribly optimistic about the upcoming “summit” in Sharem. That place has seen too many missed opportunities, that I think it should be officially banned by all parties from ever hosting peace talks… I’d rather meet in Amman.

Alex Says:

Mr. Israeli,

“Saudi Arabia” is like “Israel” … a frequently confused country, thanks to the conflicting aspirations of its citizens and its centers of power.

They have some of the smartest and most decent figures in the Middle East, such as foreign minister Saud Al-faisal and His brother Turki al-Faisal. Even King Abdullah is not too bad. But there are a lot of fanatic lunatics as well.

They are always trying to balance their regional (and domestic) policies in a way that will satisfy both the younger Saudi professional who graduated from MIT, and the stubborn, close minded wahabi that Rime mentioned.

As for Saudi’s role in Palestinian affairs, the motivations are as follows:

1) Boosting Saudi Arabia’s regional role … I mentioned earlier that “a role” is something very prestigious among the larger Arab countries. What ever you do, don’t prevent Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from playing a role.

When one of the three Arab countries expands its role, the other two will go out trying to reclaim their share of the action.

So, after Syrian allies Hamas won the Palestinian elections, and after Syrian allies HA “defeated the Israeli Army”, and after Syrian predictions that the United States will slowly lose the Iraq war (Syria being the only Arab country to seriously oppose he US role in Iraq), the impression was that Syria (with Iran behind it) is on the offensive … playing too big a role at the expense of the other two leaders of the Arab world.

So King Abdullah reversed his earlier decision to NOT host the next Arab summit, and he invited the Palestinian leaders to Mecca, and agreed to talk to the Iranians to try to solve Lebanon’s problems with out involving Syria.

2) Besides the semi-serious part above, I think King Abdullah genuinely wants to stop the bloodshed. He looks like relatively decent man (Most politicians are not very decent of course)

3) President Bush (and his secretary of stae) asked the Saudis for a favor .. to try to score a success for hte “Arab moderates” … at the time there was pressure on President Bush to accept the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton group. Talking to Syria was one recommendation president Bush hated to recognize. He felt he can manage to only implement the other recommendation of the group in which they suggested that in order to succeed in Iraq, you need to make progress in Palestine.

So, the Saudis were asked to show their effective leadership skills.

But if you want to know what to expect, as an Israeli, from the Saudis … it depends who has the upper hand … the modern ones or the wahabis. You might like the Saudis or you might hate them… time will tell.

For example, I think King Abdullah will not risk accepting any solution that does not return “Jerusalem”. His people will not allow it.

That by itself will make it difficult to reach an agreement with Israel.

Also, the Saudis are always criticized for being American tools or American agents … etc. They will certainly not dare to give credibility to such accusations by being one of the first to open up to Israel… not in public.

Of course in private, Prince Bandar is already your occasional ally. But that can not go too far. You can agree with SOME Saudis to launch war on Lebanon, but reaching a final settlement will be more difficult than what you think.

Finally, one good thing about the Saudis and Qataris and other rich arabs … they will accept to finance some of the costs of Israel’s eventual settlements with Syria and the Palestinians.

Mr. Israeli Says:

Alex,

Thank you for the information regarding the Saudis. I had a feeling that was the case and, hopefully, there will be enough “reformed”-wahabis in the future that will lead the rest into supporting whatever the monarchs choose as their path. By the way, you mentioned that “…King Abdullah will not risk accepting any solution that does not return ‚??Jerusalem‚?Ě…” I do hope you understand that most Israelis have begun accepting the idea of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. Many a politicians, from almost the entire spectrum have already discussed the idea of separating East and West Jerusalem… unfortunately. If you ask me, there could have been no greater demonstration of hope for peace in this world than having Jerusalem become a duo-capital for two nations, Israel and Palestine, with half Israelis and half Palestinians controlling the city municipality (rotating mayorship, etc.), and inviting the U.N. to have its world headquarters there! Talk about the effect that could have on the three major religions.

