You remember when Claude Rains tells his subordinate in Casablanca to “round up the usual suspects?” Well, in the aftermath of Akiva Eldar’s blockbuster story yesterday that Syrian and Israeli unofficial interlocutors had negotiated a draft peace agreement, now come the usual denials. You see, in both an Arab nation and in Israel you mustn’t be seen to want peace more than your enemy. In fact, you mustn’t be seen to want peace at all. At least, not in any meaningful way. Sure, it’s OK to TALK about wanting peace and to claim you want it more than your enemy. But to actually sit down and talk and come to an agreement? Never! At least, not until it eventually happens. But at this rate, that might not happen until Hell freezes over.
So here are the laughable denials:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that no government officials were involved in secret contacts with Syria…
“No one in the government was involved in this matter,” Olmert told reporters in northern Israel. “It was a private initiative on the part of an individual who spoke with himself. From what I read, his interlocutor was an eccentric from the U.S., someone not serious or dignified.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry also rejected the report.
“No negotiations took place, the Haaretz report is completely false,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry official said in Damascus.
Official Israeli response to the report was more tentative.
“This is the first we have heard of the talks, we have never sanctioned anybody to speak to the Syrians and the prime minister first learned of these conversations through the newspaper report this morning,” said Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin.
You’ll note the pointed “no government officials were involved,” which is of course true. Just as Oslo was initiated by private individuals, so this negotiation proceeded. And just as Oslo proceeded to official negotiations, so too this track could’ve easily done the same but for the fact that neither Sharon nor Olmert appear to have WANTED peace with Syria.
Despite Olmert’s cynical and derisive put down, these were not just any individuals. Alon Liel was a former director general of the foreign ministry (under Ehud Barak), which is the number 2 post there. The Syrian interlocutor was no “eccentric from the U.S., someone not serious or dignified.” He was a wealthy Syrian-American businessman and confidant of Bashir Assad. He was chosen not only because of his ties to the Syrian regime, but because of his American ties as well, since everyone believed it would be important to draw the Americans into this process.
What is amazing is the sheer volume of politicians and academics who would have almost no reason to know the ins and outs of this matter, now claiming that they know for sure the entire thing is a hoax:
A figure described as a very senior official in the office of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying that “there was no reports to Sharon, there were no reports to his office, there was no connection between Sharon and Alon Liel, this never happened.”
“This is absolute nonsense.”
If Alon Liel reported his contacts to someone say, in the foreign ministry, and those reports were relayed directly to Sharon without any intermediary, why would this “very senior official” think he would perforce have to have been in the loop? Has he never heard of a prime minister who kept his subordinates in the dark about secret policy initiatives?
According to Ynetnews, Sharon confidant and henchman, Dov Weisglass issued a non-denial denial:
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau chief Dov Weisglass told Ynet that “the Haaretz report is baseless. Sharon was never updated on such negotiations. Someone may have said something once, but it’s on the level of gossip. There was no such thing in practice.”
“Someone may have said something once…[but] there was no such thing in practice.” Make sense to you?
Then, Olmert brought out the rightist academics to trample further over Liel and Eldar’s bodies:
Prof. Eyal Zisser, head of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University, told Ynet that “this is no more than a journalistic fabrication. On the one side there were good Israelis who wanted to promote the issue and themselves, and on the other side there are always the same Syrians who want to advance the issue and themselves, and they held talks.”
You heard it, the dean of the Israeli press corps and one of its most distinguished members, Akiva Eldar, has created a “journalistic fabrication.” This begs the question: despite the obviously august academic qualifications of Herr Professor Zisser, what the hell gives him the chutzpah to think he would be enough in the know about this to make a definitive judgment about it? This is an example of the punditocracy raising its ugly maw to trash talk those who are trying to do something to make the Mideast better. Remember the old saw: “Those who can do, those who can’t teach.” To that I would add: “and academics (at least some of them) bloviate.”
And for anyone who doubts Herr Professor’s mastery of his field, here he dazzles with his penetrating and unique analysis of Syrian-Israeli relations:
According to Zisser, “The Syrian side is interested in a dialogue in principle, but is not determined and is not ready to exert the required efforts. No one expects a Syrian living in the United States for many years to really be a serious representative, while Alon Liel is not an authorized representative of the State of Israel and is not the country’s confidant. He is one of the people who are on the margins.”
He added that “Israel in principle should always try and reach peace, but I definitely understand the prime minister who is deterred by it at the moment. The Syrians are tough clients who are unwilling to do the minimum in order to reach peace. When you have such a client, when there are difficult internal problems and when the Americans object, it is clear that one would fear negotiations.”
Alon Liel is “one of the people who are on the margins.” I like that. Richard Armitage was Codi Rice’s number 2 at the State Department, an equivalent post to the foreign ministry director general. Is Armitage “one of the people on the margins??” C’mon. This is insipid, insidious character assassination of the highest order. Not satisfied merely to demean the peace effort, Zisser has to make sure he inserts the knife cleanly between Liel’s ribs.
One can see the emptiness of Zisser’s analysis here: “The Syrians are tough clients who are unwilling to do the minimum in order to reach peace.” It would seem to me that the draft outline Liel worked out with his Syrian partner showed the Syrians are willing to do far more than the minimum to reach peace. In fact, the deal as described in Haaretz was incredibly favorable to Israel even compared to the 2000 deal cut with Barak (which he chickened out on at the last minute). Perhaps it is “clear” to Zisser why Olmert “would fear negotiations” under the current circumstances. But it’s not “clear” to anyone else with eyes in their head and a head upon their shoulders (at least a head that isn’t full of academic analyst cliches as Zisser’s appears to be).
Ynetnews quotes another academic security hawk squawking about the foolishness of such an initiative and the mistake of Syrian engagement:
Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel head of the Security Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, also believes that the report on the understandings was not serious…”The question whether we should talk to Syria is a tactical question – what you gain and what you lose. At the moment, there is no reason for Israel to rescue Syria, which is now under pressure. There is no reason for us to make their lives easier.”
This kind of narischkeit makes my blood boil. For these academic whores Israeli-Arab relations are a zero sum game. It’s all power politics. Who’s up and who’s down. Forget about real flesh and blood people dying every day on behalf of the power game. In fact, I’d say that a Syria-Israel peace agreement would “rescue” Israel quite as much as Syria. Is Olmert so well off after last summer’s military debacle that he himself doesn’t need a bit of “rescuing?” Here’s a guy whose popularity rating is around 30%. His party would poll 12 seats were an election held today.
And talking about pressure, is Syria the only one facing pressure? Olmert faces one definite criminal inquiry and two possible others as well as well. He’s not even speaking to either his defense or foreign ministers. For anyone seeking a definition of political dysfunction you couldn’t do better than to use this as a perfect example.
So whose life “would be made easier” by a peace agreement? Only Syria’s? What about the lives of the poor Israeli Jews and Arabs living in the north who suffered the brunt of Hezbollah shelling and who would suffer immensely more were there ever a war with Syria? Shouldn’t we consider what might make their lives easier? What a swine this Ben Israel fellow is. Sitting up there in his sleek academic office on Mount Olympus, while the rest of Israel suffers from the utter stagnation of Israeli peace efforts with its enemies.