The Israeli-Syrian Battle for Equitable Peace
Since its capture by Israel in 1967, the Golan Heights has come to symbolize for both Israel and Syria more than an important strategic territory. For the Israelis, the Golan is synonymous with national security, whereas for Damascus its restoration to Syrian sovereignty is the single most critical act that would remove the stigma of the 1967 war and restore Syria's national pride.
A careful examination of the Israeli and Syrian positions and consideration of the new geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East in the post-Cold-War era will show that: a) "full withdrawal for full peace" offers the only viable option if Israel is to preserve its national security and Syria's sovereignty is to be restored over the Golan; b) while a renewed Israeli-Syrian armed conflict is possible, it remains unlikely for the foreseeable future; and c) Syria holds the key to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace and regional security.
As the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations proceed with their snags and stumbles, both sides are holding firm to the recognition of the futility of renewed war and the necessity of finding a peaceful and equitable solution to their five-decades-old conflict.
While most of the Israeli-Syrian discussions focus on the need to undo the consequences of the 1967 war-this requires Israel to withdraw from the Golan in exchange for peace-the underlying difficulties transcend the territorial dispute. Indeed, how do both sides undo the hatred and mutual fear which have festered for more than two generations? How do they overcome the mutual distrust and understandable fanatical Israeli concerns for national security that obscure rational discourse? How do they deal, in the context of peace, with future political instability inherent in a volatile region beyond the control of the current leadership, and how do they share a sphere of influence over smaller powers in the region? How do they tackle present and future potential adversaries who are committed to undermining the peace and Israel, in particular?
These, and other similar undercurrents, have greatly affected the Israeli-Syrian dialogue in the past and seriously impeded progress. To overcome the barriers these undercurrents have created, each side must show greater sensitivity to the other's national psyche and needs. Syria has valid reasons as to why it must insist on recovering every single inch of the Golan, but it must be more forthcoming on the issue of normalization of relations with Israel. Israel, too, has equally valid arguments as to why it must ensure its national security before completely relinquishing the Golan-if at all-but it must look beyond the highlands or territorial depth to attain long-term security guarantees. However intractable negotiations may be, Israeli and Syrian leaders know that time is of the essence. Should Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin fail to achieve an agreement before the 1996 Israeli general election, the Likud candidate for prime minister will most likely capitalize on his failure and be better positioned to succeed him, a probability that should not be ignored by Syria. And should Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad's health further deteriorate, especially in the wake of the unfortunate death of his son Basil al-Asad, it is hard to speculate who might succeed Asad and what course Syria would then take toward Israel.
Moreover, both sides understand that the alternative to a peace agreement will not be simply a return to the status quo. but most certainly will lead to a renewal of mutually destructive, violent hostilities, without any prospect for either Syria or Israel to improve its position. Thus, the "battle" for Israeli-Syrian peace will be tough and furious because it is not a battle over real estate but about what that "real estate" represents. It is a battle for an equitable and enduring peace-a battle for Israeli and Syrian national conscience that will shape the destiny of both peoples for generations to come.
THE ISRAELI POSITION
Since its capture by Israel in 1967, the Golan Heights has been portrayed by successive Labor and Likud governments as the strategic territory most critical to Israel's security. Government officials regularly cite two decades of merciless and unprovoked bombardments of Israeli settlements by Syria from the highlands of the Golan before 1967 (though disputed by Syrian accounts), as the reason why Israel must hold on to the Golan indefinitely. In addition, Syria's history of recalcitrant behavior and territorial ambitions in relation to Israel, gives the Israelis no reason for comfort.
Believing in its strategic importance, the Likud government annexed the Golan in the early eighties, with Israeli administrative laws subsequently applied to the territories. Many Israelis were encouraged to settle on the Golan (13.000 did) and build a new life there as frontline soldiers and pioneers. "In times of peace and in times of war." former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared, "the Golan will remain indispensable to Israel's national security and prosperity." Israeli attachment to the Golan grew stronger as regional security, following the Six-Day War, became increasingly precarious. Israeli concerns over Arab political unpredictability, regional instability, continued Syrian bellicosity and the unabated arms race, made the strategic Heights appear all the more crucial to Israel's long-term strategy. During these years, the Golan became synonymous with Israel's national security, creating a deep psychological connection, constantly reinforced by successive governments.
