George Ajjan | Political TV pundit United States
May 18th, 2007

Re: ‘Syria's Occupied Golan Heights

Often times, colleagues will invite me, as an American citizen of Syrian origin, to expatiate my views of the Middle East Peace Process, particularly as it pertains to land disputes between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic. Of course I reply that nothing could bring me greater pleasure than to bear witness to a resolution of that conflict on the basis of land for peace, and that I consider the role of the United States to be that of a facilitator, which steers those negotiations in good faith.

I have never felt it appropriate, however, for the United States to tell leaders of either Israel or the Syrian Arab Republic how to run their countries. That is the sort of arrogance that gives my country its unfortunate ill repute in such circles. We can guide the process and we can responsibly exert our influence to affect a positive outcome, but America cannot and should not bark orders to other sovereign nations.

Thus, the terms of the final arrangement are not for me, or even my President, to decide or mandate. Peace must evolve organically, through a comprehensive negotiation between the conflicting parties that respects each other’s sovereignty, security, and ‚?? most of all ‚?? dignity.

I suppose my position appears one crafted with the meticulous care of an aspiring diplomat, bereft of passionate judgment. Nevertheless, seemingly for the pleasure of Cruel Fate, I have been blessed, or perhaps cursed, with an inextricable attachment to all matters Levantine.

Few have had the opportunity, as have I, to view the Golan Heights, captured by Israel on June 4, 1967, from both sides of the armistice line of 1974. Like a handful of adventurous visitors to the Syrian Arab Republic, I sought permission from its government to journey to the deserted Quneitra, where, like Pope John Paul II, I observed the ruins of homes, a hospital and even a church desecrated by the departing Israeli forces.

Similarly, like many a tourist to Israel, I have accompanied friends from Tel Aviv ‚?? secular liberals who care nothing for the religious overtones of that southerly seized territory ‚?? the biblical Judea and Samaria ‚?? on excursions to “the most beautiful part of the country”, as they refer to the land captured from the Syrian Arab Republic by the Israeli Defense Force during the 6-day war of 40 years ago. There as well, I recall seeing demolished mosques and homes ‚?? “these places were destroyed to avoid a refugee problem,” a friend glibly told me.

The wide gulf between these 2 experiences demonstrates the differing attitudes toward a quest for national normalcy. Judging by their carefree picnics, camping trips, and ski excursions to the Golan Heights, Israelis seem to have achieved it ‚?? at least until the next Katuysha rocket rains down ‚?? while their northern neighbors poetically mourn its unattainability with their every breath.

But the greater truth has been obfuscated by minutiae: national normalcy derives from regional normalcy. Until citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic have restored their collective national sense of dignity, so bound to the reintegration of the Golan Heights, they will remain restive. History has shown us that, sooner or later, like it or not, that discomfort will adversely impact their Israeli neighbors. Hence the formula: land for peace.

Perhaps it will take several more decades of mistrust, enmity, and even bloodshed on both sides for this realization to take root. Or perhaps the region will emerge from its leadership crisis with a mandate from all its people to make lasting peace. Whichever the case, this American will be the first to cheer when Syrian children wade in Lake Tiberias, and Israeli parents once again say “may they never go to the army” upon the birth of their sons.

George Ajjan is a Republican activist and a member of the Arab American Institute’s National Policy Council. He is the creator of syriapol, a Syrian Democracy project that polls Syrian public opinion using conjoint analysis.

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59 Responses to the Article

Mr. Israeli Says:

Alex,

I of course don’t want you to filter anything out. I just find it a bit odd that a few writers are using this blog as a platform to solely vent out frustration, and are making no effort whatsoever in trying to resolve our conflict. If I was to do what you suggested, namely respond to the points brought up by “olivebranch”, I would be recognizing them at the very least as relevant to the discussion. From my previous comments, you understand that I do not find anything there serious enough to be worthy of a response. Note that I have however responded to both Rime and Albert, so it is not out of antagonism, but rather disappointment in the lack of value.

