Qunfuz | Author/Educator Oman
May 29th, 2008

Re: ‘Syrian Israeli Peace Process

After months of rumours it has been announced that Syria and Israel are engaged in formal peace talks under Turkish auspices. In theory it shouldn’t be difficult for the negotiations to come to a positive conclusion. After all, in 2000 Hafez al-Assad and Ehud Barak came remarkably close to an agreement in which the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967, would be returned to Syria, and Syria would recognize and establish normal relations with Israel.

Syria would benefit hugely from peace. Apart from the ramifications for national pride, the return of the Golan would constitute a tremendous economic boost. There would be a boom in construction and tourism as well as an easing of water shortages in the Damascus region. An end to military tensions with Israel would make Syria a much more welcoming environment for investors.

Israel would gain a measure of long-term security and some much needed legitimacy (still not nearly enough – that won’t come until Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs live as equals in Palestine). Both countries would be able to cooperate to confront the climate change and overpopulation crises that are likely to bite in the near future.

As well as potential rewards, there are immediate dangers that could be avoided through peace. In Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Israel has met its most serious enemy, a force which can hit back effectively at aggression and which can not be removed. The missiles of Hamas, while currently not much more than an occasionally bloody irritant, are extending their range and power and present a long-term existential threat. Israel also has its ‘demographic problem’ – the land controlled by Israel already contains roughly equal numbers of Arabs and Jews. As a result, the Jewish state’s pretence of being a democracy rather than an apartheid regime wears ever more thin. Peace with Syria would not solve these problems, but it would provide an environment more conducive to the hard thinking and compromise necessary to solve them. Syria, meanwhile, lives from crisis to crisis, with a shattered Iraq on its east, unstable Lebanon and wounded Palestine to the west, with Wahhabi-nihilists threatening to strike, with hostile Western governments ranged against it, and a mushrooming, youthful population that must be employed. Syria needs the space to breathe that a peace treaty would bring.

Unlike the US, Turkey, which is friendly with both countries, is in an excellent position to mediate talks. Furthermore, it appears that Olmert has agreed to fulfill Hafez al-Assad’s demand of a full withdrawal to the coast of the Sea of Galilee.

So conditions seem right and both sides would benefit. This does not mean, however, that peace is on the horizon. I suspect that both leaderships know this, and are playing along for political and PR reasons. Neither wants to be seen as the warmongering side. Bashaar al-Assad wants to cool down the Western heat, especially if he fears the results of the enquiry into Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. Olmert wants a diversion from his domestic failures and the corruption charges against him. If an attack on Iran is being planned, it may be that Israeli and American planners also aim to keep Syria temporarily sweet, for the duration of the bombing.

So why no peace? Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni has said it clearly: as a precondition, Syria must distance itself from Iran and cease support for Hizbullah and Hamas. In other words, Syria must sacrifice its independent foreign policy, accept that its alliances will be decided elsewhere, and welcome American hegemony in the region. This is an impossible price for the Syrian regime to pay. Like any government, the Syrian rulers govern by consensus as well as by coercion. In general, Syrians like their government’s anti-imperialist line. Better put, Syrians tolerate the regime’s failures for two reasons: domestic stability and dignity in foreign policy.

The Syrian people are at least as nationalist and anti-zionist as their government. The connection to other Arab peoples, especially in the ‘bilad ash-sham’ cultural zone, is not something that Syrians would be willing to give up. Would Israelis accept cutting links with their US friends, because Syrians don’t like American policy? Of course, Syria wouldn’t be so foolish as to ask for this as a precondition for peace. The fact that Israel demands the equivalent from Syria shows that it does not consider Syria as an equal partner, and that there will be no peace.

There are plenty of regimes in the region which substitute US backing for popular support in their own countries. In other words, they fear the displeasure of the patron, which protects them with military bases and cash injections, more than they fear the displeasure of the street. Could Syria flip and become an Egypt or a Saudi Arabia? I think not. For a variety of ideological and strategic reasons, this would be almost impossible in the easiest of conditions, that is, even if the US was waiting with kisses and bags of investment cash. And the US, which calls Syria a member of the axis of evil, is frowning at the current talks.