Notwithstanding the changing geopolitical environment caused by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War, Rabin, like his predecessors, still is motivated by national security considerations that continue to traumatize most Israelis. The political pressure against sweeping territorial concessions on the Golan, exerted on the government by the settlers, is supported by the majority of Israelis and members in the Knesset. The difficulty in reconciling the strategic importance of the Golan with the need to relinquish it for peace is rooted in the Jews' long history of persecution and the Israelis' experiences with the Arabs over the past five decades.
Fear and Distrust of Syria
Israelis basically view Syria as the most defiant enemy of Israel. The distrust that the Israelis have toward the Arabs in general is compounded when applied to Syria. Although Israeli officials respect Asad for his scrupulous adherence to the 1974 disengagement agreement, many, both inside and outside the government, feel that he is a cold and calculating schemer who would not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to attain his ultimate goal. Many argue that Asad and his close circle of advisors have not changed their adversarial attitude toward Israel nor their long-term plan to destroy it in stages.
Israeli leaders from the Right insist that Asad is currently motivated by the new reality in the Middle East-a reality that compels him to join the peace process to avoid isolation and to recover the Golan. Essentially, "there is no change of heart," former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon argues. "What has changed are the geopolitical conditions which an astute Asad had recognized and to which he has tactically adjusted." "The risk inherent in Israel's concessions," observed Douglas J. Feith, a Middle East specialist on the national security staff in the Reagan administration, "must be assessed in the light of the possibility, grim though realistic, that within ten years, Khomeini-style Islamist regimes may be running Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and whatever new state is created for the Palestinians Arabs." This is not to suggest that current circumstances are better; it only implies that Israel cannot take any agreement with Syria as permanent.
The Lack of the Human Dimension
The absence of the human dimension- the day-to-day interaction and appreciation of each other's feelings and concerns has contributed to the already existing gulf between the two peoples. The lack of "human relations" between the Israelis and Syrians has made it impossible for them to relate to one another on the simple human plane critical to mitigating distrust and establishing good relations.
For example, unlike the Israeli-Syrian formal negotiations held over the past two and a half years under the spotlight of the media, Israelis and Palestinians have had daily contact since 1967. During the same period there have been secret and not so secret communications and trade relations between Israel and Jordan. These daily encounters have contributed immeasurably to Israeli and Jordanian understanding and appreciation of each other's needs and problems and have helped to pave the way, at least in part, to their two separate agreements.
Egypt is another example
Egypt's President Anwar Sadat demonstrated a much keener understanding of the Israelis' national psyche than Asad and acted on it with astonishing results. With his dramatic journey to Jerusalem in 1977 Sadat captured the minds and imaginations of a multitude of Israelis, who responded with open hearts thereby transforming the Israeli-Egyptian relationship overnight. It was the "human face" of Sadat's quest for peace that made his peace overture so compelling and credible. It tore down the psychological barrier and created in its place a sense of trust leaving an indelible mark on every Israeli. "President Asad has not done 2 percent of what President Sadat did," Rabin stated, "to convince the people of Israel that he seriously wants peace." This kind of overture has been, and continues to be, absent in the Israeli-Syrian parley.
Absence of Israeli Public Consensus
In Israel, as in many other democracies, public opinion plays a very direct and crucial role in the government's decision-making process. Rabin has done poorly in educating the public on the need and rationale for paying a "painful price" for peace. Instead, he has left the field wide open to continued onslaughts by right-wing opposition groups led by the Likud against the government's "misguided" policy.
The Likud and other right-wing political parties have been successful in galvanizing public opinion against withdrawal from the Golan, effectively tying Rabin's hands at the negotiating table. Moreover, Rabin's inability to show any progress in the negotiations with Syria has left many Israelis unsure of their government's direction,deepening their cynicism and distrust of the whole process.
