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Road not Taken

Syrian President Bashar Assad Photo: AFP
Syrian President Bashar Assad Photo: AFP
 
 

Addicted to the Palestinians

Do we prefer futile talks with Palestinians over serious negotiations with Syria?

Eshkol Nevo
Published: 04.15.08, 11:14 / Israel Opinion

For more than 15 years now, most of Israel’s diplomatic efforts have been focused on one direction: Reaching an agreement on dividing the country with the representatives of the Palestinian people. Thus far there is no interim agreement, but we can already come up with an interim conclusion.

 

So what have we had? Hundreds of secret meetings, dozens of open summits, two international conferences, a plethora of conventions, at least five election campaigns that centered around the conflict with the Palestinians, one traumatic political assassination, disengagement from Gaza that divided the nation, dozens of American mediators who came and went, and hundreds of position papers and understandings in principle.

 

We only failed to reach one thing during all those years: Peace - One that would stop the mutual violence and enable both peoples to exist without threats. Is this a reason to stop the efforts? Certainly not. The conflict is exacting many victims from both sides, and therefore we must aspire to end it. On the other hand, it is very possible that the time has come to reexamine the exclusivity we have been granting the Palestinians when it comes to our diplomatic horizon.

 

For several years now, Syria has been signaling its desire for a peaceful solution to its border conflict with Israel. During this period, Syria itself had not embarked on any military moves against Israel: It has not fired missiles, abducted Israelis, or attempted to take over territory. Moreover, based on foreign reports, Israel engaged in two offensive acts (there is no other way to define this) in the heart of Syria. Had Syria planned to embark on war against us, these strikes could have been used as a convenient reason for starting a war. Yet the Syrian leadership wisely chose to show restraint, thus signaling yet again that it does not seek a confrontation.

 

The Syrians are not without fault. They indeed grant a home to terror groups operating against Israel and by so doing fan the flames of regional violence. The question of the Golan Heights is also not a simple one, to say the least, and its solution will apparently require active international involvement.

 

Weak excuses 

But this is precisely why we have the concept of negotiations. Such negotiations with the Syrians would be long, complex, and filled with crises. But why, actually, shouldn’t we try? The answers provided to this question by our political leadership compete with each other in how baseless they are.

 

While the official Israel engages (and rightfully so) in open talks with the representatives of a people whose sons explode on buses and fire on kindergartens, it is unwilling to talk to the Syrians until they obligate (in advance) to remove all terrorist headquarters from their territory. While the official Israel is willing to (and rightfully so) withdraw from many areas in order to end the conflict with the Palestinians, it demands that Syria sever its ties with Iran (in advance) before discussing the future of the Golan Heights.

 

The official Israeli excuses are so weak that outside observers cannot help concluding, or at least estimating, that other forces are active below the surface.

 

Moreover, is it possible that we are not engaging in talks with the Syrians because we became addicted to the Palestinians? Is it possible that we became used to the comfort inherent in faltering negotiations that do not demand us to pay any price? After all, we can always count on the Palestinians to carry out some terrible terror attack or engage in internal conflict or embark on a new Intifada that would ruin everything. Meanwhile, we can trade documents, lift closures, meet, and reap the political and media rewards inherent in the declaration that we are holding “serious negotiations” that would require us to make “painful concessions” in the distant future.

 

Is it possible that the political leadership finds it more convenient to continue going nowhere with the Palestinians instead of embarking on serious negotiations with a country that has a clear leadership and that may demand truly painful concessions but may lead to viable quiet along the entire northern border and could completely change the Mideastern balance of power?

 

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