London, Asharq Al-Awsat – An official Syrian source has revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the purpose behind the Syrian document on the negotiating process presented to the Israeli side is “to avoid the pitfalls that the previous peace process between the two parties encountered and to prevent the Israeli side from submitting ‘vague answers’ to Syrian demands.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced the issuance of the document at the Quadripartite Summit in Damascus earlier in the week.
The source stated in a telephone interview that the document aims for the details to be precise in dealing with the peace process. The source stressed that the main focus of the written document, which was delivered to the Turkish mediator, is “the complete Israeli withdrawal from [occupied] Syrian land” and the mechanisms for achieving this.
According to the source, the points about which the Syrian president talked and which are included in the document stress in particular “the Israeli withdrawal from the Syrian territories.” The source explained that the intention of this document “is to leave no room for vague Israeli answers, so that the answers are clear and unambiguous and not like what has happened in the past.” This was a reference to the former peace negotiations between the two parties in 2000, which failed because of disagreement on the extent of Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
The source stated that “the Syrians are specific about what they want and about the particulars and they demand that the other party be absolutely clear about the withdrawal from the occupied Syrian territories.”
The source pointed out that an issue of concern for Syria is “the weakness of the Israeli side and the inability of the Israeli Administration to take decisions of a strategic nature,” adding that “at present, this weakness is more dangerous than what they [Israel] mayor may not say (in reply to the Syrian document). The problem is the lack of a stable Israeli Government; to a large extent, the situation in Israel is unsettled.”
The Syrian source stressed that the main points in the Syrian document refer to the ‘land for peace’ principle, withdrawal, and the return of the land to Syria. The source added that “the issue of Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights is not negotiable and the final aim of any negotiations is that Syria gets back its land.”
In reply to the question of whether Damascus is adopting a new strategy or mechanism in dealing with Israel, in the light of the failure of previous peace talks, the Syrian source pointed out that “what is new is the regional situation, which puts Israel face to face with serious choices where the use of force is not an option.” This was a reference to the war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah in July 2006.The source added: “There is caution, doubts, and close and minute examination of details so as not to allow the Israelis to make use of vague formulations.” Asked about the “pitfalls” that the new mechanism aims to avoid, in comparison to past experience, the source said: “These are not pitfalls in the literal sense. At one stage in the past, the US mediator gave the impression that the Israelis were prepared to withdraw and accept the demands for peace, but it turned out later that Ehud Barak did not dare to face Israeli public opinion and show his leadership of Israel.” The source added: “We are very interested in a clear commitment and the ability to achieve a complete withdrawal” on the part of the Israeli leadership. Pointing to “the principles that guide Syrian action, the detailed conditions and formulations,” the source stressed that “we are concerned that the negotiations should not involve ambiguities.”
In reply to a question concerning the uncertainty of the date for the next round of negotiations, following the Turkish announcement of a second round of negotiations to be held in the middle of September 2008 and the Syrian president’s announcement of a postponement of that session, the source said: “I believe that the uncertainty is not related to the Syrians; it is related to the extent of the Israelis’ ability to respond to the requirements of peace on the basis of which we entered the peace process. It is an issue related to them and their ability to respond in the appropriate form.” The source added: “It takes two to tango. The process is not a one-sided Syrian process. The important matter is the Israelis’ ability to transform their words into deeds and to move away from vague formulations. The conflict is not in the attitude towards negotiations as such; rather, Syria is waiting for clarity and commitment to the negotiations in the Israeli position.”