The unsettling Israeli public opinion regarding the Golan combined with Rabin's negotiating strategy of playing one Arab entity against the other to extract greater concessions, has contributed to his "go-slow approach" with Syria. For its part, the Clinton administration has heeded Rabin's request "not to overload the Israeli circuit with Arafat in Jericho and Asad on the Golan Heights."
Rabin's idea of putting any agreement with Syria on the Golan to a referendum could buy him some time, reduce the pressure of the right-wing opposition parties, while increasing it on Syria to be more forthcoming. "It is certainly not to be used as a pretext," as one Israeli government official observed, "to torpedo the peace process, perhaps it could engender healthy debate." Rabin justifies the referendum on the grounds that the extent of the projected withdrawal will exceed what the Labor party's platform stipulates.
Rabin has consistently refused to commit himself to a total withdrawal from the Golan not only because he has lacked the mandate, but once such a commitment is made, he maintains, it would be impossible to retract. The problem Rabin currently faces is that an Israeli pullback on the Golan will not meet the Syrian requirements to make peace. And withdrawal from the Golan could evoke a major political storm that will paralyze if not topple his government.
Many analysts of the Israeli political scene do not find the answer to the problem in a referendum. A referendum against an agreement with Syria would leave Damascus with no other recourse but to resort to force, less to liberate the Golan than to destabilize the region and invite American intervention. In contrast, a referendum endorsing such an agreement presupposes a public consensus to that effect and is, therefore, unnecessary. That neither withdrawal from the Sinai nor the Israeli-PLO agreement were submitted to a referendum further weakens Rabin's argument for a referendum. Finally, a referendum is not a substitute for cultivating a strong Israeli public consensus in support of withdrawal from the Golan. That consensus is currently lacking, but it can be engendered once the Israeli public becomes fully aware of the options available.
THE SYRIAN POSITION
As the most nationalist of all Arab states, Syria has championed Arab causes and has suffered the brunt of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Recovering the Golan, which the Syrians believe they lost as a result of Israeli aggression, has become nothing less than a national crusade, a symbol of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. For the Syrian people, therefore, only total Israeli withdrawal is able to remove the stain of the 1967 war and its consequences. Thus, no Syrian president, especially Asad, could relinquish any part of the Golan and survive his people's wrath.
Although Asad is firmly in charge, he still has to deal with a number of internal and external constraints partly of his own choosing and partly the result of a changing geopolitical environment over which he exercises only marginal control.
Opposition to Peace with Israel
The Syrian public has been told over the years what the authorities wanted them to believe-that Israel was the enemy of the Arab people and has no right to the land of Palestine. Israel was portrayed as a tool of the "imperialists" whose goal has been to divide the Arab world and weaken their national will. Liberating Palestine and ridding the Middle East of the Zionists was seen as a sacred mission on whose successful outcome the Syrian national honor depended. The constant and pervasive campaign to delegitimize Israel made it appear, in the eyes of the Syrian people, as a historical aberration that must eventually disappear. The government and the people's responsibility, therefore, was to accelerate this process and bring about the demise of the "Zionist entity."
In such a context, the government could justify its expenditure of more than 50 percent of the country's GNP on armaments and the pressure for individual and collective sacrifices to achieve this "noble" goal-the destruction of Israel. Thus, the motto "no peace, no recognition and no negotiations" has characterized Syrian policy toward Israel.
For Asad to change the Syrian public perception of Israel has not been an easy task. Since the beginning of the Syrian-Israeli face-to-face negotiations in October 1992, there has been a deliberate government effort to prepare the Syrian public for a "peace" which was unthinkable only few years ago. However, such steps have to evolve gradually if the government's long-held position is to be successfully reconciled with its new one. Syrian officials indicate that a vociferous opposition still exists to dealing with Israel on any level.
