Lately, there has been a flurry of peace overtures towards Israel by Bashar al-Assad of Syria intended to put pressure on the Jewish State to strike a peace treaty with Damascus. The truth is Assad wants to impress upon the international community that he is a man of peace; this after he failed, through the support he lends the violent Hizbullah, to force the issue upon the main players including the US.
Assad is a multi-faceted chameleon that, depending on where you stand, will show you the color you crave to see. To Syrians, he is a devout Muslim who is seen praying on Fridays in Mosques. To the US, he is a secularist who delivers some third-rate al-Qaeda operatives once in a while to fend-off criticism. To Israel, he is s man of peace. To Iraqis, he is the defender against occupation. To the Lebanese, he is the symbol of resistance. To Arabs, he is the last bastion of pan-Arabism. To Turkey, he is an accommodating neighbor having given-up on the disputed Iskanderoun region.
But in reality, Assad is a promoter of extremism, a man of violence, and a conscientious racist who maintains his grip over Syrian society by insuring that his Alawite minority instills fear and intimidation in the hearts of any Syrian that challenges his rule. Assad is the architect of an Apartheid system for Syria that is breeding discontent, thus creating suicide bombers.
To many pundits, including present-day officials in the State of Israel, Assad is the devil you know. Under that tunnel vision, one can assume that the inheritor of Syria is not breaking a sweat. He knows that his rule is secure as long as the international community, and Israel in particular, have no intention of pressuring his regime to the point of implosion. Ironically, Assad is using Israel’s lack of resolve to effectively oppress further the dissidents the world needs to usher a new Syria that promotes co-existence and peace with the Jewish State.
For Israelis hoping in prime minister’s Olmert guidance, a peace treaty with Syria might just be what Israel is in dire need of at the moment. After all, certain leadership in the Israeli government is calling for it openly because it dreads a war with Syria, which will render the Golan Heights as unstable as the South of Lebanon or the Gaza strip.
But I say Israelis deserve better.
Israelis deserve peace with a nation with which they can co-exist, not only without hostilities, but with peace of mind. It is unfair for Israelis to continually seek peace and then live for eternity under the specter of hate amply provided by Arab dictatorships. For many Israelis, the peace with Egypt was and still remains a good treaty but consider what would be had democracy taken hold in Egypt and any elected president become accountable to his people. Would Egyptians still hate Israelis? I say not. Because with freedom and democracy come open minds and education.
Preparing ground for real democracy
Today, Israel has a golden opportunity not only to realize peace but also to eradicate the culture of hate so prevalent in the Arab countries because of lack of accountability of Arab dictators. Instead of supporting peace with a tyrant who, under normal political elections, would not get 5 percent of the votes, Israel should support democracy in Syria. With democracy, the culture of hate would end.
Pessimists would argue that a democracy in Syria would be tantamount to the same democracy Israel was shocked to see in the Palestinian Territories when Hamas came to power and that similar conditions exist today in Syria should the Assad regime fall. These assumptions are based on the notion that we have learned nothing from Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian elections and that the Syrian street is controlled by extremists.
Preparing the ground for real democracy in Syria requires an effort. One that would plant the seeds by taking into account the lessons learned in Iraq (e.g. mainly that we need to have a pluralistic government-in-exile ready to go BEFORE a regime falls) and the Palestinian elections that took place before preparing the foundation. The theocracy most point to in Iraq is the fabrication of Iran and Syria. If Syria goes democratic, it will also ease the pain of Iraqis and ultimately defang Iran through isolation rather than confrontation. The combination of secular, democratic leaders and the support of the international community will prevent the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from ever gaining control of the Syrian government.
While Iran looks like the most dangerous of the two countries because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons coupled with its direct call for the destruction of Israel, Assad is no less dangerous because behind this veneer of peace lies a much more sinister regime capable of carrying out Ahmadinajead’s message. Israel does not need to react to Assad’s wishful thinking as it awoke to Hizbullah’s military prowess.
Preemption requires from the Jewish State to bring the Assad regime down before it is too late. Can Israel risk giving away the Golan to find out that Assad has been preparing, the way Hizbullah was, for war all along? How can Israel ever trust Assad after his own rockets rained down on Israeli cities? His fate should be that of Saddam and no less.
The Syrian opposition leadership is ready to meet around a roundtable conference to map Syria’s future with the international community. Even the Muslim Brotherhood will acquiesce to pluralism and a small share in the new and democratic Syrian parliament as many in their leadership have voiced directly to me out of frustration of remaining on the sidelines for 50 years waiting to share power. They understand that sharing power is the best they can hope for and we have ways to hold their feet to the fire.
So while Israeli politicians ponder the question of peace with Assad, the destroyer of Israeli cities and the promoter of the culture of hate against Jews, we Syrian democratic leaders believe that Israelis deserve better. All we are asking from the Israeli leadership is for some imagination, courage, and support in bringing sweeping change to Syria.
Farid Ghadry is the founder of the Syrian Reform Party and the President of the Syrian Democratic Coalition