No one here talks about the "return" in exchange for a peace agreement with Syria; they only talk about the "cost" it would entail. And indeed, no surprises are anticipated: A full withdrawal from the Golan Heights with tiny cosmetic modifications in the best-case scenario. On the other hand, the "return" Bashar Assad is willing to offer Israel is vague.
Assad has nothing to offer; he doesn't wish to make any offers. It will be an agreement of give-me-and-you-can-dream-of-getting-anything-in-return.
The Mukhabarat's (Syria's secret police) worst nightmare is the thought that thousands of Israeli tourists would flock to the al-Hamidiya market in Damascus. It should be noted now: If a Syrian embassy is ever established in Tel Aviv (the late Assad opposed it,) only rarely would it issue visas, and the Syrians would not come here.
They would resort to the excuse that Israel is too expensive, or that Israel has yet to end its conflict with the Palestinians. Yet the truth is that anything that emits a sense of Israeli-Syrian normalcy is perceived as a threat to the minority Alawite regime, which owes its survival to apparatuses of force and intimidation.
True peaceful relations with Israel may revive the calls for democracy that accompanied Assad's rise to power seven years ago. The young optometrist handed out promises, yet the dreams were shattered with a wave of arrests that haven't ceased to this very day. Democracy in Syria would inevitably topple Assad.
With regards to Syria's "return" for an Israeli withdrawal, I have not yet mentioned Iran's claws, which are deeply penetrating Syria. The Ayatollahs from Teheran are accompanying Assad's campaign for peace. He doesn't act behind their backs, but they will not permit him to dance to the true sounds of peace. It would be a frozen peace.
On the other hand, Assad should be believed when he says he really wants to renew negotiations. What does he have to lose? A photo op of a Syrian delegation opposite an Israeli one would immediately lift Damascus out of international isolation.
The Administration in Washington would have to erase Syria from its axis of evil; businesspeople would be permitted to assist the faltering economy; the investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri would dissipate and moderate Arab states would have to woo Assad.
It is worthwhile listening to what is being said at high places in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman regarding Syria's peace intentions and Assad's personality. Assad, according to them, would not suffice with the Golan Heights. His advisors would insist that a deal with Israel would also return Lebanon to Syrian sovereignty.
Only we, the Syrians would say, are capable of controlling Hizbullah and suppressing the conflicts in the refugee camps such as the one currently raging at Nahr al-Barad that is threatening to spread throughout Lebanon.
Until recently it was estimated here that we could keep holding on to the Golan until a visionary leader such as Anwar Sadat or his neighbor Hussein would emerge in Syria. However, young Assad, 42, has just garnered 97 percent support for renewing his term in office, and it doesn't look like he is planning to disappear any time soon.
He is beating the war drums in full cooperation with Teheran while uttering words of peace each time Washington makes a threat. He believes that Israel will have no choice but to return to the negotiating table.