Monday, January 15, 2007

Syria & Israel Reach Peace Settlement?--Unofficially, That Is

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Is the leopard changing its spots?

UPDATE: Haaretz is now reporting that the Israeli government is calling this peace-talk-with-Syria report a "bluff." The Israeli Prime Minister says that the first he heard of these "talks" was when he read it in the paper yesterday. Hmmm.

Haaretz has a mindblowing article in tomorrow's paper revealing details of informal, unofficial peace negotiations using "middlemen" between Syria & Israel.

Under the terms of the negotiations,

--An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.

--As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.

--At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.

--Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.

--The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.

--According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.
The process broke down when Syria stated that it wanted to move into "official" negotiations with a "ministry level" official representing Israel. Israel, apparently, declined and no known meetings have taken place since.

If true, this will require a major reassessment of the potential and competing political dynamics bubbling up in the Middle East.

It also makes the recommendation of the American Iraq Work Group, who encouraged a negotiating role for Syria in Iraq, more credible.

It would also mean that President Bush, who according to the article was regularly briefed on these conversations between Israel and Syria, has been walking a tightrope of hidden diplomacy himself during the past months and years.

The big unanswered question is, of course, can Syria be trusted?

Can a leopard change its spots?

No doubt Israel is asking the same question.

There were many who did not trust Egypt's Sadat when he negotiated a peace settlement with Israel over the Sinai. But that settlement has held for many years.

On a negative side, I see no assurance that Syria would forsake any of its direct (other than via Hezbollah) meddling in Lebanon.

I will withold all judgment until this story begins to "fill out" with more information.

It may yet play out that the Arab/Sunni world will join against the common enemy they see in Iran. They know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unstoppable without the counter-balance of Israel and the United States.

Wouldn't that be an interesting alliance!

HT: lgf