One of the lessons of the twentieth century that is that a tyrant does not make peace with a democratically elected leader.
A dictator views an agreement with a democracy as one of expediency, designed to strengthen and bolster his regime of military supremacy, press censorship, government corruption and suppression of human rights and civil liberties.
A leader of a democracy believes that the spirit of freedom in his nation will preserve any such peace agreement for generations to come.
A dictator who gains tangible assets at the negotiating table thinks that he has won a battle by his sheer show of force, as he readies himself for the next round of conquest, which can be by either military or diplomatic means in the future.
A democratic leader promises “peace in our time” to his people, while the residents of his nation envision of a life of peace, for themselves and for their children.
As Israeli Prime Minister and Syrian Foreign Minister arrive for crucial talks in Washington, the media in Israel is rampant with the word “peace”. Yet the government-controlled media in Syria is rampant with the word “liberation of Palestine” as these talks begin.
Meanwhile, pundits in Israel debate the pros and cons of ceding vital security assets of the Golan Heights to Syria as the price of a peace treaty with Damascus. Yet Syrian government TV conveys a daily message to their people, promising that the Golan Heights is the first step of the Syrian nation liberating all of Palestine. “The Galilee is next, and then on to Jerusalem”, proclaim Syrian spokesman on official Damascus radio.
Tell that to most Israelis and they are incredulous.
The Jews of Israel, tired of continuous war that has plagued the Holy Land since 1936, would like to live in a nation that is not under military threat in the next century. Who wouldn’t?
Many Israeli entrepreneurs have developed recent business contacts with people in the Arab world, and they are delighted to hear a desire for peace from Arabs whom they meet with, in every walk of life.
That most certainly includes Syrians whom Israelis have been meeting with in discrete joint business ventures over the past few years.
However, what people who live in a democratic country cannot conceptualize is that a popular desire for peace may not be reflected in a totalitarian regime.
The late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, asserted in his last appearance on October 31, 1995 at the Israeli Knesset parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that the missile capacity and military resolve of Syria, aligned with Iran and with Libya, represented a threat to the very existence of the Jewish state. After Rabin’s assassination four days later, official Syrian media praised Rabin’s killing, describing it a as a “confidence building measure”.
And after a series of bombings in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv in February and in March of 1996, official Syrian media endorsed these “acts of liberation”. That is when talks broke down, while Shimon Peres was Israel’s Prime Minister and while Ehud Barak was Israel’s Foreign Minister.
Now peace talks resume, with Ehud Barak firmly at the helm of the Jewish state.
Has anything changed? Hardly.
Except that Barak, working closely with the outgoing Clinton administration, would like to push for a definitive peace treaty with Syria and wave that piece of paper to the people of Israel when he descends AIR FORCE ONE in Israel, arm in arm with the US president.
Yet on a more sanguine note, long time peace activist and newly elected Israeli Knesset speaker Avrum Burg said on Israeli Channel One Television two days before Burg’s departure for the US that at the only way that Syrian President Assad will be able to “sell” any peace agreement with Israel will be for Assad to make that appeal for peace directly to the people of Israel, from the rostrum of Israel’s Knesset in Jerusalem, just as President Sadat did in 1977, when he addressed the Israeli Knesset and declared – “no more war, no more bloodshed”.