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Negotiate with Assad | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Americans believe that they are blockading the Syrian government politically by preventing Israel from negotiating with it. This is the completely wrong way of thinking and in fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Damascus continued to boast that it would not negotiate or accept any peace with Israel, at least verbally on the Arab stage, and therefore built a political axis for many decades, an axis of rejection that magnetically attracted fundamentalist and leftist groups and gave the Syrian regime some kind of legitimacy built on pan-Arab claims.

Accordingly, when the Syrian president announces openly that he is willing to negotiate with Israel directly, he is in fact making an important and serious “concession” in his country’s political calculations and the region in general. It may be the case that President Bashar al Assad is not serious in his offer of negotiations and peace but rather only seeks to buy time and frustrate the American political plan against his country, which he may have just started to realize will be applied to him sooner or later under the banner of the international tribunal, the fight against terror, or the undermining of the Iranian alliance. Perhaps the president sought to stop the train that he has realized is heading towards danger (perhaps it is not too late), and offered a package of concessions that included cooperating to stop the terrorists who are used to passing through the Saudi borders and opening an embassy in Baghdad, going a step further than other countries such as Saudi Arabia which refuses to reopen its embassy there. Finally, he also announced that he is willing to negotiate with the Israeli enemy.

Whether the president wants to stop the sudden arrival of the train or whether it is a political awakening and a change towards normality and the abandoning of radicalism, the matter should be taken seriously.

In my opinion, the Americans made the mistake from day one when they opposed negotiations three years ago and prevented Israel from developing a small channel of communication that began between the son of a Syrian minister and Omri Sharon, the son of the former Israeli prime minister. Washington was opposed to what it considered rewarding Damascus, its opponent. The catastrophic mistake here is the belief that negotiation is reward rather than a huge risk on Syria’s part. The Americans ought to have continued their disagreements with the Syrian regime over Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, and others but should have allowed Israel to begin negotiations with Damascus.

Had the negotiations succeeded, which in itself is not easy politically, then this would have meant a serious turnaround in the notion of the political region. Peace with Assad will be more important than Arafat’s agreement in Oslo and just as important as Camp David. If it succeeds, it will eliminate the most important factor of tension in the Palestinian issue, the source of which is Syria. Therefore it is wrong that the United States confuses its disagreement with Syria over Iraq on one hand and Syria’s desire to establish peace on the other. It is not even an exaggeration to say that the long conflict with Israel is the cause of Syrian political frustration. The Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon caused major embarrassment for the Syrians and was considered proof that violence is the best policy in the region. The Syrians believe that their compliance with the truce since the disengagement-agreement with Israel on the Golan Heights for more than 30 years has produced nothing but neglect for the Syrians, whilst those who fought Israel with forces like Hezbollah in the south were given back almost all of their territories and became heroes. Any Syrian would ask the logical question: Why should we respect the peace since forceful confrontation achieves better results?

Though we disagree with Damascus over its dangerous alliance with Iran against other Arab countries in the region, its support for the chaos in Lebanon, and its major responsibility in the terror that afflicts Iraq, we must help Syria solve its main issue by liberating the occupied territories in the Golan Heights rather than the Shebaa Farms.