By the way, since I find myself sharing every now and then my personal beliefs in what the Palestinians could or should have done in the past, I’ll do so again, this time with the issue of rights. I’ve always felt that since the Palestinians never ruled themselves (last time were the Hashemites), perhaps they should have “surrendered” to the Israelis that conquered the West Bank and Gaza in ’67, and asked to be fully incorporated into a “Greater Israel”. The reaction would have been either an absolute refusal, which would probably have led to a faster creation of a Palestinian state, or acceptance (by Rime’s “land-greedy israelis”) which would have meant that all Palestinians would become Arab-Israelis. If today Arab-Israelis comprise of around 20% of the population, can you imagine what that percentage could have been had the Palestinians been included? Arafat could have become Israel’s 7th or 8th President, or at the very least our Prime Minister, heading one of the largest parties, if not the largest…

But to actually answer YOUR point, regarding the continuation of resistance by the Palestinians until Israel loses international support. Most would agree that the world, including the current US administration by the way, has already grown accustomed to the idea of a Palestinian state. In my opinion, time is running against both Israelis and Palestinians alike, mainly because the two are so interlinked through the conflict. If Europe or the US ask Israel why we’re not helping Abu Mazen create his state, all we need to do is point to what’s going on in Gaza as I type these words. Historians will decide on the exact date, but it is quite likely that we are now observing a civil-war in the making. Certainly no one can expect Israel to negotiate with both Fatah and Hamas (especially when the latter would reject such a proposal in any case). Yet if we DON’T move quickly with bringing about a Palestinian state, Israel’s security will obviously deteriorate, as extreme-Islamic organizations and nation(s) will likely to continue to arm everyone and anyone willing to harm Israel.

So what should any of the sides do? Opt for decisive steps that will pressure both sides to compromise. These can come either via a regional war, or hopefully a regional peace. Your idea of a Madrid 2 is not so bad, but how about a Riyadh 2, or better yet a Beirut 2, with Olmert, or Tzipi Livni, or even Peres, present? I know what you think about my repeated “dramatic confidence building steps”, but I don’t know of anything else that can sway people’s emotions any faster. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I personally believe our century-old conflict can only be solved when people can finally feel (even for a moment) empathy towards one another. You know what, I’ll even settle for a “we’re sick and tired of war” effect. I believe it can happen. I don’t really have any other logical choice.

olivebranch Says:

let me respond to you Mr Israeli by saying simply: I have very little frustration and even less involvement in this issue, and I believe that at the beginning of my comment I posted that I am not at a high enough level of understanding to be someone to give directions towards peace.

The purpose of my last paragraph was little more pointing out the simplicity of one of the major issues in this debate. As I said; the very same logic is used everywhere in the Middle East and in relation to all dictatorships; take Pyongyang for examples: the policy employed there is not one of aggression nor olivebranch-extensions (dont mind the pun) but rather of isolation. Eventually it works. Iraq for example was once a hugely prosperous nation with one of the worlds leading economies per capita but through immediate international isolation after the US dropped its’ support from Saddam at the end of the Iran Iraq war (and upon Iraqi entry to Kuwait; a land for which Saddam has reason to claim as Iraqi soil- whether or not the reason was valid I again am not qualified to say)

and by the way, the name Olivebranch comes from my attempts to help IRAQIS obtain peace, not Israeli//Palestinians; i do not attempt to change things I don’t understand. If you want to know more about both my name and Iraq visit the Olivebranch Network at http://olivebranchoptimism.net – maybe after that you can explain why I cannot be included in any “peace” issue.)-

Also I would just like to respond to this comment also:

For example, ‚??olivebranch‚?Ě believes that the Palestinians might decide to continue resisting the harsh occupation until Israel loses international support ‚?¶ That time is not on Israel‚??s side and therefore the Palestinians should not surrender their rights today if they are offered a somewhat humiliating ‚??peace offer‚?Ě from the currently strong Israel.

– I do not necessarily agree with these words which were, though with good intention, put in my mouth. I have not mentioned the “humiliating” nature of the current “peace offers”- nor have I said that time is not on Israel’s side. In fact personally I don’t think time is on the Palestinians side since they are the ones suffering the most (and anyone who proceeds to argue THAT simple fact is probably too one sided).

What I have said however is that in the next 12-20-50-100 years we are facing many other global dilemma- case in point was actually GLOBAL WARMING, which in itself (or in the fighting of) could have a significant impact on the American economy which prevents it from continuing its current level of funding for Israel, Saudi Arabia & many other Mid Eastern & other nations around the world.

