This article’s title does not aim to ridicule Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem [whose surname in Arabic means teacher] but rather to shed light on the free lesson that he has taught the Palestinian president regarding how to deal with the peace file. For while Mahmoud Abbas is looking for Arab cover with regards to each step of the peace negotiations with Israel, and particularly the settlement issue, threatening to pull out of the negotiations without telling us what other alternative there is to this, Muallem has toured New York with diplomacy and tact, serving the interests of his own country without regard for the opinions of the general public or searching for backing.
At the UN, Muallem spoke about the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, saying that “in Israel there is much talk about peace yet the drums of war continue to sound…the relentless settlement activities are close to making this two-state solution a dead letter that stands no chance of survival.” A nice statement for anyone that likes hearing clichés such as this! However in New York, Muallem was also concerned with resuming the [indirect] Syrian –Israeli negotiations, according to Assistant Secretary of State, Phillip J. Crowley, following the meeting that took place between [US Secretary of State] Clinton and Muallem. Crowley said that Muallem was “very interested” in pursuing [indirect] peace talks with Israel and that “there was a pledge that we would develop some ideas going forward on how to proceed.”
More importantly than this, in answer to a question put forward by Asharq Al-Awsat as to whether Muallem had brought up the issue of a settlement freeze during his meeting with Clinton, Crowley said that “I know that they touched on where the Palestinian and Israeli track stood, but it was not a significant area. They went past that right to their own direct interests.”
This is the crux of the matter, and something that Abbas has yet to learn; everybody is looking out for their own interests, while the Palestinian cause is just slogans. Therefore we see Hamas – in search of a role – at one point throwing themselves into the arms of the Iranians, and then later throwing themselves into the arms of the Syrians, whilst not hesitating to court the US, after their demands have become similar to the demands of the Palestinian Authority. All of this took place without Hamas being subject to criticism or looking for backing!
The same applies to the Syrians who reiterated their willingness to resume negotiations despite what Israel is doing every day in the Golan Heights, and Damascus did not call for a halt to construction there. This is because it is understood that if a peace deal is reached, neither the Palestinians nor the Syrians – with regards to the Golan Heights – will foot the bill for this construction. This is clever from the Syrians, for this means that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, and this is something that we previously saw with regards to the Egypt – Israel peace treaty.
Therefore the most important thing that Muallem said in New York, which is a lesson that Abbas has not learned, is that “we desire to make peace” and that Syria makes its own decisions. Therefore Abbas must remember that both he and the Palestinian cause enjoy international support. Abbas should re-watch Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly and pay attention to the applause that takes place when Obama said that he hopes to see a new member state joining the UN by next year, in order to confirm the international support that he enjoys.
Therefore the message that we send to President Abbas is “take your decision and negotiate…expose Israel in front of the international community. Make your goal the announcement of the State of Palestine, regardless of how the Israelis try to delay this, and so if you want something done right, do it yourself!”