Between Katzrin and Nahariya

Israel has been asking Syria to stop Hezbollah. But what incentive has Damascus to comply with Jerusalem's request as long as the Golan Heights remains in Israeli hands?

According to the weekend newspaper supplements, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "made a note" of the fact that Syrian President Bashar Assad has called for a cease-fire. Olmert added that all the Syrians have to do is to "give an order to [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah to stop firing."

The prime minister's comments illustrate the opinion prevalent in Israel and around the world: The key to the security of the residents of Haifa lies in Damascus. In other words, even after Assad has been has been forced to withdraw his forces from Lebanon, peace in the Galilee will continue to depend on peace with Syria.

Regarding Olmert's expectation that Syria will do us the favor of restraining Nasrallah, one might ask: "What's in it for them?" How would a confrontation with Nasrallah benefit the Syrians? What would Assad gain from a conflict with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Even a loyal friend like the United States does not distribute its favors free of charge. Sooner or later Israel will get the bill for the diplomatic umbrella provided by the United States for Israe's rain of missiles on Beirut. Had we not returned all of Sinai to Egypt, up to the last millimeter in Taba, it is doubtful whether we would have been able to leave Gaza a year ago. Had we been in a state of war with Egypt, the Southern Command of the Israel Defense Forces would have had to draft divisions of reservists in order to ensure that the enemy from the south would not exploit the crisis in the north.

Syria also has a price, and it too is apparently measured in square kilometers. The only way to find out about it is through talks. Is Bashar Assad not a partner because he is a "scoundrel," like the late Palestinian Authority chair Yasser Arafat, or because he is weak, like present PA chair Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas)? Is that why the plan for expanding the settlements on the Golan Heights is barely mentioned in the news? In response to Hezbollah's claim that Shaba Farm belongs to Lebanon, Israel claims that it is Syrian territory. Then why don't we return this superfluous territory to its legal owner, as a gesture of good will?

Six years and four months of missed diplomatic opportunities passed from the Six-Day War in 1967 until the painful awakening of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Six years and four months of diplomatic freeze have passed from the time when the peace process between Israel and Syria was halted, until the second Lebanon war.

In Raviv Drucker's book "Harakiri: Ehud Barak, the Failure" (2002), Major General (res.) Uri Sagi, who headed the negotiating team with Syria on behalf of then prime minister Ehud Barak, is quoted as saying: "It is likely that the entire course of events in the Middle East would have been different had a treaty been signed with Syria. Such a treaty would have led to a different type of withdrawal from Lebanon and changed the negotiations with the Palestinians."

Since Barak's flight from an agreement with the late Syrian president Hafez Assad, the Labor Party and the Zionist left - headed by Meretz and Peace Now - have also abandoned the peace process with Syria and Lebanon. Last Thursday, Meretz Chair MK Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon, announced that he told Javier Solana, European Union high representative for common foreign and security policy, that "the Israeli interest is to exploit international support of the military campaign, in order to bring about a swift fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1559, the return of the kidnapped soldiers and the removal of Hezbollah from the border."

Only this past weekend did the leadership of Meretz sign its declaration regarding the war, with the decision "to embark on a public campaign designed to bring about an Israeli initiative to begin negotiations toward peace agreements with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, with Syria and with Lebanon."

The quiet on the Syrian front and the absence of a hostile population on the Golan Heights nurtured the illusion even in the peace camp that a unilateral disengagement from a strip of land in South Lebanon would lead to calm along the northern border. Those who claimed for 39 years that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are one national-political entity, should have known that as long as Hebron is under Israeli occupation there will be no quiet in Sderot. Anyone who claims today that Syria will determine what happens in Lebanon, must take into account that as long as the occupation in Katzrin (in the Golan Heights) continues, Nahariya will not be quiet.