London, Asharq Al-Awsat – A Syrian source acquainted with the progress of the indirect Syrian-Israeli negotiations has stated their move to the direct stage remains dependent on Washington joining the negotiating table, something it has refrained from doing.
The source said that raising the issue of returning the Lebanese Shebaa Farms and Israel’s simultaneous call on Lebanon to enter into direct peace negotiations are merely double standard dealings from the premise of “inciting the parties’ hostility against each other,” adding that any settlement of the Shebaa Farms status should be completed within the framework of the Madrid peace principles; that is, land in exchange for peace. “I solve the Israeli’s problem with Lebanon and demarcate the borders in return for what?” the source asked.
The Syrian source said “it is too early” for any meeting between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Israeli officials and explained that if it did happen, Syria would be regarded as having recognized the State of Israel.
The source also discussed attempts by international parties “to dip their hands in the cooking pot,” while Syria categorically refuses to steer away from Turkish mediation or bring in other parties to the process. The source added that the process has entered a “tug-of-war” stage and would take a long time to complete, indicating that the parties are still preparing to discuss details, a stage that cannot be reached outside the framework of direct negotiations.
During a telephone call with Asharq Al-Awsat in London, the source explained that the “basic impression [in Syria] is that any direct negotiations will not take place until after there is a clear resolution of the land in return for peace issue and Israel’s commitment and clear stand on the mechanisms. As President Al-Assad had already said, moving to the complete and open process with the Israelis should happen only when the Americans join the process.”
In response to a question about the US role in the indirect negotiations, the source said: “there is no American clarity or endeavor up to this moment” and called US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statements about returning Shebaa Farms a “voluntary service on her part.”
“The important thing for the Americans is to incite the parties’ hostility against each other. Does someone who is seeking peace embark on it with one party and reject it with another?” the source added. The source said the American proposal about Shebaa Farms “raises questions because the US stand concerning the Syrian track is unclear while it is at the same time asking Lebanon to go along with a process whose features are not clearly marked and which does not have any guarantees.”
“Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel should be linked to a joint Syrian-Lebanese vision. Is it reasonable to ask the Syrians to accept the demarcation of the borders and have Lebanon on one side but whom on the other side? Israel or Syria? If the land is Syrian, then Israel must return it. The Israeli wants me to be nice and solve his problem with Lebanon, in return for what? In return for my territories remaining occupied?” the source added.
The source explained the Syrian president’s call to Lebanon to enter into negotiations with Israel as “falling within the context of asserting the joint vision of the final solution within the framework of the regional security concept as two independent and sovereign countries facing a common adversary.”
The Syrian source continued: “If it becomes clear that the talk about returning Shebaa Farms is serious, then this should be done within the Madrid process framework. There is an interest in this for all the Lebanese. How can Lebanon negotiate about Shebaa Farms when it has absolutely no cards at all?”
“The presence of the Syrian-Israeli track is important because it opens the prospects. The region’s security is ultimately interconnected, even in the issues of water. We do not forget that part of the basin of several rivers in the region, including the Lebanese ones, are in the occupied Syrian Golan and the other part of the basin is in Lebanon,” the source added.
According to the source, negotiations “will take a long time and will not be credited to a particular Israeli leader, Olmert or anyone else.” In response to a question about the Israeli endeavor to arrange a meeting between Al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Paris during the Mediterranean summit, it stressed “it is too early. There are no serious reasons so far for any official direct meeting between Syrian and Israeli officials.”
The source stressed that Syria “will not give up the card of not recognizing Israel before the issue [negotiations] has become clearly marked and proceeding along the track,” adding that any handshake between Al-Assad and an Israeli official “will be understood as opening the prospects for recognition of Israel and this cannot be done until Israel demonstrates very clearly at least its willingness to fulfill its obligations in the peace process.”
According to the source, France “is not exerting pressure” to bring Al-Assad and Israeli officials together but there “are attempts by various parties,” explaining that “All the parties want to score points. But the Syrians respect to the utmost limits the very precise confidentiality with which the Turks are dealing with the process and they are eager that no one should interfere at all because the Turks are managing the process with much success, diplomatic prudence, and an understanding of all the considerations of each party.”
The source added that while many international parties want to become involved in the negotiations “No one is so far qualified to join in. The only two qualified parties are the United States and Russia according to the Madrid conference and we are waiting for their entrance.”
In response to a question about what Syria requires from the US, the source said: “In Syria, we consider placating the United States is at times more difficult than angering it. According to the demanded concessions, it is better to anger it than to placate it.” The source added that the regional party has not yet entered the negotiation process as the “Americans are not present at the table and we cannot negotiate with them from behind the Information Ministry’s microphones or the US State Department’s spokesman. We do not work in this way.”
The source stressed that the negotiation process is not yet detailed and said: “Since we have not entered the direct negotiations stage and since the Syrians are asking questions, this means that matters have not proceeded along the track yet.” The source described the current stage “as one of preparing for entering indirect, serious, and practical negotiations” because “the Syrians usually cook on low fire.”