From what A-Zahar says today of Hamas’s abilities to fight the Fatah in the W. Bank using missiles (Kassams) like they do against Israel, this doesn’t seem like we’re anywhere near a cease-fire. How on earth does Hamas think it can exist in such isolation? There is no way Israel will allow Hamas to also take over the W. Bank, it definitely WILL intervene militarily in favor of Fatah, if its existence was threatened. So at best, Hamas can hope for maintaining control of Gaza, but then sooner or later Israel will close off all entrances/exists aside for its border with Egypt. That will mean that Hamas will have to persuade Egypt (and anyone else) to supply Gaza with the basic humanitarian needs, but what about everything else? How can the Palestinians exist in Gaza in such isolation? For the time being, unless Hamas starts showering Israel with Kassams, I don’t see Israel getting too involved in Gaza. It seems to be in our best interest to allow the Palestinians to see the “true face” of Hamas, by letting them run the show. A recent poll apparently shows 66% of Palestinians want a foreign military presence in Gaza – excpet that Hamas will never allow that to happen… So what’s going to happen then? Any guess?

Alex Says:

By the way, not all the monarchs are moderate and “good”. There are many in the royal family who are active supporters of Wahabis and other extremists, in Saudi Arabia and outside. Ben Laden is an extreme case, but there are many others who also “support” organizations that you will not like at all.

Some Monarchs (the ones I listed) are good, not all.

As for Hamas and Fatah … I don’t think anyone knows what will happen (your question), but judging from our past experience with the endless attempts to boost elements in the Arab world that look like they are “moderates” and to boycott of fight the “nationalists” or the “terrorists” who happen to be very popular, it just does not work. Remember when George Shultz tried in the early 80’s to pass the May17th peace treaty between “Lebanon” and Israel? .. a treaty that was signed by a subset of Lebanese Maronites who were America’s friends. That did not work too well. Remember the Oslo agreement? … the road map? …

The correct way of reading that poll is:

Even after Hamas did a very controversial move in Gaza (Spilling Palestinian blood) .. it still has 33% who can live with that action, or support that action.

You can not ignore 33% of those Palestinians… they are quite active as you know.

Think of the 33% as the losest point in support for Hamas, once president Bush and Israel clearly take the side of Fatah, Hamas regains popularity and Abbas loses credibility.

Mr. Israeli Says:

Clearly for Israel to support Abbas would only weaken him. We’ve seen that time and again, which is why I believe Israel is trying to play it “safe”. The upcoming summit in Sharem will probably reap very little fruit (peace-process-wise), but the question still remains – what will become of Gaza, and/or the Palestinian state as a whole? How can we advance the Palestinian cause, if they are physically and politically split in two? Who or what can change that now? Any foreign intervention will strengthen Hamas even further as you mention. So what about Arab intervention? Will any Arab nation “dare” intervene by placing troops in Gaza? Egypt has already begun moving its embassy from Gaza to Ramallah…

Funny enough, did you know that Bibi Netanyahu just the other day suggested a Jordanian-Palestinian Brigade should be allowed into the W. Bank to help support the Fatah. Is he smelling victory in a possible upcoming election? Hmmm… I don’t know. But he got bashed for it inside his Likud party, mostly by his only potential adversary, Silvan Shalom. I have a feeling, though, that if tomorrow we did have elections, and up for the top-post were Olmert, Barak, and Netanyahu, the latter would win quite easily. The country is fed up with the center-left coalition. Like in table-tennis, it’s now the other side’s turn to serve… But, I may be wrong.

Like I’ve been telling some of my close friends, I’m not sure that Bibi is not the BEST representative of the left’s agenda. He can probably deliver everything I want much better than Barak or Olmert, simply because when he sits down at the negotiating table, he KNOWS he has the majority of Israelis behind him. I have a very strong suspicion that he wouldn’t mind being the first one to shake Bashar’s hand at the Presidential Palace in Damascus. Or the first to shake 22 Arab leaders’ hands in the White House, signing a regional peace treaty with them all… Although he talks tough (mainly to keep his constituents happy), he knows that he’d much rather go down in history as a Begin than as a Shamir.

