The Cost of a Peace Treaty Between Syria and Israel

It won't come free, least of all to America

If Jerusalem really does reach a peace agreement with Syria, it will have an economic component, as did Israel's treaties with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. Peace necessarily involves economic cooperation. Of course, the talks with Syria being held in Turkey are at a fairly early stage and specific economic accords won't be on the agenda just yet, let alone agreed upon.

Yet based on previous rounds of talks between Jerusalem and Damascus some guidelines can be drawn up. No agreement had been reached before, but the economic facet of peace had come up for discussion.

In January 1996, during "normalization talks" at Wye Plantation, when Shimon Peres was prime minister, the U.S. tried to push for the establishment of an international forum that would drive an Israeli-Syrian peace. The forum was to include the U.S., Western Europe, Japan and the World Bank. Its stated purpose was to find financing to pay the costs of an Israeli-Syrian accord. Saudi Arabia told Washington that in principle, it was willing to participate in the forum. Uri Savir, who headed the Israeli delegation to the talks, urged the Europeans to take part in regional projects.

At Wye Israel demanded 18 articles of normalization, including the termination of the Arab boycott on Israel (a movement headquartered in Syria), the free movement of people and goods between Israel and Syria and full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Israel claims that at the time Syria agreed to 12 of the articles, including full diplomatic relations, agreements on aviation, transport and tourism, mail and telecommunications, access for Israeli shipping to Syrian ports as well as an economic agreement covering trade, investments and banking.

Among the demands that Syria refused to accept were connecting the countries' national electricity grids and cooperation on energy, the environment, health care and agriculture.

Israel claims that what Syria really wanted was aid from the U.S. and the international community, not neighborly love.

Four years later, in the January 2000 talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the Syrians repeated the 12 articles of normalization agreed on at Wye. A draft peace agreement under the eagle eye of U.S. president Bill Clinton was reached. On January 13, 2000, Haaretz ran a story on the talks and reported, "The parties will acknowledge the mutual advantage in fair, good neighborly relations based on mutual respect, for which purpose they will move to advance useful trading and economic relations, including by allowing the free movement of people, goods and services between the two countries. They will remove all obstacles standing before normal economic relations."

A special article in the draft agreement was devoted to resolving all the water disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.

Behind the scenes of the Shepherdstown negotiations, prime minister Ehud Barak and finance minister Avraham Shochat were whispering about the aid that Israel would request from the U.S. in the event of a peace treaty with Syria. They talked about a $17 billion military aid package on top of civilian aid, though no specific figure for that was mentioned, in exchange for forgoing the Golan Heights and resettling its residents.

Nothing came of the talks. There was no need to resettle anybody. At least, not then.