I merely posed a possibility, perhaps mingled with a little opinion. I do not appreciate the rhetorical attack in return form Mr Israeli, if you wish to argue against my opinion perhaps you should post a rebuttal instead of a personal attack directed at me.

Thankyou.

Luke(y)
aka [olivebranch]

Mr. Israeli Says:

Mr. Olivebranch,

I am glad to hear that you are putting a lot of effort into helping Iraqis achieve peace. I am sure, however, that you are not doing so by suggesting to each side (Sunnis and Shiites) the evil actions of the other. You are, I would guess, trying to speak sense and hope into BOTH sides at the same time, attempting to speak a common language that would be accepted by both. That would probably be the most effective way to help both sides imagine that a better future can indeed await them.

But in your comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where you claim you’re “not at a high enough level of understanding to be someone to give directions towards peace”, your language is very one-sided and, I believe, has only a counterproductive effect on both parties. It is for that reason that i refused to argue with your “points”. If you skim through the entire blog, you’ll find that I argued with quite a few commentators, some even what you might call “rather belligerent” ones, because there I saw people that were interested in getting us to a better place. Perhaps that was your intention as well, and not just “to vent out your frustration” as I called it, but I simply could not, and still cannot see it.

I’m glad you’re concerned about global-warming (I am as well, actually), but I think most individuals here in the Middle East would find that concern somewhere down below in their current “priority list”. I seriously doubt that the US, or Europe, or any other significant party that supports or doesn’t support the parties in conflict would significantly reduce their contact, or support, or influence in the region because of ecological-fears. The threat of Nuclear-warming is a lot more immediate here, unfortunately, than the effects of Global-warming… (though again, I also view it as a great threat to our civilization, which must be dealt with)

olivebranch Says:

Sorry if you find my language counter-productive; but what I know of the conflict and history of Israel//Palestine in general comes from reading books by (mostly Israeli) scholars; one such book “The Sword & The Olive: A history of the IDF” was an excellent example.

I guess it comes down to a question of ethics; does one choose to deny the truth in order to obtain false reconcilliation in the immediate term; or does one choose to accept the past and work for a long-term permanent reconcilliation.

What you said about my using language acceptable for both Sunni & Shia in Iraq is only partially true; I do denounce the extremist elements on ALL sides of the equation (an acceptable view from any side)- but I also challenge the conformism & complacency which allows people to accept falsehoods & generalisations on any side of the equation.

My doing that often brings me immediately into conflict with people on all sides of the issues- however with long conversation an understanding aside from pre-judgement is reached 9 times out of 10.

Giving hope is not a game of teetering between half-truths and hopefull words. It’s about dedication and doing every last thing within my power to help people on both the inside & outside of the country (not just speaking a few pleasant words to the right people, though that is a part of it).

Ultimately any argument must be grounded in the truth and supported by history- politically, socially, culturally etc. To move forwards we must accept the position we are in; but not dwell on it. Personally I think your OWN view is to reject the reality of the situation and accuse anyone who hints at it’s reality of bias and unhelpful attitudes.

Mr. Israeli Says:

“Olivebranch”,

I never responded to your arguments with my views, so I find it hard to understand how you can guess what they might be. If you WOULD like to know, please read them in the various other comment-sections throughout this blog. I don’t deny or reject reality, but I certainly am not ready to discuss it with someone who is so clearly one-sided as you. I strongly doubt your “success ration” with Sunnis and Shias in Iraq is 9/10… And I doubt even more, that your crusade against falsehoods and generalisations wins you much support. Unfortunately, the nature of negotiation is such that both sides recognize very quickly that their own “historical outlook” is viewed by the other as full of falsehoods and generalisations. It is then that the sides must decide to drop arguments on matters over which they disagree, and focus on those over which they seem to agree, or are very close to agreeing. Discussing and reaching your “full-truths” (as opposed to half-truths), so as to serve a basis for argumentation, is usually something done by historians, not politicians. THAT’s reality, not the one you seem to be so clear about. Incidentally, I happen to think that Israel has done terrible things to the Palestinians, and has conquered and controlled by force lands which were not theirs. I am EXTREMELY critical of my own governments over the years, and am EXTREMELY disappointed in the sloth-like speed at which my people seem to be moving in their quest for a more peaceful future. At the same time, I am also EXTREMELY unimpressed by one-sided commentators, who contribute almost nothing (in my mind) to the parties involved in resolving their conflict.