How do Syrians view Bibi? Has their view changed over the years? And how do they view Barak today? I read that the Syrians are hoping Barak will be the one to negotiate with them, which would mean that negotiations would not start at square one, but more likely from where they left off 7 years ago.

Alex Says:

It is not easy to like Bibi : )

But this is none of our business.

I prefer Barak. He also can deliver to same degree that Bibi can deliver. At the end it will be the mood of the majority of Israelis that will decide if we have peace or not, regardless of who is the prime minister, Bibi or Barak.

But with Bibi, it will be not easy. He will need to smoothly go through the theatrics of slowly moving from his current ultra-hard line position (to the liking of his Likud supporters) all the way towards accepting UN 242’s land for peace based on 1967.

That’s a long way to go … it will be painful for negotiators to start from Bibi’s initial position that Israel does not want to return large parts of the Golan.

Then if he reaches the stage where “the known price for peace with Syria” has to be put through a referendum, I can imagine Bibi’s position will be: “I am not comfortable with the terms of the painful terms settlement but if the Israeli people vote for it, I will have to accept it”. I don’t know how effective such a position would be if we want the Israeli people to be convinced of the merits of the agreement.

I know Rime is not too impressed with Barak, but I hope he learned from last time when he was too worried about losing the next elections if he gave Syria back the full Golan … he lost those elections anyway.

AND .. I don’t think Bibi will have a large majority if he is elected … I know Israelis miss Sharon’s decisive style, but I can’t see bibi’s Likud getting 50% or more of the seats.

As for Gaza … there is no easy solution .. the options are:

1) Support Abbas … again.

2) Try to manage things and make sure they don’t go out of control.

3) Start preparing for Madrid 2 … without excluding any of the major forces on the ground.

Mr. Israeli Says:

Alex,

First, Likud doesn’t need 50% to form the government, it only needs more than Kadima or Labour. There is a good chance that many in Kadima will return to the Likud in the next elections, and unfortunately people are just getting fed up with what’s going on in Labour. That is the nature of politics here in Israel, which is a way is good, that when the current ruling party doesn’t deliver, we automatically consider their rival next time around, even if we don’t “love” their basic philosophies.

You’re right about Israelis searching for the Rabin or Sharon-style decisiveness in a leader. But there really aren’t any to pick from. I’m afraid that I don’t believe you can teach old dogs new tricks, and since Barak failed before, mainly because of his style, I doubt he has “learned his lessons” from the past 7 years of doing business and making some 30 million shekels. I would say quite the contrary, when you have such successful years, you tend to be reinforced in your way of thinking and acting.

As for your option 3 in dealing with Gaza (preparing for Madrid 2), you say not to exclude any of the major forces on the ground – does that include Hamas? Who will represent the Palestinians in such a summit? You see, that’s the problem now – who does anyone talk to?

Alex Says:

Mr. Israeli,

Palestinians can be convinced to have one negotiating team if the mentality of “let’s back ONLY the Arab moderates” is finally retired. Arabs are not all “moderates” … at least not in the silly definition of that word (America’s friend).

To me it is obvious. every time America backs new initiatives based on excluding the Arabs which are not to their liking, then we can kiss the next few months goodbye… at best, nothing will happen, at worst, something bad will happen after they get frustrated that the “moderates” could not deliver because the “non-moderates” are closer to reality on the Arab street.

But what can one expect from an American administration that was preparing a stupid crook (Mr. Ghadry!) to become Syria’s next president after they succeed in installing democracy in Iraq!

