If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to come out of the closet over the negotiations with Syria in order to distract the public's attention from the police investigation against, this is unpleasant but not so terrible. It is conceivable that if there is sufficient evidence that the prime minister accepted bribes, even a peace agreement with all the Arab states will not make an impression on the attorney general or the justices of the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, if Olmert uses the Syrian track as an escape hatch from the stalemated Palestinian negotiations track, then even if he emerges from the investigation as pure as the drive snow, it will be necessary to relieve him of the position of prime minister. The experience of the past and the reality on the ground both teach us that the policy of "Syria first" leaves both tracks with a feeling of frustration.
When the government of Israel went to, or, to be more precise was dragged into, the Madrid Conference at the end of 1991, it agreed on a formal basis to conduct negotiations in parallel with all of its neighbors - the Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese.
In actual fact, the government's intention was to tread water simultaneously on all the tracks. The separate talks which Israel conducted later on with each of the parties under the auspices of the United States and Russia reached a dead end within a short time.
It did not happen because the prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Shamir, was afraid that the public would have difficulty swallowing a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and a respectable portion of Jerusalem all in one go. Even in return for peace with all the countries of the Middle East, including Iran, Shamir was not prepared to give up even one Palestinian refugee camp.
Ever since Shamir returned the keys to the Labor Party in 1992, Israeli leaders have tended to attempt to try to reach a peace agreement first with Syria. After they discover that Syria is determined to get more than Egypt did (the 1967 lines instead of the international border) and to give less than Egypt did (restrictions on the entry of Israelis to Syria), the prime ministers do an about-face and return to the Palestinian track.
There have been Israeli statesmen and advisers, and also a few Americans, who believed that wooing Syria would cause the Palestinians to drop their price for peace. Instead, they dealt a blow to the prestige of the "diplomatic camp" in the eyes of the Palestinian public, and contributed to improving the image of the "military camp."
There was also a price to be paid for abandoning Syria in favor of the Oslo Accords (Yitzhak Rabin in 1993), the Wye River Accord (Benjamin Netanyahu in 1998), and the Camp David summit (Ehud Barak in 2000). When the peace process with Syria got mired down, blocking Syria's path to Washington, the gates of Iran were opened wide to the Assad family.
Through the continued ties with Hezbollah, Hamas and the other Palestinian "refusal" organizations, Syria was able to wield influence in the territories and along Israel's northern border. When it wished it could put pressure on Hamas political wing leader Khaled Meshal, to go to Mecca and sign a unity agreement there with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. When it so wishes, it can send signals to Hezbollah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah that this is not the right time to provoke Israel.
The Syrians and the Lebanese, the Palestinians and the Jordanians, the Egyptians and the Saudi Arabians, all have had a common denominator as of March 2002. The Arab peace initiative that was born in Beirut solved the dilemma of "Syria or Palestine first." For the first time, Israel has the opportunity to choose between holding onto all the territories or reaching peace with all the members of the Arab League. Not merely any peace but normalization of its ties with the surrounding countries.
This decision, of course, did not spring from love of Israel, but rather from dread on the part of the pragmatic Arab regimes of the Muslim extremists - both Shi'ites and Sunnis - who dance merrily on the blood shed by the Palestinians (and the Israelis).
This dread gained momentum in the summer of 2006, following what the Arab world conceived as the victory of a handful of Hezbollah fighters over the great Zionist army. That was the contribution of the Second Lebanon War to regional peace.
It is a shame that the choice between territorial assets and strategic assets falls on Israel at a time when the State Prosecutor's Office is about to reach a decision over the fate of the leader on whose shoulders the responsibility rests. However, should it transpire that what we have is a chance to create a historic change in the life of a nation - peace with all the countries of the region - no person, no matter how important, should be allowed to miss it.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now