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Middle East: No Solutions Before Bush Leaves | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Approximately two months ago an American delegation, made up of both Republicans and Democrats, paid a visit to Egypt, Israel and Syria. While in Damascus, the delegation met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and left reassured – especially after Assad informed the delegation that he was ready to make peace with Israel on the condition that it withdraws from the Golan Heights to the June 1967 borders.

Moreover, Assad acknowledged that Syria had allies in Lebanon but that “others also have allies in Lebanon and in order to find a solution, those ‘others’ must sit down with Syria.”

Shortly after, the US delegation met with Syrian Vice-President Farouk al Shara and discussed peace between Syria and Israel. He said, “The Israelis are not serious about peace with Syria,” and moreover offered them ‘evidence’ when he said that “during talks in Shepherdstown (during former US president Bill Clinton’s term), Syria proposed the formation of a joint committee to demarcate the borders between the two states but the Israeli party rejected the idea, and therefore the drawing of borders as well,” he said.

It is the exact same way in which Syria deals with Lebanon in matters related to demarcating the final lines of the borders between the two states, and with diplomatic exchanges.

According to an informed American source, after incumbent President George W. Bush’s administration departs, American foreign policy will radically change. He added that this is specifically because many of the allies in the region will be relieved of the pressures of the Bush administration.

Besides, six months from now, November 7 to be more precise, the newly elected president and his State and Defense Departments will become informed on all the issues, and thus President Bush would only be entitled to take final decisions after coordinating with the elected president.

The same source also stated that expectations in the US indicate that the Democrats will return to the White House. He said, “Under the Democrats a détente will take place on the level of US-Iranian relations and US-Syrian relations. As such, the two countries [Iran and Syria] refuse to offer the Bush administration any worthy concessions.”

He went on to add that Israel wants to open dialogue with Syria but that Washington is preventing it from doing so and that this fact has become common knowledge. “Israel will continue to court Syria until the Bush administration’s term ends,” he said.

As for the reason behind Israel’s insistence on being “open” with Syria, the source said, “Israel will not accept the presence of Syrian and Iranian troops in the Golan Heights. Its message to the Syrians is: We are ready to return the Golan Heights – but if you want it back you must stop getting closer to Iran.”

He added that “Israel is ready to examine [the possibility of] returning the Golan Heights but in return for that Lebanon’s borders must be safe; meaning that it would have control over Hezbollah’s activities in particular.”

The US source explained that Israel feels that negotiating with Syria is easier than with the Palestinians because in Damascus “there is only one address to which the Israeli messages are sent.” And moreover, Israel believes that if Iran, Syria’s ally, develops a nuclear bomb, it will become a strategic threat and reality.

The Syrian party has begun to provide its Iranian ally with observation stations and it is possible that it could later provide it with more facilitations. “This is the reason behind the interest in Syria, in addition to Israel’s need to have calm borders with Lebanon. Israel can contain the Palestinian situation since neither Gaza nor the West Bank constitute a real threat; as for Hezbollah, Syria has permitted its armament,” he said.

The source also added: “Although it is certain that Israel does not want to go to war with Syria; its messages to the Syrians [communicated] through military maneuvers indicate that it can strike Syria if it so wishes – and as it had done so not too long ago – however it prefers to negotiate with it from a position of strength.”

The interviewee also disclosed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) wants to open dialogue channels with Syria and Iran and that it believes dialogue is critical with the former, which has proven its effectiveness during former Syrian president Hafez Assad’s era. The CIA also wants to hold dialogue with Damascus over Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Lebanon so as to prevent Syria from getting closer to Iran.

Quoting a senior CIA official, the source revealed that “the US administration rejects this approach,” ascribing this rejection to the fact that “the Bush administration is comprised of ideologues who have lost the war; if they wanted to speak to Syria now, it would appear as though they were admitting their mistake and they do not want that.”

But what does the Syrian regime want? “To restore its legitimacy, the Syrian regime must regain the Golan Heights. Then it wants to have good relations with the US, in addition to economic aid and international projects in Syria. But it also wants to have influence in Lebanon because it fears that Lebanon could become a center for provocation against Syria – or even [stage] a coup against the [Syrian] regime itself.”

He added: “This does not mean that it [Syria] wants to sever its relations with Iran. However, if these changes were to take place then its economic and financial dependence on Iran will decrease. It wants to be dealt with in the same way Egypt is dealt with.”

So, will Washington accept Syria having renewed influence in Lebanon? “[It can only happen] if an American-Saudi-Syrian agreement can be reached on this matter.” He added that it is certain that US foreign policy will change if the Democrats come to office since Iraq is their priority.

Moreover, he believes that if Barack Obama was elected it will be because he opposed to the war from the outset and because he wants to hold dialogue with Iran over Iraq, in addition to discussing Iran’s nuclear program. The Democrats also want to hold talks with Syria over its role in Iraq and the shared Iraq-Syria border.

“This is the Democratic stance, generally speaking,” he said, “notwithstanding the divisions within the party. When Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi won, she immediately paid a visit to Damascus and was prepared to visit Tehran. Besides, in his recent Congressional hearings, General David Petraeus stated that if the Iraqi Prime Minister can conduct dialogue with Iran then ‘so can we’ [the US].”

But what of President Bush’s recent threats to Iran? “Bush will not carry out a military strike against Iran because those in the US Army leadership, Pentagon, CIA, and US Department of State are against it. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office is the only one that is pro-war and it would be difficult to succeed in convincing the others –except if the Iranians committed a gross mistake. If that were to happen, taking major action would be justified.”

So, what will become of the Palestinian state within this year? “There are two positions in the US administration with regards to the Palestinian issue: the Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams group believes that the US should back Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, considering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to be weak and incapable of controlling the situation in the West Bank following the loss of Gaza. This group believes Fayyad will be a better administrator. Moreover, the Israeli’s have informed the Americans that dealing with Fayyad is better and that he will offer more concessions!”

He also revealed that the second group is headed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and that it calls for dealing with Mahmoud Abbas. It holds that if Washington does not support Abbas, then Hamas will take over. Rice states that there is no need for the Abbas-Fayyad duo however Abrams insists that Fayyad is more effective. Meanwhile, some have told Abrams to stop praising Fayyad because it bothers Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].”

Does that mean that there won’t be a Palestinian state? Some in Washington believe that it is necessary to talk about a temporary solution. The source said: “The problem with the Palestinians lies in the fact that their position is very weak; no one is standing by them – even the Arabs have become preoccupied with their own problems. The Palestinian people are left with very few options. They depend on financial aid delivered by international parties and led by the US. This is what Fayyad has achieved.”

But, has this [financial] aid been delivered? “There are some who advised US candidate Obama that there can be no solution in Iraq unless Washington comes up with a radical solution to the Palestinian issue. It is the basis that has spread like a cancer in the entire region and must be eradicated so as to relive the region and find a solution to this predicament.