Mr. Israeli Says:

Alex,

I agree 100% with you about not choosing your negotiating partner. Just like Arafat did not choose Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, or Sharon, neither can we choose Abu Mazen, or Ismayil Haniyah for that matter. I have no problems sitting with Hamas, or Fatah, or even Khaled Mashal. Inevitably, it is ex-bitter-enemies that have to sit together, both with blood on their hands, who are ready to finally wash them clean, for the sake of their people’s future. Israel should NOT interfere in any way in what goes on within the Palestinian territories, including in a situation (hopefully not) where Hamas manages to overthrow all Fatah controlled institutions in the West Bank as well. The problem seems to be now, that Hamas refuses to negotiate with Israel period. It does not recognize Israel, and still probably believes it can, given enough time and God’s support, throw us into the sea… How can an “infidel state” negotiate with an “islamic one”? So my hope is that most Palestinians will read through the so-called new reality of “finally quiet-on-the-streets of Gaza”, and realize that it is not in their best interest to become a Mediterranean Islamic Republic. Instead, they should of course enable the Hamas to be represented politically, in a democratic fashion, but not support it so overwhelmingly like it did in the previous elections. I believe that most Palestinians would NOT have voted for Hamas had the Fatah not been so corrupt. I guess many (if not most) of the tens of thousands of Fatah institution employees are still around, and probably have NOT changed their ways, and the people on the street can see that.

By the way, it is a question that’s been on my mind for a long time, regarding a slightly similar situation in Syria. From what I understand, there is widespread corruption in Syria as well (perhaps understandably when state employees earn $100 a month…) In what way is it in those people’s interest to make peace with Israel, if the assumption is that sooner or later, regional democracies could influence the way the regimes around them exercise their power? And if indeed the system in Syria is corrupt, how can a corrput system undo itself? How can it be expected to offer the people a “true” opportunity to replace it (like in a democracy)? And, if the only way to replace such a system is by force, then how stable is any agreement we may have with Syria? There are obvious advantages to a totalitarian ruling system, but like in the USSR, when the wall came crumbling down, so did everything else with it. Although there was a relatively quiet revolution there, who says the same would happen in Syria?

Alex Says:

Mr. Israeli, our next discussion topic (July’s) will deal with Syrian reform. You will get the answer to your question through the many different opinions of the participants of our forum.

For now though, Peace with Egypt still allowed Mubarak to remain in power and to prepare his son to take over.

It is a mistake to assume that action A will lead to result B. God knows how an Israeli Syrian peace treaty will impact the political System in Syria.

But since the Syrian system did not change since 1970, I guess it is as solid as you need it to be.

As for corruption … I believe that it will take decades to deal with it … it is the result of decades of mistakes and bad environmental (regional) influences … I have no high hopes for an immediate fix … I just hope we see small but consistent improvements.

Mr. Israeli Says:

Alex, I will wait patiently until the July discussion topic is up. I did not, however, suggest that any political change would necessarily occur within Syria soon after a peace agreement is signed. In Egypt’s case, it was never a prerequisite, nor something to be expected, that with the opening of the doors towards Israelis, democracy would suddenly “flow in” and wash out any old “ruling styles”. In our region, as far as I can see, Israel is the closest thing to democracy, though obviously has its own undemocratic problems as well. In any case, I don’t have any grandiose illusions about impacting this way or the other upon any of the peoples or nations around us. Certainly in countries where the rulers have little interest in establishing a democracy, things are bound to change slowly. By the way, using “environmental (regional) influences” is a very poor excuse in my eyes, and it has been used not only by Syrians and other Arabs, but also by Israelis, when trying to explain all the things that are wrong about the country. The biggest excuse for not doing things right (allocating enough to education, social security, business-development, environment, etc.) has for the past 60 years been the “security situation”. When someone in the IAF thought they needed an extra 50 F-15i’s, it didn’t matter that this new budget would have to come out of somewhere… it was always done. So I don’t buy this “regional influences” excuse anymore… sorry! It gave your leaders and mine the ability to run the show any way they saw fit, and to blame our hardships on others, anyone other than themselves.

