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