This is the way it always seems to go with Israeli politics vis a vis its Arab neighbors. A politician makes a brave proposal for negotiations rather than military force to resolve a conflict with one or another of its enemies. The initiative makes a stir in the press and within the Israeli public. Until people realize they might actually have to give up something and compromise in order to realize the goal of the initiative. That’s what happened when the current Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter, himself a former Shin Bet chief, stated the obvious:
“In exchange for peace with Syria, Israel can leave the Golan Heights.”
In an interview with Israel Army Radio, Dichter brought up: “We have paid similar territorial prices for peace with Jordan and Egypt.”
…”Any political process is preferable to a military-fighting process, be it with Syria or with Lebanon, ” Dichter continued. He estimated that “in regards to Lebanon, the conditions will be determined in discussions of this sort, even before Syria. Lebanon is capable today to enter into such a process with Israel even without a parallel process with Syria.”
“Syria is a very significant country for us in regards to the texture of life in the region,” the minister said. “I think that a process of discussions with Syria is legitimate. If it turns out that there is someone to talk to, I think that the idea is very suitable. Israel can initiate it. Ultimately, initiatives of this kind are of a third party – and there is an abundance of third parties in the world. If a third party approaches us, we must reply in the positive.”
On this point, Dichter is asked about the cost. He responded: “We know the costs. We are experienced in setting prices. We have gone before two countries, Jordan and Egypt, and arranged the issues. We attempted with the Palestinian Authority, but unfortunately it didn’t succeed.
“But that doesn’t mean that with other countries like Lebanon or Syria it won’t succeed, and maybe this will make it clear to the Palestinians that there is no chance for any state to make achievements through war with us.”
“The Golan Heights has tremendous significance for us,” said Dichter. “I am not suggesting that we take it lightly whether or not we withdraw to the water line or not, because in the Middle East, without water, there are very difficult problems.”
Despite everything, the internal security minister declared that if the relevant arrangements are ensured, he is prepared – in exchange for full peace – “even to return to the international border.”
Dichter’s initiative had previously been suggested by Amir Peretz just after the war ended. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a seeming dove in the internal cabinet debate over Lebanon strategy, has appointed a representative to prepare the groundwork for a Syria track to Israeli diplomacy.
Yet despite all these positive signs, the requisite smackdown has occurred. Peretz has backpedaled on his previous endorsement of this idea:
Defense Minister Amir Peretz backtracked Monday on a proposal to negotiate with Syria. “At present, conditions are not ripe for it, but I certainly see dialogue with Syria in the future,” Peretz said during a meeting in Jerusalem with United Nations special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.
Coming from a former Peace Now activist who just took Israel through the most disastrous war in its history are we at all surprised to see Peretz reversing course like this?
But the worst opprobrium goes to Ehud Olmert who put the kibosh on the notion of Syria negotiations in typically obtuse Israeli fashion:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday…”Israel won’t negotiate with those who give refuge to terror and who are part of the axis of evil.”
He added: “There are those who say that Bashar Assad should be embraced. I say clearly, let’s not forget the thousands of missiles that fell here in the last month. They all passed through Damascus and some of them were even made in Damascus.”
The NY Times also characterizes Olmert’s comments on this subject:
Mr. Olmert said he favored negotiations, but not while the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, continues to support groups that Israel and the United States label as terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah and Hamas.
“Before we negotiate with Syria, they should stop financing terror; before we negotiate with Bashar Assad, let him stop launching missiles by means of Hezbollah onto the heads of innocent Israelis,” Mr. Olmert said. “And before we sit down to negotiate, let them stop funding Hamas’s murder, sabotage and terror. If they meet all these tests we shall negotiate with them.”
It is just so typical for Israel to attempt to lay down conditions under which it will deign to talk to its enemies. All this tells me that unfortunately Israel is still not desperate enough for peace. It will take the deaths of more of its best and brightest before such desperation will lead to the realization that a different approach is called for. It was Abba Eban who disparagingly said of the Arabs: “They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” This statement is, of course, precisely apt for Israeli policy as well. Never was it more apt than regarding Dichter’s promising proposal. Perhaps, despite the sound rejection from the PM, something may come of it down the line.