Alex Says:

Mr. Israeli,

ok, I will be more specific about “regional influences” on corruption in Syria.

1) After the October 1973 war when Syria did relatively well (recovering most of he Golan before Egypt stopped fighting) the rich Arabs wanted to thank Syria and its leaders … and to make them their allies. So they used to come to Damascus with bags of cash! … they knew that part of that cash will end up in some leaders’ personal bank accounts, and they wanted it this way.

Now they don’t do that anymore .. they prefer to buy Arab journalists. Cheaper and more effective.

2) After Syria got into Lebanon … the smart Lebanese businessmen offered Syrian officers in Lebanon a cut from their profits if they facilitated those transactions. And they did, … and then it became a habit for them to start taking commissions on transactions of major business deals when they can facilitate them in Syria too.

So in both cases, new was of corruption were introduced to Syria … and they stayed.

I am not excusing those who are corrupt in Syria … I just wanted to explain why regional influences did indeed enhance corruption in Syria.

But the more important point, about Israel’s democracy affecting its neighbors:

For now, it is as repulsive as American calls for democracy, after all the bad things that both Israel and the United States are doing in the region.

BUT … if in the future Israel does indeed turn into a peaceful country that respects Arabs’ right just as it respects Israeli rights, then I am sure there will be tremendous pressure on Arab leaders to match Israeli democracy.

There is a potential for Israel to be a good influence on the middle East … Look at Nasrallah and how he expressed his respect for Israel after an independent committee exposed your prime minister’s mistakes in the recent Lebanon war … When Israel does something respectable, Arab people notice it.

Mr. Israeli Says:

Alex,

I think you’re right about the potential influence, though again, I’m not counting on it, nor creating any demands of any of our neighbours. I believe that internal changes should happen from within, with as little external influence as possible, and certainly not by an ex-enemy.

By the way, don’t think that Israel isn’t corrupt. It is easier to list the MP’s that AREN’T under investigation than the ones that are… At least here, however, we know that there ARE investigations that take place, that these politicians COULD be held accountable for their actions, and that a court of justice will determine their fate, not one leader or another. Having said that, notice the huge waves of anti-judicial-system that have errupted in the past few days over the Chief Advisor’s decision to reach a plea-bargain with our ex-President, who may very well have raped a number of his ex-assistants in the past, and will now get away with it, with no prison sentence whatsoever, and a miniscule cash-compensation to two of the women. The country is in shock over this episode, and the supreme court now has to decide whether it overturns the decision or not.

Interesting article came out today in Haaretz (also in English) by Uri Bar-Yosef about the “return of the misconception” regarding the possibility of war with Syria. I hope he is wrong, and that contrary to the outward signals given by Olmert and his administration, that secret talks of substance are taking place at the highest levels. If not, then I’m afraid he may be right, and we may be in for another regional war in the near future. Sad part is, that we already know how this war ends, it is only the price that we’re unsure of. And, chances are, we would underestimate the heavy toll, on all sides, and as always find ourselves looking backwards in time some 10 years from now, saying “so why did we waste all that time and human lives, if we knew already what had to be done years ago???” And on that cheerful note…

SyriaComment - Syrian politics, history, and religion » Archives » Will Syria and Israel talk, fight or wait? Says:

[…] is part of Rime Allaf's opinion she expressed in her article: This is not about relative degrees of compromise, or […]

lokimikoj Says:

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IsraeliGuy Says:

I find it extremely ironic that sometimes the most uncompromising, hard line “Arab Patriots”, choose to live in the most cozy and spoiling western capitals.

Isn’t it great, preaching for fellow Arabs for non compromising, resisting the aggressors and not giving up on any Arab interest, while living the good life in Switzerland, Austria, the US and the UK.

“Stand up for Palestine”, they shout, while ordering another Cappuccino in a trendy London cafe.

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