Akiva Eldar reports the scoop of the year at Haaretz–that Israel and Syria have been secretly pursuing peace negotiations between 2004-2006; and that the talks had essentially resolved most of the outstanding major issues dividing them. The provisions are breathtaking in their resolution of so many of what, till now, have appeared to be intractable problems:
The main points of the understandings are as follows:
# An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.
# As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.
# At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.
# Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.
# The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel’s favor.
# According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.
It should be made clear that these negotiations, like the beginnings of Oslo, were not only secret, but they were unofficial. No Israeli or Syrian government official participated directly in the negotiations. Though make no mistake, representatives of both countries were closely briefed about developments.
What’s happening right now? And why haven’t we heard any official announcement about these meetings? There IS always a wrinkle when it comes to Mideast peacemaking, always a fly in the ointment. As usual in these situations, the fly was of Israeli origin:
The contacts ended after the Syrians demanded an end to meetings on an unofficial level and called for a secret meeting at the level of deputy minister, on the Syrian side, with an Israeli official at the rank of a ministry’s director general, including the participation of a senior American official. Israel did not agree to this Syrian request.
There’s that old saw about men being afraid of commitment. I guess it also true of Ehud Olmert’s government. Assad is like the girl you fall in love with who tells you we’ve been dating too long. Either we get serious or break it off. Olmert, the other partner in this “romance” decides either his inamorata is bluffing or that he can do better–and calls it off.
Look over the provisions of this understanding once again. It resolves an incredible number of issues that have not only divided the parties, but caused countless wars and death on all sides: Golan returned to Syria, Hezbollah no longer a Syrian proxy, Syrian recognition of Israel, an end to the Syrian-Iranian alliance, Meshal thrown out of Syria, etc. How could Olmert look this gift horse in the mouth and say: “Nah, I can do better.” Or better yet: “I don’t need him [Assad] as much as he needs me.” The slovenliness and ineptitude of Israeli leadership on this matter is simply breathtaking. Let me turn Abba Eban on his head by saying, it should not be said that the PM ever misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The last Syria-Israel meeting happened during the Lebanon war. This date is astounding considering that Israel was in the midst of a savage war with Syrian proxy #1, Hezbollah. It is no accident, something one recognizes only in hindsight, that it was during or shortly after the war when Assad became much more public and declarative about his wish to engage Israel in peace negotiations. He has given countless interviews in world media and sent countless messages to U.S. senators and Israel itself all of which make clear he’s eager to sue for peace. I’m sure Assad figured that if Israel was abandoning talking directly, the least he could do is let both Israelis and the world know that it wasn’t from a lack of his trying. Which is more than anyone can say for Mr. Olmert, that fount of courageous leadership.
One obstacle standing in the way of Olmert’s assent to official negotiations is Bush-Cheney adamant opposition:
[Suleiman, the Syrian negotiator] report[ed] that the Syrians were prepared to begin negotiations with Israel immediately: formal negotiations, certainly not “academic talks.” The Prime Minister’s Bureau in Jerusalem didn’t care whether Liel and his friends sat down with the Syrians to hear what they had to say − but no negotiations. The Israeli reason (or excuse): The Americans are not prepared to hear about contact with Syria.
But given the panoply of issues this agreement would resolve, how can Bush hold his head up and admit that he was opposed to settling this conflict on such terms? It’s a shande. It’s goddamn criminal considering how many Syrians, Lebanese and Israelis have died since this thing started (between Israel and Syria, at least) in 1967. When will Israel and the U.S. see reason and get down to brass tacks?
This is also a fascinating history of how these talks happened.
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