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Gilad Sher Photo: Zum 77
Gilad Sher Photo: Zum 77
 
 

Don't reject Syrian peace overtures

Assad's reconciliatory messages should be tested

Gilad Sher
Published: 10.10.06, 15:21 / Israel Opinion

The timing of Syria's stepped up security alert and the series of contradictory interviews Bashar Assad and his Foreign Minister Walid Muallem granted the press recently are not incidental.

 

They come in response to Assad's apprehensions of facing incriminating evidence linking him directly to the murder of political leaders in Lebanon, and in response to the growing criticism leveled at Syria inside Lebanon itself.

 

For several years now, Syria is being increasingly isolated politically and economically, and the time has come for Assad to address the other end of the stick, which he is trying to hold on to by both ends – the willingness to engage in dialogue.

 

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As is customary in our region, words are one thing while actions are another. Alongside the crack Assad has opened for peace, Syria is continuing its massive support for Hizbullah in its terror against Israel.

 

Despite this, in the last few decades we have more often than once shunned alluded or declared overtures by Arab leaders for negotiations with Israel. Nothing good will come of this.

 

Our determined struggle against terror shouldn't abrogate the opportunity to embark on a channel of political dialogue as well.

 

Therefore, Assad's overtures shouldn't be rejected automatically, but rather, we should embark on a cautious, rational and paced process of examining his declared intentions.

 

If it's a deception, we'll find out pretty soon. If not, and peace negotiations will indeed commence, it will not adversely affect Israel's power of deterrence. We can always say "no."

 

Renewal of talks is still far off

Renewal of talks is still far off, however talks could provide an opportunity to test where Assad is heading. Can the Teheran-Damascus-Hizbullah-Hamas axis of terror be weakened by means of negotiations? Is the demand by Assad senior, calling for the evacuation of Israeli settlements within precisely three years still valid?

 

A deadlock in negotiations could indeed disrupt the status quo preserved since 1973 and would likely bring about further escalation.

 

The territorial disputes are clear, and so is the alleged Syrian price tag for a comprehensive peace deal. I don't know if the incumbent Israeli government is willing to pay this price. Assad will demand the full 1,100 kilometers of the Golan and a return to the 1967 borders that would give Syria a physical hold on the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. But in order to respond to all these issues, dialogue is necessary.

 

Finally, it is worthwhile paying attention to the interview Assad gave German newspaper Der Spiegel. He spoke of an overall solution, not only on the Golan Heights.

 

He contended that the right of return for half a million Palestinians should be implemented primarily in a Palestinian state once it is founded, and not in Israel. Alongside the harsh criticism he leveled at the Americans, he reiterated that they were and have remained the Mideast's primary mediators.

 

And finally, he does not rule out talking to Olmert one of these days, perhaps even a handshake can take place between them.

 

Perhaps the international community will now have better leveraging power against Syria since the war in Lebanon. These are economic and political leverages that can be utilized in favor of Israeli interests.

 

For years, Libya was a totalitarian terror state as well and since its transfer to the saner section of Arab states it has produced only positive results. Perhaps Assad is also eying this course, but we won't know until we try.

 

Attorney Gilad Sher was on the negotiating team with the Palestinians in the years 1999 to 2001

 

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