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6 Responses to the Article

david s Says:

very well articulated my friend. Prconditions such as who one can have friendly relations with are just poison pills ready to be used to retreat from a deal at endgame if desired. The agreement virtually consummated betwen Hafez and Barak must be completed – that will be the agreement, or there will not be an agreement! It has nothing to do with Israeli concerns about Iran, but will only rest upon Israel determining if peace consistant with us resolutions will serve its startegic interests or not. Unfortunately, a weakened Olmert, a bolstered militant Likud party, and a confused White House largely aligned to Likud do not bode well right now.

yigal Says:

So what you say is that it would be great if Syria and Israel have “peace” and in the same time Syria will continue financing and supporting Hizbollah and Hamas whose declared goal is to eliminate Israel? What kind of peace is it?

Alex Says:


Not financing Hizbollah and Hamas. Syria is not rich. Hizbollah has its own sources of income (they are like a well-run mini state in Lebanon, with zero corruption) and Hamas gets financed mostly from rich private individuals in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Qatar …

Syria will negotiate for Lebanon too … there will be no need for Hizbollah’s weapons after a just and fair peace treaty.

But Hamas will remain your enemy for as long as you are doing what you are doing today to the Palestinians. It is up to you to undo the reasons what there is a “Hamas” … even f Syria asks Mashal to leave … there will beanother “hamas” … there will always be Palestinians and Arabs who will not accept Israel’s occupation of 1967 lands.

If Israel is ready for peace with its neighbors, everything will be settled to the satisfaction of all sides.

But if Israel wants to use peace with Syria to get out of its obligation (as in UN resolutions 242 and 338) then there is nothing that Syria can do for you.

Abu Kareem Says:


Why don’t you try the shoe on the other foot. I don’t necessarily agree with Hamas or Hezbollah’s tactics, but if Syria signs a peace treaty and gives up support for these organizations then the Palestinians are left high and dry as far as having any leverage. They live in a large prison without an economy to speak of, without any resources and without an army. So what are they supposed to do, rely on Israeli good will to get anything resembling a fair treatment?

Shai Says:


Very good points. You’re completely right about the ridiculous attempts at posing preconditions that are, at best, hypocritical. I think, though, that Tzipi Livni, just as other amateur politicians, are voicing these more for internal purposes (hoping to win more votes in an upcoming election), than because they truly believe anyone in Syria will take them seriously. Though not terribly sophisticated, our politicians are also not idiots. But, unfortunately, they often think their constituents are. So they continue, year after year, to try to manipulate them. They think they’re making potential voters feel “safer” by showing how they’ll stand up to any continued alliance with the “Axis-of-Evil”. But when Tzipi Livni will not be able to deliver on such demands, will her constituents feel any “safer” then?

Thankfully, there are good writers on Ha’aretz, which attempt to shake the silliness out of these leaders’ rhetoric, and call them for what they are. In the end, however, it is the negotiators that will forge our peace agreement, not Tzipi Livni, or any other politician that isn’t directly involved.

I’m still optimistic that peace is on the horizon, though I agree, there is no guarantee that it’s coming soon, and the challenges are quite difficult indeed. Still, what choice do we have? Even the youngest of Israeli 3rd graders today knows that one million citizens sat in underground shelters in the northern part of Israel, while his own IDF couldn’t destroy a group of a few thousand dedicated men of HA. Our politicians can continue to fool some of us, some of the time. But they can no longer fool all of us, all of the time. Peace is the only alternative.

yaman Says:

I think you hit on the pivotal point, Qunfuz, which is that in peace talks Israel seeks a neutralization that will legitimize what it is doing to the Palestinians. Its peace talks are premised on separating the Palestinian issue from other issues. But what about the Palestinian refugees in Syria? Can they really be ignored as an issue, in any sort of peace process? This is one issue that I wish would be more prominent on the Syrian side, especially if it is no longer seeking the “comprehensive peace” that has been the Syrian talking point for so long.

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