Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo by AP
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It couldn't have been spelled out more explicitly, clearly and emphatically. Read and judge for yourselves: "Our position is clear: When Israel returns the entire Golan Heights, of course we will sign a peace agreement with it .... What's the point of peace if the embassy is surrounded by security, if there is no trade and tourism between the two countries? That's not peace. That's a permanent cease-fire agreement. This is what I say to whoever comes to us to talk about the Syrian track: We are interested in a comprehensive peace, i.e., normal relations."

Who said this to whom? Syrian President Bashar Assad to the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir last week. These astounding things were said to Arab, not Western ears, and they went virtually unnoticed here. Can you believe it?

What more can Assad say that he hasn't already? How many more times does he have to declare his peaceful intentions before someone wakes up here? How long must he knock in vain on Israel's locked door? And if that were not enough, he also called on Turkey to work to calm the crisis with Israel so it can mediate between Israel and Syria.

Assad's words should have been headline news last week and in the coming weeks. Anwar Sadat said less before he came to Israel. In those days we were excited by his words, today we brazenly disregard such statements. This leads to only one conclusion: Israel does not want peace with Syria. Period. It prefers the Golan over peace with one of its biggest and most dangerous enemies. It prefers real estate, bed and breakfasts, mineral water, trendy wine and a few thousand settlers over a strategic change in its status.

Just imagine what would happen if we emerged from the ruins of our international status to sign a peace agreement with Syria - how the international climate regarding us would suddenly change, how the "axis of evil" would crack and Iran's strongholds weaken, how Hezbollah would get a black eye, more than in all the Lebanon wars. And maybe even Gilad Shalit, held by the Damascus-based Hamas, would be freed. Sound too good to be true? Maybe, but Israel is not even trying. A prime minister who ignores this chance is no less than a peace criminal.

Instead of the Shalit march that has just ended, a different march should have set out this week, one more massive and determined, calling on the Israeli government, the peace refuser, to do something. Hoarse shouts should have gone up: Peace with Syria now. But this march will not go forward this week. Apparently it will never happen. Singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi, Zubin Mehta and the respectable demonstrators who marched on behalf of one soldier will not do so to support a move that could save the lives of many soldiers and civilians. Why? Because that takes courage. Why? Because Assad was right when he told La Repubblica in Italy: "Israeli society has tilted too far to the right, and it is not capable of making peace with Syria."

True, they say the Mossad chief thinks that Assad will never make peace because the whole justification for his regime is based on hostility toward Israel. Our experts are never wrong, but similar things were said about Sadat. True, Assad also said other things. Other? Not really. He said that if he does not succeed through peace, he will try to liberate the Golan through resistance. Illogical? Illegitimate? Not a reason to try to challenge him? What do we have to lose but the chance? Even the latest fig leaf a few prime ministers have used here - the assessment that the U.S. opposes peace with Syria - is absurd. Does anyone see U.S. President Barack Obama opposing a peace move with Syria? What a pity that he is not pressing Israel to move ahead with it.

And then there is the old refrain: "Assad doesn't mean it." When Arab leaders make threats, they mean it; when they talk peace, they don't. And also: "We'll return the Golan and end up with a piece of paper and missiles." Remember how that was said about Egypt? But we persist: The prime minister is criminally missing a historic chance for peace, and we yawn apathetically. Sounds logical, right?