Refuge for Terrorist Organizations
That Syria provides sanctuary to as many as twelve terrorist organizations is unacceptable to Israel and to the United States. Israeli and American officials argue that the very existence of such groups in Syria raises serious suspicions about Asad's intent and is inconsistent with his professed desire to make peace. Asad certainly understands that these factions constitute a political liability. However, he must weigh this against his overall regional strategy and his approach to the peace process.
Asad's own standing as the leader of Syria's diverse constituencies-including 400,000 Palestinians-and often contradictory interests only partly explains his position in connection with these groups. Courting them gives Asad important leverage in dealing with or intimidating his adversaries, including, though not limited to, Israel. As one Syrian official observes: "These groups can be held on a tight leash or let loose. They feel obligated to Syria and they can be persuaded to change course. They may object to the peace but then there is an opposition to the peace in Israel too."
Asad rejects the argument that these groups should either be expelled to Iraq, Libya or the Sudan, insisting that they have no place to go, besides the question is not whether these organizations exist in Syria, but whether the Syrian government is, in fact, engaged in state terrorism, which it is not.
For Asad, to contemplate peace was a culmination of a long and difficult road he had to travel since the end of the Cold War. In many ways, Asad now faces the same situation that Egypt's President Sadat did in 1977. Syria's economy is struggling, and the prospects for economic recovery without an infusion of huge amounts of hard currency are poor. Defense outlays still exceed 45 percent of the annual budget, unemployment is high, and earnings for college graduates average $75 per month. The ordinary Syrian citizen is preoccupied with survival, and public discontent, though muted, remains pervasive. Syria which has the highest percentage of intelligentsia and skilled professionals among the Arab states has been stifled because of limited economic opportunities. For economic reasons alone, Syria desperately needs peace. "There is not the slightest doubt that we want peace," Asad told Patrick Scale in April 1993. "We could not otherwise have talked about peace for the past twenty years."
Changing Geopolitical Conditions
These socioeconomic conditions must also be considered in light of four other critical geopolitical developments: a) The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union left Syria no choice but to gravitate toward the United States, the only superpower that is supportive of Israel while exercising tremendous leverage on its government; b) Asad's inability to attain military parity with Israel, which has rendered any military option to recover the Golan by force, if there ever was one, invalid; c) The crippling of the military power of Iraq, Syria's staunchest enemy, in the Gulf War, which has provided Asad with greater freedom to act, especially, since the vast majority of the Arab states support peace with Israel; and d) The current Israeli government's willingness to exchange territory for peace. If Asad fails to reach an accord with Rabin, a Likud-led government will be far less accommodating.
Maneuvering for a Strong Bargaining Position
Asad's refusal to spell out his concept of full peace prior to receiving an Israeli commitment to total withdrawal is also rooted deeply in Syria's national psyche. Syrian officials insist that if the land is returned to Syria, this should not obligate them to offer anything more in exchange than cessation of hostilities and respect for Israel's territorial integrity in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. For Syria, recovering every single inch of the Golan is restoring a national right and should not necessarily be linked to normalization of relations with Israel. Normalizing relations, noted the ambassador of Syria to the United States, Walid Al-Mualem, falls within the sovereign right of each state, and cannot be superimposed from the outside.
Once Asad consolidated his grip on Lebanon, he made the recovery of the Golan Heights a national imperative and the centerpiece of his policies toward Israel, particularly since the Golan was always Syrian territory and no country has recognized its annexation by Israel. Asad began preparing Syrian public opinion by allowing the press to discuss openly the prospects for peace with Israel. Many Syrians believe that the pragmatic Asad, sixty-four years old and ailing, wants to leave behind the legacy that it was he who has recovered the Golan Heights, consolidated Syria's grip on Lebanon and made peace with Israel on his own terms. For the same reasons, Syria rejects an Israeli referendum on the future of Syr-ian territory, arguing that it is against international law, inconsistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and the guidelines governing the initial Madrid peace conference. Ambassador Al-Mualem was emphatic on this score.
