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If Israel negotiates with Syria

Renewing the Syrian track

by Ghassan Khatib

Renewing the Syrian-Israeli negotiations track can be a positive development for the Middle East peace process in general; including for the Palestinian-Israeli track. From experience in the different stages of the peace process, it has been clearly shown that moving ahead on one track and leaving the other behind always creates instability and motives for obstruction. While there are indeed different components of the conflict, the various tracks are closely inter-related. One must recognize the two common denominators in all tracks: Israel is a party to both and the Palestinian problem is the root of the entire conflict.

The standard questions raised about the possible effects on the Palestinian track which consistently follow any news of “renewing” efforts on the Syrian track, are irrelevant this time around. The reason is very simple and straight forward: there are no Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations to be affected, negatively or otherwise. Moreover, Moreover, there is no hope of reanimating one as long as Israeli Prime Minister Minister Ariel Sharon and his extremist coalition are still in power.

Having said that, it can be added that the Syrian track lacks both the dynamics and the urgency for moving forward. With the situation static, the different parties are able to live with the status quo with little cost to be paid by them if the conflict is not solved. Syria is not under occupation and Israel is not under fire. The only aspect that “spices things up” is Lebanon but even Hezbollah is gradually concentrating on exclusively Lebanese priorities.

Another important reason why it is difficult to be optimistic is that all this appears to be happening for purely tactical reasons. It is just maneuver. The Israeli government is trying to compensate for its failure in making any progress on the Palestinian track. At an ever-quickening pace, the current Israeli administration is solidifying its reputation as an anti-peace ruling coalition.

The Syrians, on the other hand, are convinced that making peace with this Israeli government is a hopeless case. They are however using the appearance of being a partner in the peace process as one of the main mechanisms to diffuse current American pressure even though this pressure emanates from different areas.

Since international legality is the common aspect in all components of the Middle East conflict, a multiple negotiation process that is about making peace by adhering to international legitimacy and implementing relevant UN Security Council resolutions is the only way for a comprehensive and lasting peace. The recipe for this is the Saudi--and later Arab--initiative which offers Israel lasting, collective, and comprehensive peace, in return for a complete withdrawal. For this to happen there needs to be a change in the composition of the Israeli government and a strong role for representatives of the international community (such as the Quartet). Right now, both of these are absent.

- Published 16/2/2004 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian government and for many years prior was featured in the press as a political analyst.

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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