Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said in a television interview that Arabs should band together behind their own 4-year-old land-for-peace initiative because the time “could be very appropriate” to restart peace talks. The comments made in an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya (Arabic) satellite TV station in Europe and were published Thursday by the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
Berri was referring to the Arab peace initiative, which was agreed to at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002.
“The Arabs have agreed to the Arab peace initiative,” Berri was quoted as saying. But he added the Israelis “and those behind them” — an allusion to the United States — have rejected that.
“The time now could be very appropriate to return to the peace negotiations,” said Berri, a pro-Syrian politician. “But could this happen and the Arabs are torn apart this way? I believe the only compensation for this is for Arabs to band together and take advantage of this.”
He said he had spoken to Saudi leaders during a visit to the kingdom earlier this month. “I hope I will hear from the rest (of the Arabs) and that the Arabs agree on this (issue).”
Unlike the concerted “Nyet” Ehud Olmert fired off when Bashir Assad spoke virtually the same words, the Israeli PM responded more favorably to this initiative:
“I would be happy to meet with [Prime Minister Fuad] Siniora or any other Lebanese government official who is authorized to talk peace with Israel.”
“Every time an Arab leader talks about peace, we must listen to him. In this case, we’re talking about an interesting remark,” he added.
It makes you wonder why Berri’s remark is interesting and Assad’s made Olmert snarl. Clearly, Israel believes it can peel off the Arab states from each other and negotiate separate deals that might be more favorable than working out a comprehensive one with more than one state. For some reason, Olmert believes it would be easiest to effectuate such a strategy with Lebanon. Possibly because the nation is so divided, he believes he can negotiate a deal with the government that would essentially leave Hezbollah out in the cold. And somehow in such a deal the Lebanese national government could deliver on its part of the bargain. All of which is a doubtful proposition.
Olmert seems to believe for some inexplicable reason that Syria is a no-go proposition. Perhaps Olmert believes that the return of the Golan will be a harder political proposition to sell in Israel than whatever it will take to sell the Israeli public on a peace deal with Lebanon. It’s also possible that Olmert realizes that peace with Syria would place increased pressure to resolve the Palestinian crisis as well since Damascus is one of Hamas’ chief Arab sponsors.
Personally, I think that making peace with Lebanon is almost inextricably linked with doing the same with Syria. But Syria should be tackled first. The only way to get Hezbollah off Israel’s back is to persuade its chief sponsor, Syria, that it has more to gain from peace with Israel than continued war. By returning the Golan and signing a peace deal, Israel will effectively disarm Hezbollah in the sense of removing its key sponsor from the game.
Perhaps Olmert believes that if he can negotiate an end to hostilities with Lebanon first, he can then enter into talks with Syria and carry the Israeli populace along with him on the strength of Lebanon peace.
I find it odd that Olmert would react favorably to Berri’s comment since it is based on the 2002 Saudi initiative which called for Israeli return to 1967 borders (with slight modifications). Olmert is no more willing to even consider such an eventuality than he would be willing to consider recognizing Hamas as the recognized leader of the Palestinian people. Possibly, Condi Rice has put pressure on Olmert to at least appear to support statements such as Berri’s. You can see my cynicism knows no bounds when it comes to Olmert who always seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace.
Lt. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Gazit, former head of Israeli military intelligence and mayor of Tel Aviv, has mounted a spirited critique of Olmert’s refusal to take Syria’s offer seriously. The problem as he sees it is Israel’s assertion of preconditions BEFORE it will talk to Syria. This is how Olmert described it in the AP story:
Olmert on Monday rejected the Syrian calls to resume negotiations, saying Damascus must first end its support for Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Gazit rights notes that Olmert’s conditions place the cart before the horse:
I don’t want to defend Damascus and I have no argument with our [Olmert’s] demands and expectations from the Syrian leadership. But these demands should be raised during the first phase of negotiations, and should serve as a means of testing Syria’s intentions to comply with any future agreement.
Anyone who demands and expects the Syrians to give up the leverage they currently wield places the burden upon the Syrians to put all of their faith in Israel’s good intentions.
I never cease to be amazed by Olmert and Israel’s ultra-partisans in the blog world who think nothing of placing such preconditions on the Palestinians and Syrians, and use their refusal to bow to such pressure as proof of their perfidy and unreliability as negotiating partners; when this proves no such thing. It only proves that Israel wishes its enemy/partner to bow down even before negotiations begin. A normal international negotiation, especially one that is likely of success, imposes no preconditions on either party. They each get to bring their maximal positions to the table. Then DURING the negotiation these positions are tested. Extreme versions are discarded. The parties meet somewhere in the middle. That’s how a country conducts itself when it really wishes to achieve success in negotiations. That’s not how Olmert and Israel are behaving and it makes one question their sincerity or even their interest in a negotiated solution.
Gazit even expands his formula to the Palestinians. Hamas? “C’mon down!” as Monty Hall used to say:
If we truly want dialogue and peace agreements, we must truly and fully accept the formula that we so readily spout – “Israel is prepared to negotiate with any Arab organizations without any preconditions!” The only condition Israel should demand ahead of negotiations is the existence of an Arab partner who is willing to negotiate.
These are some of the wisest words I’ve read from an Israeli analyst in some time on what Israel’s negotiating posture should be vis a vis the Arabs:
All of our demands and expectations…are a legitimate aspect of any negotiation process and are some of the unequivocal conditions the other side will be required to fulfill, thereby proving its intentions and ability to carry out any agreement…There is no doubt in my mind that the road to peace with our neighbors will require Israel to pay a very heavy price, and we will have to be tough negotiators in order to severely limit the price we pay and to spread out the payment so we can move forward, while at the same time constantly examining our Arab partners and ensuring that they are also fulfilling their undertakings towards us. I have no illusions, and the road to an agreement and normalization requires that we proceed carefully and cautiously through a minefield. Nevertheless, we can’t expect the Arabs to disarm the mines it has laid, as a precondition for Israel’s willingness to walk the path towards dialogue.