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Suleiman in Israel - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Ibrahim Suleiman says that he represents himself although he speaks in the name of Syria.

He says that Syria wants to negotiate and wants peace. He made a host of statements to remind Israel that Syria is a reasonable state that refused to side with Hezbollah in last summer’s war and visited the [Yad Vashem] holocaust museum. Even the Israeli government disavowed the man and stated that he is of no importance, and that it would not negotiate with him, that those with whom he met did not represent the government and that Suleiman was negotiating with himself.

If we presume that American-Syrian businessman Ibrahim Suleiman actually represents himself only and that the clamor surrounding his visit is only media hype, can we dismiss what he said as baseless? In other words, is it true that Syria does not want to negotiate, does not want peace and does not want to close its frontline once and for all?

No, this is not true. At an earlier stage, Damascus said publicly that it wanted to negotiate and conclude a peaceful solution with Israel. Its actions say the same. The refusal to resolve the dispute over the Shebaa Farms and to disarm Hezbollah and hosting Hamas and the Popular Front are all actions intended to bring Israel to the Syrian-desired solution, or this is how matters seem to me. I have heard from more than one Arab and Western official that they did not believe the Syrian declaration to negotiate and that they are mere declarations to waste time, ease the siege imposed on it and dismount the growing Arab and international anti-Syrian front, or, according to another, “Believe me, they are merely hollow declarations aimed at blacking out the reality of the Syrian situation.” Nevertheless, it remains incomprehensible why Damascus does not try and seek direct negotiations and put actions to the test rather than intentions only.

They should be unconditional negotiations, without lifting sanctions or offering concessions until skeptics find sufficient evidence that the Syrian authorities are serious. The reason why it is important to push the Syrian issue forward is due to the fact that, from my opinion, it holds the keys [to solving other issues], chiefly setting the whole peace [process] in motion. It is not possible to make peace without Syria, which is the last frontline. The peace accords concluded with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority and the near-complete withdrawal from Lebanon achieved withdrawal on the ground but have yet to bring about peace. Furthermore, we have to realize that Damascus has great capability of political sabotage unless it is given a share in the solution, which is clearly manifested in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. If Syria’s request is to regain its occupied territory and is happy to pay the price of peace like Jordan and Egypt, then that is its right, but if it wants to reshuffle cards and hurl smoke bombs to lift its siege and keep the region strained, then Syria’s crisis will persist and it is Syria that will ultimately pay a high price regardless of how clever at maneuvering it is. I feel that Damascus now is more aware than it has ever been of the serious situations and clearly sees that it is under the spotlight and is being gradually and steadily targeted through building up external and internal opposition, international siege, a risky road through the international tribunal and neighbors who are willing to intervene when necessary. I do not think that Damascus is capable of walking far down the tightrope and I do not believe that anyone in the region actually wants to see it fall, which makes this the right time for a comprehensive peaceful solution that gives each party its own rights.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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