THE LEBANESE CONNECTION
For a long time, Syria was far less interested in peace with Israel than in staying in Lebanon. In fact, Asad wanted Israel to remain in southern Lebanon as the Israeli presence provided Asad with the pretext he needed to ignore the October 22, 1989, Taif agreement, which calls for the disbanding of all armed militias and the withdrawal of all foreign troops, including Syrian. The removal of tension in the south would renew focus on the Lebanese government's demand to control all Lebanese territory. This would run counter to Asad's grand design to convert his current de facto control of Lebanon into an internationally recognized fact.
Asad Consolidates His Grip on Lebanon
In early 1993, the U.S. Congress asked Syria to withdraw more of its forces from Lebanon. The effect on Asad was to heighten his anxiety, which may explain in part, the intensified violence in southern Lebanon that followed. As long as Hezbollah harasses Israel, it plays into Asad's claim that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is necessary as a stabilizing force. Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk El-Sharaa intro-duced a new dimension to the Israeli-Syrian conflict when he declared, at the height of tension between Israel and Hezbollah, that "an attack on Lebanon constitutes an attack on Syria." The declaration was more a political challenge to Israel than a military one. It was tantamount to a Syrian admission that the road to Hezbollah goes through Damascus. CIA and Israeli intelligence sources confirmed Syria's direct role in facilitating the shipments of Iranian arms to Hezbollah with Syrian military providing security and training to its members.
Hezbollah's role in the peace negotiations is that of a deadly accomplice in a controlled war of attrition. It is also a bargaining chip. In addition, by raising the level of tension, Syria sought to aggravate regional stability and make the peace process appear more precarious. This, Asad reasoned, would attract U.S. attention and push Washington to become more actively involved by pressing Israel for additional concessions. Politically, Asad justified Hezbollah's attacks on Israel and South Lebanon Army positions as legitimate acts against Israeli occupation. The official newspaper of the Syrian government, Al-Baath, maintained in an editorial that Hezbollah's resistance is legitimate and "would continue as long as the occupation continues." From the Syrian perspective, therefore, continued violence against Israeli targets will not only soften the Israeli position on the Golan but also gain Israeli acceptance of Syria's permanent and dominant role in Lebanon.
Conceding Lebanon to Syria
When Rabin appealed to Asad from the Knesset chamber to prevail over Hezbollah, he has extended a de facto recognition of Syria's special place and responsibility in Lebanon. A similar appeal from President Clinton gave Asad the recognition he sought from the day he came to power more than two decades ago. For Asad, gaining American and Israeli acquiescence to his dominion over Lebanon, even if it is informal, has critical pragmatic results. Only the United States could exert insurmountable political pressure against his ambitions in Lebanon, and only Israel could militarily resist it.
In fact, during Secretary of State Warren Christopher's shuttle diplomacy in the fall of 1993, Israel had already conveyed to Syria that under conditions of peace with normal relations, it will not insist on the removal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon as a precondition for the withdrawal of its forces from the security zone. This, in effect, sealed the Lebanese fate and made Israeli-Lebanese peace completely contingent upon the conclusion of Israeli-Syrian peace.
THE U.S. POSITION
The United States is now in an unusually strong position to help Israel and Syria to reach an accord on the Golan Heights and sign a peace treaty. This would require the Clinton administration to become extensively involved economically and perhaps militarily. The United States' vital strategic interests in the Middle East warrant such a high-profile involvement for the benefit of peace which would engender stability critical to continued American strategic interest in this region.
Normalizing Relations with the United States
Normalizing U.S.-Syrian relations is essential to the consolidation of American strategic interests in the Middle East. Syria has and will continue to play a central role in the region's balance of power as a counterweight against both Iraq and Iran. Distancing Syria from Iran represents an important element in the U.S. Gulf strategy, which calls for the dual isolation and containment of Iraq and Iran, even if the United States has to make up for Syria's potential losses of revenue from Iran.
