zaterdag 6 september 2008

Is Syrië serieus over vrede met Israël?

Is Syrië serieus wat betreft haar toenadering tot Israël? Of zitten daar andere belangen achter, en hoopt Assad de Golan voor 'een koopje' te kunnen krijgen? Onder welke voorwaarden moet Israël vrede met Syrië sluiten? Ami Isseroff bespreekt een artikel uit de Jerusalem Post.
Twee zaken die steeds worden vergeten: Assad zal, hoewel nog jong, niet eeuwig aan de macht blijven en een nieuw regime kan altijd besluiten de vrede op te zeggen.
De bestandlijnen van 1949, waar Syrië naar terug wil, waren niet de oorspronkelijke grenzen tussen Syrië en Israël, want Syrië heeft in 1948 een stukje van Palestina/Israël ingepikt. Daarbovenop eist het de gedemilitariseerde zones op, die ook onderdeel waren van het Britse mandaatgebied Palestina. Israël heeft alle recht om dergelijke eisen te weigeren.
Een belangrijke vraag is ook of opgeven van de Golan een kille vrede waard is zoals met Egypte, waarin de media en politici de walgelijkste dingen, tot en met holocaustontkenning blijven spuien, en culturele en economische samenwerking in tegenspraak met het vredesverdrag wordt vermeden.

Is Syria Serious?

What does Mr. Assad want, and more important, what do we want? Are we really willing to give up the Golan Heights in return for a "peace" like we have with Egypt? Will it really neutralize the threat of Syria permanently?
What Mr. Assad wants, like what everybody wants, is to buy cheap and sell dear, to play off both ends against the middle, to have his peace and eat it. Assad is certainly a good Levantine trader, as his father war. But what is he selling and what are we buying? His merchandise may be defective, and his coins may be counterfeit. The record of the Syrian regime, as the editors point out, is far from encouraging.
The editors write:
IT IS IN Israel's long-term interest to have a peace treaty with Syria - but not at any price. The extent of any withdrawal must parallel the depth of the peace offered.
Not exactly. It was a good phrase when Rabin coined it, but it doesn't apply really. For removing X number of missiles from Lebanon, Israel should not be giving up Y square meters of Golan territory. Even if Assad promises to wipe out Hezbollah entirely, break all ties with Iran and goes straight, we should not be giving up the Galil, and probably not even ceding demilitarized zones that Syria took by force in 1948. Peace must be based on reasonable principles. A peace treaty that establishes the wrong principles is not in Israel's interest. Given the shaky nature of Syrian regimes, it is also a bit naive to talk about long term interests. If we give up the Golan for peace, and then Assad is replaced in a Muslim Brotherhood coup, we will have no peace and no Golan. Yet at the same time, we cannot very well ignore sincere overtures for peace.
Is an appearance in Jerusalem by Assad really the most important thing? If Assad really wants peace, he will offer borders that Israel can live with. Look at the map. All of the Golan in total is a tiny drop in the Syrian land mass. But what held up the peace treaty until now was Syrian insistence on getting a few meters of territory that do not belong to them, and controlling the sea of Galilee. Giving up that demand is probably all that is really needed for peace, and it is more important than Assad's charming presence in Jerusalem, unless Assad is prepared to declare East Jerusalem to be part of Israel. He will not do that, will he?
Ami Isseroff
Something is afoot in Syria, though to judge its significance is a matter of no small complexity. Yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Damascus on the first visit by a Western leader to Syria since the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. He is joined there today by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa for a summit meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Sarkozy's visit comes on the heels of Damascus's declared intention to open an embassy in Beirut for the first time, thereby recognizing Lebanon as something other than Greater Syria. The summit also comes after news that another round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria is set to begin on Sunday.
In an interview on Tuesday with France-3 television, meanwhile, Assad declared that the indirect negotiations with Israel have brought "the possibility of peace," although the two countries still have quite a way to go toward that goal. "Today, we can only say that we have opened the door to peace," he said.
IT IS IN Israel's long-term interest to have a peace treaty with Syria - but not at any price. The extent of any withdrawal must parallel the depth of the peace offered.
Yet we can't help but ponder why Assad's rhetoric veers so unsteadily between belligerence and conciliation.
Israel must be clear-eyed, first of all, on the nature of the Syrian regime, which happens to be engaged in brisk military build-up and procurement. According to Military Intelligence's head of research, Brig.- Gen. Yossi Baidatz, as of June 2007, Syria was "accelerating military acquisition." In late 2006, the US State Department's assistant secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, John C. Rood, testified that Syria was engaged in research and development for an offensive biological warfare program.
Damascus is also a long-standing state sponsor of terrorism, hosting Hamas and other extremist Palestinian organizations. It has not only shipped Iranian weapons to Hizbullah but also supplied it with Russian-made military equipment such as the Kornet anti-tank missile and its own 220mm anti-personnel rockets. Syria has also played a key role as the source of foreign fighters and insurgents infiltrating Iraq.
Although a Kuwaiti newspaper reported this week that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal had left Damascus for Sudan because of Syria's interest in moving along the diplomatic talks with Israel, Jerusalem officials have challenged the claim.
If Assad is making conciliatory sounds now, therefore, perhaps it's not because he has abandoned a belligerent posture, but because it serves his interests and deflects pressure. This, indeed, is a long-established pattern.
In 2004, after the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for Syrian departure from Lebanon, the Damascus leadership mentioned the possibility of negotiations with Israel. The next year, just after the Hariri assassination, as the US and France, among others, severed diplomatic ties with Damascus, Assad once again brought up peace with Israel.
Now Assad is once more under intense pressure. Some of it is economic, stemming from a growing fiscal deficit, rising food prices and the ongoing depletion of oil reserves. In April, budgetary problems forced the country to end its traditional gasoline subsidies.
Some of the pressure on Assad comes from human rights groups appalled by the increased repression in Syria. Twelve activists, including Riad Seif, a former member of parliament, are currently on trial for attending a meeting of opposition groups last December. An independent press remains nonexistent.
Most significant of all, however, are the increased political pressures on Syria's Alawite ruling clique. After suffering the great embarrassments of Israel's bombing of an alleged North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in September 2007 and the assassination - five months later, and still unexplained - in Damascus of Hizbullah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, Assad's regime now fears the international tribunal tasked with prosecuting Hariri's murderers.
Could it be that Assad is once again dangling the possibility of peace with Israel as a way to renew contacts with Washington and Paris and end his international isolation?
Then again, he may be sincere. If so, he should come to Jerusalem, or invite our premier to Damascus, and lay out his peace vision.

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