The Syria-Israel Peace Gambit
Few would argue that the indirect Israel-Syria talks through Turkish mediation, which were first announced 21 May, were a sign of political maturity and readiness for peace. In fact, while the discussions seemed concerned with the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and
A precarious report published in The Jerusalem Post -- citing a news report in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai on 2 September -- claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has left
Whether the report is fully, partially or not at all accurate, the fact remains that
But this is an issue that even Hamas itself doesn't seem to be concerned with, at least at the moment, for it's equally understood that Israel is not serious about its negotiations with Syria, and that the whole affair is a political manoeuvre aimed at disturbing the Syria-Iran alliance, cutting off the supposed Hizbullah weapon supply route, and further de-legitimising Hamas, while propping up its Palestinian rivals.
Consider A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, a report prepared and signed by major Washington-based neoconservatives in 1996. It made the following recommendation to the Israeli government at the time: "Negotiations with repressive regimes like
The mindset behind the report had great sway over Israeli thinking, as was made clear in 2000 when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak froze Israeli-Syrian negotiations at a point that an agreement was reportedly at hand. The thrust of
That was tried and failed miserably.
But Sarkozy's choice of Damascus to promote Israel's ominous threat further highlights the relevance of Iran to his efforts, which would not have actualised without prior Israeli consent. Considering how quickly the Iraqi regime fell following the US invasion in 2003, and the succumbing of the Libyan government soon after, Syria is treading carefully, while trying to hold on to several winning cards, its strong relationship with Iran being one.
Although Syria is eager to reclaim the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights, its leaders must also realise that the current Israeli leadership is in no position to negotiate withdrawal from what was illegally annexed by the Israeli Knesset in 1982. To override the strong opposition to withdrawal, the Israeli leadership must be indisputably interested in ending the occupation -- which it is not -- and strong enough to pull off such a major "concession", which is also not the case.
Nonetheless, Syria carries on with its indirect talks with Israel, one round after the other, with much enthusiasm, coupled with talks about economic development, investment, etc.
It is clear that neither Israel nor Syria is anticipating a "breakthrough" anytime soon. For now, talking is an end in itself. Concurrently, Israel wishes to woo Syria to break with Hamas and other Palestinian groups, break with Iran and, at least, twist Hizbullah's arm in Lebanon. Syria, on the other hand, knows well that indirect talks with Israel are an unmatched act of political validation in the West, enough to lessen US threats, win France's friendship, and appear in a positive light internationally.
Both parties want to come across as accommodating, willing partners in peace and, at a future point, there might be a few overtures, the extent of which could be devastating to Palestinian factions in Damascus. Meshaal might not be in Sudan, but if he is, or will be soon, one cannot be entirely surprised.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).