Pressure Mounts on Syria to Surrender or "Compromise"
If you ask a "pragmatic" politician, especially those with prior knowledge in Middle East affairs, what her/his recipe is for successful negotiations, she/he would most likely point to "compromise." Such a term was for long associated with people known for there middle-road and compromising approach. It is now associated with wise leaders who truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for their "compromising" skills. But many things in life can not be compromised, no matter how eager one is for peace.
It's one of these deceptive terms that we, average people, were tricked into believing, one that we innocently repeat, with the best intentions one can have. According to this understanding, it's easier than ever to point at those who are causing the "deadlock" and "installment" in the peace process between Syria and Israel. And that is, of course, those who lack the tendency to "compromise." Evidently, and based on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the "ball was in Syria's court." In other words, Syria is the one to blame.
In an earlier article, I warned of Israel's misuse of its multi-track talks with both Syria and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Others, including those who called on Arab states to coordinate amongst each other before entering extremely consequential talks with Israel, have also warned that Israel's opening of two fronts at once was a scheme aimed at relaxing one and accelerating the other as a form of pressure. Israel can never fail its critics. Once the Syrians appeared to be holding firm to their stand regarding the complete recovery of the Golan Heights, Israeli officials declared with bitter disappointment that Syria failed them, that Assad is asking too much, and that resuming peace with Syria is unlikely in the near future.
After ignoring the Palestinians and delaying the pre-scheduled withdrawals for months, Barak suddenly became very fond of Arafat, describing him and the Palestinians as Israel's more natural peace partners. America's "shuttle diplomacy" is foreseen to kick in soon, in order to help Israel and the Palestinians reach a framework agreement. And so Syria becomes the isolated one, the one responsible for angering Israel and therefore the United States.
Now, Syria is demanding to compromise. Although Syria has agreed to provide Israel with security arrangements which it has been demanding, a technical problem is causing a hurdle. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has rejected Syria's demand to provide a full withdrawal commitment of the Golan Heights, arguing that he wanted to know what the dividend would be before making such a commitment. It's not the fear of commitment however that has caused Barak not to provide one, but it's the fear that Israel would have abandoned its most rewarding style of negotiations by revealing the outcome of the game before the game even began.
Israel has acquired many advantages in its talks with the PA. The PA was and continues to be very easy prey. After years of talks, hundreds of rounds of negotiations, smiles and handshakes, an undisputed conclusion is becoming clearer than ever: Israel orchestrated the peace talks with the PA, prolonged them and shortened them accordingly, and foremost, it outlined the outcomes to always fit its own expectations. So while talks may appear to be involving two sides, only one was actually in charge, Israel. The Palestinians sat, listened, stormed out angry, eventually came back to agree on what they initially rejected, signed up happily and claimed victory.
When such a scene sounds like heaven for Israeli negotiators, one drawback is hardly noticed. Israel has forgot that not all of its "peace partners" are as weak and out of options as the PA is. When faced with the Syrians, who are not as threatened or as pressured as Palestinians are, Israel was shocked to see that its new prey was leaner, meaner and ready for a long fight. That realization has called for Israel to abandon plan A, and resort to B: turn your back on the Syrians, act with apathy as signing an agreement with Syria is of little value at the time being, take unilateral steps (withdrawing from Lebanon without a major peace arrangement), and lean heavily toward the Palestinian track.
How long before Israel tests Syrian waters again, to see whether Assad is ready to "compromise" is still unknown, for it depends on the kind of signs to be given by Syria's officials. Syria is trying to pull the carpet out from under Israel's feet by welcoming the unilateral Lebanon withdrawal, considering it more or less a great victory for the resistance. So, we enter into the waiting phase of the Syrian-Israeli talks. It's not only the question of whom will break under the pressure first, but who can afford to wait, and for how long. While Assad is most likely hoping to grant to his son the throne of presidency with the Golan already liberated, Barak's oppostion is on the rise. For Barak, the pressure is ascending from both sides, left and right. Traditional opponents of the peace process, the right-wing, is criticizing him for allowing Syria to put forth conditions on Israel, and the left/center-wing is reminding him that his promise to bring peace only nine months after coming to power, is expired. It is true that the reporters' cameras are now moving to where Palestinians and Israelis are scheduled to meet for their framework agreement talks, but in reality, eyes remain on Syria, waiting for it to panic, to fall, to break or to "compromise."
Topics: Foreign Policy, Occupation, Syria