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Middle East Roundtable


If Israel negotiates with Syria

Coordinate with the Syrians

an interview with Amin Amin

bitterlemons: If Israel resumes negotiations with Syria, what consequences do you think this will have on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating track?

Amin: I believe that any progress on the Syrian track with Israel will have a positive impact on the Palestinian track. I would see what the Syrian government is requesting from the Israeli government. Any developments satisfying these demands will strengthen the Palestinian position in the negotiations with Israel.

bitterlemons: Do you think that current and past Israeli governments have played off the Syrians vis-a-vis the Palestinians in the past?

Amin: Absolutely. Israel has tried from day one to negotiate on separate tracks. They have always attempted to divide the Palestinian track from the Syrian track from the Lebanese track and so forth in order to avoid a comprehensive solution to the conflict. So it was absolutely in the interests of Israel to have negotiations progressing on separate tracks. The one who paid the biggest price was the weakest party in the process being, the Palestinians first and foremost. However, Israel has always been the strongest party and has therefore dictated the peace negotiations from the very beginning.

bitterlemons: What do you believe are the reasons that Syrian President Bashar Asad has offered to resume negotiations with Israel?

Amin: It's clear that after the war in Iraq and the immense changes that have taken place over the past nine or ten months, Syria feels it is isolated. President Bashar Asad has certainly realized that the space in which he is allowed to maneuver has become noticeably smaller. In that sense, he needs to do something more to respond to the American demands or the Israeli demands.

bitterlemons: Do you think that there has been a difference between the way the Israeli Labor Party has negotiated with Syria and the strategies employed by the Likud, both in the past and in the present?

Amin: I always felt that Labor has the capacity to see the big picture much more than the Likud does. The Likud Party seems to concentrate much more on the tactics of now. Looking at the current Israeli government, they are focused on the current situation. They are following quite a short sighted policy. They are looking at how they can achieve the maximum gains for the state of Israel today and I don’t believe that the gains they can realistically achieve today are the ones that will serve them best in the long run. In that sense, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s Syria policy is surely not in the interests of the state of Israel as such.

bitterlemons: What do you think the Palestinian leadership should do if the Syria-Israel track is suddenly reopened?

Amin: I would do my absolute best to coordinate with the Syrian government. It goes back to what I was saying earlier: the moment there are separate negotiation tracks, is the moment that all Arab parties are weakened. By agreeing to sign any hypothetical agreement alone, they will become active participants in Israel’s divide and conquer strategy. When you look at the various tracks of negotiations that took place the past ten years or so, I am totally convinced that Israel approached these talks without the intention of completing a comprehensive peace. The Israelis have been focused on trying to obtain the “biggest” gains they could in the short term. Again, this is a short-sighted way of conducting peace negotiations because any true peace must be comprehensive. This can only be done when all parties sign off on the agreements. The piecemeal manner of conducting these talks has only led to disaster. There has to be a win-win situation. If one party succeeds in for! cing its entire agenda at the cost of all the other parties, it will backfire in the end because one side will be humiliated.

bitterlemons: Do you believe that Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 has changed the equation with Syria today?

Amin: It surely did. Before 2000, Israel always tried to combine a withdrawal from Lebanon with Syrian concessions on the Golan Heights. The moment Israel withdrew from Lebanon it separated the issue of south Lebanon from that of the Golan, thereby strengthening Syria's position by no longer holding south Lebanon hostage until Syria retreated from its Golan position. Until today, Syria has insisted that it will not accept anything less than a total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. To be honest, I am not sure how much Bashar Asad still holds this to be true. Given the situation in Iraq, with an American occupying force to its east, I don’t know if the Syrian government is not maybe more willing to make concessions on the Golan.

- Published 16/2/2004 © bitterlemons.org
Amin Amin is Senior Project Manager at Delft University in Holland. A Palestinian political analyst from Ramallah, he divides his time between Europe and the Middle East.

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.


hagalil.com 22-02-2004



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