In one of the news broadcasts that he presented last week on Channel 1 television, Haim Yavin defined the Syrian feelers as an "escalation in the peace attack," no less. No one could better describe the panic that Syrian President Bashar Assad is arousing in Israel. Attacks are something we understand, and escalation is also a user-friendly concept for Israelis. Therefore, it appears that peace has no meaning unless it comes in the form of an attack.
The alarmed and the perplexed are split into two groups. The first consists of those who are convinced that everything Assad does is aimed at advancing his own narrow interests: ridding Syria of the stigma of being a country that supports terror, luring investors to the country and freeing himself from pressure over the Lebanese issue. In other words, becoming a country like any other country. This group of believers forgets that these are precisely Israel's demands of Assad. But it wants eternal guarantees that after the Syrian president gets the Golan Heights back and no longer heads a country that supports terror, he will not turn on his heels and laugh out loud at the stupid Israelis. This is a reasonable demand, but it cannot be fulfilled before negotiations are actually held. Certainly such a demand cannot be a precondition.
The demand that Syria sever relations with Iran is also a deal-breaker. Israel did not demand this of Turkey, or of the leaders of the Islamic republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, when it signed peace treaties with them. It will also not demand this of Saudi Arabia, if and when a peace agreement is signed with that country. And how is it possible to explain Syria's willingness to sign a peace agreement with Israel when its relations with Iran are so close? According to the alarmists, this is of course another lie, or at least part of a nefarious plot. Therefore, it is not superfluous to ask why Iran has not reacted to Syria's feelers toward Israel, just as it is possible to wonder why Iran is not demanding that Turkey cease doing business with Israel. The answer lies in a mosaic of interests that goes far beyond the simplistic definition of the "axis of evil" or the division of the world into Shi'ites and Sunnis.
The precondition that Syria close the bases of Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad is especially interesting. If the headquarters of these organizations are fated to live outside the territories, would it not be better for them to operate from a country that has a peace agreement with Israel, instead of being expelled to a hostile country from which they can operate as they please?
The second group of alarmists offers the learned argument that Assad cannot mean real peace, because such a peace would topple him, his regime and his minority sect, which controls the country. Alternatively, spokesmen for this group take refuge in the assessment that even if there is peace with Syria, it will undoubtedly be a very cold peace. They are forgetting that the younger Assad has already proposed peace, while the elder Assad already held discussions with Israel and obtained concessions and even talked about normalization. Is Bashar Assad risking more now than ever before? One can confidently assume that an improvement in Syria's economic situation in the wake of an agreement with Israel, as well as the return of the Golan Heights, would do wonders for Assad's standing.
There is nothing wrong with Assad currently wanting to advance "only" Syrian interests. This is precisely the motivation for which Israel should be looking. If peace with Israel serves his interests, it would be wise to set up a table somewhere and sit negotiators around it - people who would pull out what was concluded with Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak and tell Assad: This is where we are continuing from, and here is our list of new demands.
Assad's intentions are not a matter for trust or faith, nor for prior examination. Rather, they are a matter for negotiations whose sole aim is to reach peace with Syria. Only in this way will it also be possible to shake off the profound self-righteousness that holds that "we" owe it to our fighters and our homeland at least to try. It is not trying that is needed here, but rather action and achievement. Similarly, the main consideration cannot be how we will look to the world if we refuse to negotiate with Assad, but rather how life in Israel will look if we respond in the affirmative.
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