olivebranch Says:

So let me get this straight: you agree that Israeli leaders & military have brutally occupied a nation of people; that they have then done little or nothing towards reconcilliation and that the people of Israel have been too complacent and in-active towards bargaining peace with the Arabs; and yet me having said that is EXTREMELY unimpressing and one-sided?

Also, mayhap i haven’t had the time to go through all the other comments sections to find what you call “your views”- however I have read this entire comments section and noticed your reactionary responses against nearly every person who presented any view which hinted at an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders endorsed by the UN and agreed by most of its arab neighbours (and those imprisoned within its walls).

I like what you have said about both sides needing to accept the fact they (Israeli’s & Arabs) hold baseless views of one another based on years of propanganda & falsehood before moving forward. This has been my whole point in this argument and I still fail to see where the issue of contention is between you & I except that for some reason I am supposedly too one-sided to ever have an opinion on this issue without somehow deepening the issue.

I assure you if you cannot deal with what I have to say your never going to be able to deal with those extremist elements of Arab society; let alone the extremist elements of your own.

Also though you may doubt my success rate with Iraqi’s I will assure you that your wrong. Obviously I have not been travelled to Iraqi and so I can not say that what I have said about having a 9/10 success rate is NOT applicable to all Iraqi’s merely to those hundreds of whome I have spoken with, the majority of which would be middle-class and mostly secular; and particularly those with internet access. I have had that success rate even with those still within the country; mayhap if it were face to face things some would have been much different – but who knows.

olivebranch Says:

Perhaps the only thing I can see that I have said which could have incited your reactionary response was this paragraph:

As the arabs say ‚??little more than patience is necessary to destroy Israel‚?Ě – and by this I do not refer to the death of the Jewish population in Israeli Palestine (as i would refer to it)- I refer simply to the prosperous way of living defined as the ‚??Israeli‚?Ě nation.

– Perhaps you take this as a view of my own or as one I support; in reality it is neither. I honestly live in reality and know that Israel is here to stay and as such so are the powerful fundamentalist in other nations in the area; Egypts dictator, Palestine’s Hamas & Fatah, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Syria’s Baathists and Saudi’s Wahabi’s. You should not doubt however that these surrounding extremist elements amongst your mostly moderate neighbours do have a view to see the Israeli prosperity either end or spread a little of its wealth across the borders.

Peace is a negotiation of giving and taking and as this conversation (not our conversation, the pages preceeding) will definately show, Israel must put a grand price on the table in order to maintain the grand prize of it’s own prosperous statehood.

Mr. Israeli Says:

“Olivebranch”,

It seems that my argument with you is over HOW you say things, more than WHAT you actually say, though I disagree with some of your so-called “truths” as well. As for being able to “… deal with those extremist elements of Arab society; let alone the extremist elements of (my) own”, this may come as shocking to you, but I don’t plan to deal with either. We cannot address EVERY side that has a voice and, infact, would do a disservice to everyone else who is not an extremist by so doing, simply because peace would never come about. This is the reason why your “success ratio” applies to more middle-class, secular Iraqis, and doubtfully would to extremists. Extremists are at best invited to sit in parliament, rarely to negotiate a peace. By definition, you cannot hope to change an extremists mind and, hence, cannot engage such a person in serious give-and-take.

Have a look at how you worded your first paragraph about my “admissions”, and see how I worded them. Try to step out for a second, and see the difference. How you say something is no less important than what you say. If you’re sure you’ve stated something the best way you know, but no one on “the other side” is willing to listen, what have you contributed? This is what I mean by one-sided; that it is said in a way that will only be accepted by one side. You don’t have to accept my criticism of course, but at the end of the day, only you know how many Isarelis (moderate or not) are willing to listen to you, let alone discuss something with you. I have a feeling it’s not many, to say the least. But, maybe I’m wrong…

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