The Israeli-Arab conflict is like riding a roller coaster at the amusement park. One day you’re at the nadir and the next you’re hitting the heights. Today just might’ve been a good day. Israel and Syria publicly conceded that they are negotiating under Turkish auspices for a peace settlement.
The Times’ Ethan Bronner captures the most significant aspect of this development as far as Israeli policy is concerned; it concedes the abject failure of the U.S. and Israeli approach toward both Lebanon and Syria:
For Israel — which has watched the Palestinian group Hamas take over Gaza and gain ground in the West Bank, and the Lebanese group Hezbollah display raw power in Beirut — an effort to pull Syria away from Iran could produce enormous benefits. An announcement on Wednesday of a peace deal that gives Hezbollah the upper hand in Lebanon’s government probably added to Israel’s sense of urgency.
The last sentence is key. Hezbollah’s recent violent temper tantrum by which it captured, for all intents and purposes, much of Beirut appears to have essentially capsized the opposition. In this week’s peace agreement, Hezbollah won the veto power–sought in vain for months–over major political decisions facing the cabinet. Though a minority, Hezbollah is on the ascendancy.
In negotiating with Syria, Israel is conceding the obvious: the longer it waits for a deal the weaker its position will be. It has failed to subdue Hezbollah through war. The latter only became stronger and a more dangerous enemy. Olmert is admitting the only way to tame Hezbollah is to go to the source and see if you can get Syria to pull the plug.
Syria too, while in a superior position, realizes that Iran cannot bolster it in the long-term. With the possibility of a new Democratic administration looking more favorably on Syria, the time to strike for Bashir Assad seems now.
In making this decision, one of two things has happened vis a vis U.S.-Israel relations. Either Olmert has decided to go against Bush’s wishes in this embrace of Syrian negotiations; or Bush himself has given Olmert the green light. Either way, the Bush Administration is also admitting the abject failure of its own confrontational policy toward Syria; and the abject failure of its so-called alliance with the Lebanese democratic government. The Siniora government is a paper tiger as is the Bush presidency. Olmert himself is little more than one too. But he, at least, seems to be facing the diplomatic music.
Condi Rice mouthed her typical irrelevancies and inanities about the Syria announcement, which clearly could not have pleased her or Bush:
We would welcome any steps that might lead to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Obviously, we are working very hard on the Palestinian-Israeli track, which is the most mature track,” she said. “That is the track that is now well along in the bilateral negotiations and we have an opportunity to get an agreement by the end of the year.”
By what stretch of the imagination are the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on “a more mature track” or liable to lead to “an agreement by the end of the year??”
In the event that this negotiation succeeds (still a bit of a long shot I’m afraid), I’d nominate the Turkish premier, Recep Erdogan, for a Nobel Peace Prize. Jimmy Carter should be the one to give it to him.
It’s amusing that Bronner gives prominence to the vapid chatter of Dore Gold pooh-poohing the talks and warning with characteristically over-the-top rhetoric about the dangers of returning the Golan:
In Israel…many strategists and generals have said that giving up the strategic advantage of the Heights in exchange for promises or even written treaties makes no sense.
“In a period in which Iran is on the march and extending its influence from Lebanon to Iraq, for Israel to consider giving up the Golan barrier would be a strategic error of the highest order,” said Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former official and adviser to conservative governments under the Likud Party, which is now the opposition.
“You have to make a cold assessment whether Israel could drive a wedge between Syria and Iran,” Mr. Gold said. “Unfortunately, in the present period, Iran has Syria within its grip to a far greater extent than it did in the 1990s when previous negotiations with the Syrians were held.”
Notice Gold provides absolutely no proof that “Iran has Syria within its grip.” On the contrary, the very fact that these talks are proceeding means that Syria does not want to be under Iran’s thumb. Bronner offers two full paragraphs of Gold’s pablum to one sentence in rebuttal from the dovish Ran Cohen. That tells you something about Bronner’s priorities.
I wrote a long e-mail to Bronner noting my criticism of his last profile of Israeli Arabs. He never replied. With previous N.Y. Times correspondents like James Bennett and Steven Erlanger, they always replied to me even when I disagreed with them. This too tells you something about Bronner’s priorities.