Qifa Nabki | Ph.D. Candidate Islamic History Boston
May 29th, 2008

Re: ‘Syrian Israeli Peace Process

While things are off to a promising start, I do not believe that Syria and Israel will achieve a meaningful peace settlement anytime in the near future.

Such a settlement would require several different far-flung stars to align, and the current regional conditions will almost surely mitigate against a development of such magnitude, which would shift the balance of power and significantly change the rules of the geopolitical game.

In fact, such a development would go even further: it would necessitate the creation of an entirely new political logic and language, for a regime which has branded itself as the nucleus of Arab nationalism and the vanguard of the struggle against Israel.

Syria holds aloft the fluttering banner of resistance, whose colors have become increasingly vivid in recent years. The new resistance is smarter, nimbler, and more deadly. It kidnaps IDF soldiers, destroys Israeli naval vessels, and wins democratic elections. The strength of its arsenal is measured by the metrics of caliber millimeters and newspaper column inches. The growing strike capability of its missiles is dwarfed by the global reach of its media services, which include print, cable television, and internet sources. Its leaders are the region’s new idols, making a mockery of the Arab potentates whose subject populations increasingly regard them as weak parasites dependent upon the corrupting support of the United States. This is not your grand-pappy’s resistance.

To turn around and make peace with Israel at this stage is unfeasible, because the resistance infrastructure that Syria has built up in order to gain leverage at the negotiating table cannot be packed up and stowed away at the regime’s command. Any peace deal between the two countries will require a significant span of time to implement, perhaps several years, during which time Syria’s allies will likely have to come to some kind of accommodation of their own with their archenemy. In the case of Hizbullah, this will likely take the shape of a peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel, through which the rhetoric of national resistance is transformed into the rhetoric of national defense.

Ehud Olmert has said that he is fully aware of what Bashar al-Asad wants from a deal, and that Bashar is also aware of what the Israelis will require. The question is, can either of these two leaders deliver? Public opinion in Israel is largely against giving back the Golan, and will likely only be swayed by some kind of fail-safe Syrian guarantee that a peace deal with Damascus will end the security threats posed by Hizbullah and Hamas. For its part, however, Syria has gone out of its way to insist that no peace deal will be signed at the expense of its strategic allies. However, it seems clear that while it would be ludicrous to imagine Syria withdrawing its ambassador from Iran at Israel’s request, it is just as pointless to imagine the current dynamic between Syria and its allies persisting under the conditions of a peace deal. For there to be peace, Syria will have to demonstrably and definitively leave the resistance camp, which may amount to disbanding the camp altogether.

This fact means that the negotiations hold out the possibility of great promise for regional stability and lasting peace. Negotiations between these two nations have the potential to cut the Gordian knot of interlocking interests, to lift the region by its bootstraps out of the morass of conflict and violence, and to pave the way for a comprehensive and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, such a high payoff means high stakes. The Syrians cannot simply accept land in exchange for peace: they must first create the possibility of peace between Israel and some of its staunchest adversaries, the champions of the afore-mentioned resistance, in addition to the millions of people who have lent it their moral and material support. Such a maneuver will be enormously complicated, a giant leap of faith executed in slow-motion, in an environment not known to tolerate the careful maintenance of delicate balances of power.

I am hopeful but wary.

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5 Responses to the Article

Alex Says:

Mr. Qifa

Perfect, as usual.

iem Says:

If peaceful settlement is reached within the next 30 years will be a miracle. Hoverer, 3 generations (90 years) after the creation of Israel settlement is a possibility. Sixty years from today, it is a certainty. May Allah gives you long life to witness it.

Shai Says:


What amazing writing. Your wisdom and clarity of analysis come out in ways almost unseen anywhere else. I wish our leaders could understand things as you do. At the very least, they must read your words.

I unfortunately agree with almost everything you said. The challenges to peace indeed seem almost insurmountable. But I hope one of two things are possible: either that Syria will not feel it needs the “approval” of some of our adversaries (as Sami is suggesting in the article you posted), or that HA and Hamas will play along and not try to spoil any agreement that might be in the making. Personally, I think it is in Iran’s best interest not to try to get too much in the way, especially if Syria is about to become America’s newest “buddy” in the region. Iran will need Syria as a bridge to America, even more than it needs its participation in passing weapons on to Hezbollah.

The coming weeks and months will tell, but I have a suspicion that Syria has thought much of this through, and that Bashar is not planning to play anyone’s puppet here (not Iran, not the U.S.’s, and not Israel’s). If it is in Syria’s best interests, it will politely inform (not ask) her religious allies that the time has come for her to withdraw from the armed resistance, but to remain in the diplomatic one. Syria will continue to support all her allies, but in purely political and diplomatic fashion, not militarily. I would not be surprised if messages of this sort have gone across to those that “need to hear” in Israel, already months ago (if not longer).

But I definitely agree, the process ahead is far more difficult than it is easy. The path is full of “land mines” (also literally), and spoilers (at home and abroad, for both sides), and lots of ups and downs. We will need to be creative, dedicated, courageous, and patient. And we will need to always remind ourselves of the ultimate goal. In’shalla, if leaders on both sides listen to people like you, the risks of failure will be substantially minimized, and peace may indeed come to our region.

Thank you for the wonderful essay.

Qifa Nabki Says:


Many thanks for your kind words.

It is hard to know how this will play out. Bashar is an unknown quantity; I have to admit that I am realizing, day by day, that there is more to him than meets the eye. Maybe he really is, after all, some kind of tactical wunderkind…

Or maybe the talks will collapse, as they have in the past, for any of the million reasons that seem to ambush most of the diplomatic initiatives in our region.

Fingers crossed…

Chris Says:


Very eloquent writing. I am curious, what kinds of concessions would Syria likely make in any peace negotiation with Israel over the Golan Heights?

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