If one reviews the peace process since its launching after the U.S. aggression against Iraq in which the Syrian regime participated, s/he will realize why the Syrians looked for a peace settlement with the U.S. rather than Israel.
President Assad believes that the U.S. can impose such a settlement on Israel. In addition, he made Israel pay a heavy price in South Lebanon. And regardless of the political changes that took place in both Israel and the US, President Assad adhered to his own negotiating strategy.
Barak, the prime minister of Israel, therefore, tailored a special strategy for his negotiations with Syria which is different from the one Israel adapted on the Israeli Palestinian track. For example, while the word security features quite often in all peace agreements with the Palestinians, the word peace dominates the dialogue between Israel and Syria. Barak claims that the security of Israel dictates the conditions of peace with the Palestinians. On the other hand, he says that peace with Syria brings security to Israel. This explains why Israel would not accept the implementation of the same negotiating strategy with all Arab countries.
Apart from how Israel differently perceives the Palestinian and the Syrian peace tracks, there are certain differences and similarities between the two tracks from our points of view as Palestinians and Syrians. Syria, like Egypt and Jordan, is seeking a permanent solution that leads to a peace accord with Israel. This helps the Syrians in adhering to their position which is derived from their interpretation of U.N. Resolution 242 and the principle of land for peace. Withdrawal from Syrian territories occupied in 1967 and not to international borders as Israel demands, will achieve peace and security to Israel. This requires certain arrangements that will be implemented following Israel s complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
To the Israelis, the Golan Heights is in a similar position that of Jerusalem. Both are Arab territories occupied in 1967 and were annexed by Israel in violation of international law and Geneva Fourth Convention. Unlike earlier precedents, Israel’s full withdrawal from the Golan Heights is of particular importance to the issue of Jerusalem.
It is difficult to predict what the Israeli Syrian negotiations will lead to, under the sponsorship of President Clinton. But one thing is clear. Barak, in the political arena, has a military mentality; he wants to achieve victory against more than one enemy. Although it seems that Barak has given in to the Syrian negotiating strategy, he has taken a calculated risk realizing that the U.S. role will diminish sooner than the Syrians expect. President Clinton, after all, will at a certain point be unable to impose on Barak a peace settlement on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks. We should not forget that the U.S. presidential elections have somehow started. Barak, also, understands that he can make an achievement if he connects the Lebanese track to the Syrian one. This will enable him to withdraw his troops form south Lebanon in return for a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Such a deal, selling the camel and the cat together, would guarantee the success of the referendum he promised his people.
These days, the number of observers who think that there is no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria, is on the increase. However, history shows that there is no war or peace without Palestine. Mistaken are those who believe that Israel can achieve peace with Mauritania while it continues to deny the rights of the Palestinian people. Peace with Jordan and Egypt and, in the future, with Syria and Lebanon, will remain frozen as long as Jerusalem is not the capital city of the independent state of Palestine. However, the Israelis continue to assume that peace with Syria can be achieved due to certain internal considerations that concern Syria. They also assume that stability in the area can be brought about without considering the Palestinian role. But this is not true. Comprehensive peace can not be made without solving all the permanent status issues. This requires an Arab and, in certain cases, Islamic consensus. Palestinians, for example, can not by themselves decide the future of Jerusalem without obtaining the consent of the Arab and Muslim nation. As to the issue of refugees living in the Arab world, no solution can be made without being coordinated with the countries concerned. Borders of the independent Palestine are also of great concern to all Arab countries bordering on Palestine. Will Israel able allowed to create buffer zones with these countries as it is now doing inside Palestine? The answer is surely no.
The Palestinian position towards the Syrian demands stems from the same understanding. Syria s call for the liberation of all Arab occupied territories received the full blessing of the Palestinian leadership. This also applies to the liberation of Al-Hima and Ka wash triangles, an area which was under Syrian control and was occupied in 1967. Differences of opinion with the Syrians will not make us negotiate their liberation with Israel.
A future outlook requires that Syrians and Palestinians coordinate their positions to achieve a comprehensive peace. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are asked to play an effective role to bring about an Arab unified position on all permanent status issues; i.e. borders, Jerusalem, refugees and Israeli settlements. For this reason, an Arab summit is necessary to block Israel s attempts to impose their hegemony on the region. It is also necessary for the Arab world to renew its hopes for unity at the outset of the third millennium.
Coordinating our position with the Arab world may require a confrontation with the Israelis over the construction of settlements. The tenth round of final status talks has ended without any positive results. The U.S. and Israeli positions on settlements do not meet our demand to halt any further construction of settlements. The currect situation is in the interest of the Israeli government which assumes that settlements and peace can go together.
Starting the Israeli Syrian negotiations was not an easy task to Barak. Jewish settlers in the Golan have warned that they will wage a fierce battle against any future dismantling of their settlements. Obtaining the Knesset s approval was also difficulty. Only forty seven members voted in favor of starting negotiations with Syria. Arab members played a crucial role in the voting.
Relying on the support of the opposition will undermine any serious efforts on the part of the Israeli government and will also make Barak play one track against another. Palestinians will then have to reassess their own situation. Internal social and economic conditions ought to be given our utmost concern. The claim that we are in the middle of the peace process and those internal condition are of secondary importance, is not true. Strengthening our home form is a prerequisite for peace negotiations.
Nobody should despair. The international legality, Arabs and all peace loving nations support the Palestinian position. And we will continue to be in a very strong position as long as we believe in the inevitability of victory.
Revolution Until Victory