Yoaz Hendel
Syrian President Bashar Assad
Photo: AP

Say no to Syria talks

Op-ed: Mideast turmoil highlights the danger of securing peace deals with dictators like Assad

For three decades now, Israel and Syria have been engaging in indirect discussions from afar regarding a peace deal. It started during the rule of Assad Sr. (who sought to declare the outcome even before negotiations start) and continued with secret, pointless feelers vis-à-vis Assad Jr.


Peace had not arrived here, but we did see plenty of emissaries and fantasies. The truth is that despite the selective memory of various peace worshippers, we were never close to securing a deal with Syria. We can seek various types of explanations for it and blame ourselves again, yet the only reason for it is that the term “peace” (even though it exists both in Hebrew and in Arabic) is interpreted in a wholly different way by both sides.


In Israel, we dream about peace that will prompt Syria to disengage from Iran, that will produce quiet in Lebanon, and that will allow the dreamers to eat hummus in Damascus. The Syrians, on the other hand, talk about a process that will allow them to regain the Golan Heights and improve their strategic balance vis-à-vis Israel. That’s it, nothing more and nothing less than that.


And this is where the problem lies. Ever since the peace treaty with Egypt was signed, for lack of other choice Israel adopted the paradigm whereby peace is made with leaders rather than with peoples. We are not relaxing with hummus in Cairo or attending cultural performances in Amman. What we do have are interests and relationships between leaders.


Golan not the key

The peace treaties did not curb the Arab tradition to blame Israel for all the troubles in the world. Yet we, in order to make reality look nicer, justified these gaps by referring to the strength of the leaders.


Even though it is still too early to conclude, we can draw at least one important lesson from the uprisings in the Middle East: The limits of dictatorship. The escape of Tunisia’s president, Mubarak’s fall, the siege on Gaddafi and the panicked voices emerging from the luxurious palaces of other Arab leaders show that things change and tyrants don’t last forever. Today’s understandings vis-à-vis Arab leaders may turn into a big question mark tomorrow.


I am one of those who believe that Syria must engage in some self-examination for years to come before genuine willingness emerges there to advance towards a deal with its Jewish neighbors. As opposed to the common doctrine, in my view the Golan Heights land is not the key for improving the situation between the states, but rather, only an artificial excuse. Today, with Arab leaders collapsing, I view the pursuit of another agreement with a dictator as blindness.



פרסום ראשון: 03.01.11, 12:57
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