An opportunity in Damascus
The repeated failures over the course of 19 years of negotiations with the Syrians have only led to the strengthening of Israel's hostile northern front.
The renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians has led to a revival on the Syrian track as well. French and American envoys to the peace process have visited Damascus, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hastened there in their wake, reflecting his fear that Syria will weaken its strategic alliance with the Iranians. Turkey also announced its interest in mediating between Jerusalem and Damascus once again, in spite of the crisis in its relations with Israel following the flotilla incident in late May.
Only in Israel is there silence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ignoring Syria ever since he returned to power and has not responded to the repeated peace feelers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The most recent diplomatic developments have also encountered Israeli silence, as though these were journeys to another planet rather than an exploration of the chances for a peace agreement with a neighboring country of great importance in the region.
Netanyahu should listen to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces, who are calling on him to renew negotiations with Syria. A peace treaty with Damascus would undermine the "radical axis" led by Iran, bring Assad closer to the United States and the moderate regimes in the region, abate Hezbollah and Hamas and guarantee stability on Israel's northern border.
In addition to the strategic benefit, a peace treaty would reinforce the regional aspect to the negotiations with the Palestinians, in accordance with the Arab peace initiative. And no less important, it would promote the drawing of Israel's borders and lead to an end of our control of occupied territory, over which the international community has never recognized the application of Israeli law.
The conditions for peace with Syria are known: Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for security arrangements and normalization in the relations between the two countries. The defense establishment's support for such an arrangement indicates that, in the opinion of its leaders, Israel can be defended even without the Golan, and that peace will contribute to security no less than tank brigades on the Golan Heights.
The repeated failures over the course of 19 years of negotiations with the Syrians have not led to a perpetuation of the status quo or to the strengthening of Israel's strategic situation. On the contrary: They have led to the strengthening of Israel's hostile northern front. Netanyahu now has another opportunity to reverse the trend and achieve a peace agreement that will provide great advantages to this country.