This certainly does not translate into appeasing Syria or giving in to Asad's whims. For Asad, normalizing relations with the United States offers a critically important domestic political cover which he needs if he is to play his indispensable role in the peace process and make the necessary concessions for peace. The removal of Syria from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism is seen as the single most significant issue that stands in the way of normalizing U.S.-Syrian relations. Once the United States recognized the PLO, the continued listing of Syria as a state that sponsors terrorism has lost any political luster. It no longer makes any tactical sense to maintain this demeaning status while expecting Syria to behave as if there were no connection between its international standing as a pariah and the peace negotiations.
U.S. Direct Involvement
In contrast to its marginal involvement in the Israeli-PLO agreement, Washington now needs to become a full partner in the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. Both Syria and Israel look to the United States for long- and short-term support of any agreement they may reach. Asad understands that without the active partnership of the United States in the peace negotiations and security guarantees, Israel will not concede the entire Golan Heights, regardless of what kind of peace and security arrangements Syria may unilaterally offer. Moreover, Syria wants the Clinton administration to remain committed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for the exchange of territories for peace and secure borders, and it wants America's future support of Syria's special status (de facto control) in Lebanon. For Israel, U.S. involvement translates into continued economic, political and military support with a focus on: a) providing Israel with space and missile technology that will enable it to deal with distant threat, from Iran or North Africa; and b) maintaining Israel's military and technological edge over the Arabs states. This is not to the exclusion of the United States' direct participation in the region's long-term security.
Although the Clinton administration is committed to advance the Arab-Israeli peace for its own sake, Washington must begin to think beyond the current peace negotiations. For example, it needs to address what kinds of regional security arrangements must be established to insure future political stability in view of Iran's continued Islamic irredentism and Iraq's bellicosity. Syria is essential to the achieve-ment of a comprehensive peace, and its role in advancing future regional security as well as the long-term strategic interests of the United States can be equally critical.
CONDITION FOR AN AGREEMENT
A careful examination of the Israeli and the Syrian positions reveals that there may not be a way out of their conflict over the Golan, unless a dramatic shift of attitude first occurs in both camps. Although Asad's demands for total withdrawal may not change, he seems to have some flexibility about meeting Israel's essential security requirements. The question is how to reconcile Syria's demands of total Israeli withdrawal with Israel's requirements for absolute security. Asad's formula of "full withdrawal for full peace" offers the only viable solution that may, eventually, satisfy Israel's and Syria's national security and human needs, provided that "full peace" translates into normalization of relations, including: diplomatic, trade and cultural exchanges, tourism and joint regional economic projects, and so forth. But first, Syria, Israel and the United States must act on a number of fronts:
1. Syria should limit its territorial claims to what its Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa asserted in his October 4 speech to the U.N. General Assembly: "the withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied Golan and from the Lebanese lands." Syria must assume that Israel would eventually be persuaded to give up all of the Golan. Israel has already conceded Gaza and has no territorial claims against Lebanon, but the same does not apply to the West Bank. Although it is understandable that Syria does not want to appear to have abandoned the Palestinian cause altogether, Asad must not make the "liberation of all Arab lands," including the entire West Bank, the price for peace with Israel. Israel will not withdraw entirely from the Golan until Syria forsakes any other Arab territorial claims, with the exception of southern Lebanon.
2. Asad must no longer ignore the importance of Israeli public opinion. As Israelis search for signs of reconciliation emanating from Damascus, they come across Syrian positions and attitudes that portend to the contrary. Israeli officials cite the Syrian handlers' adamant refusal to allow Israeli journalists to attend Clinton and Asad's press conference in Geneva in January 1994. Alexander Zvielli, a veteran member of the Israeli Journalist Association, ob-served in the Jerusalem Post in mid-February, that the episode "badly compromised the sincerity of both the United States and Syrian intentions. Peace without respect for each side's dignity is no true peace." Asad had a golden opportunity, the Israelis argue, to appear in the flesh and show his willingness to tear down old barriers instead of erecting new ones, but chose not to do so. During the press conference, Asad's refusal to elaborate on what he meant by "normal relations" disappointed many Israelis who wanted to believe that Israeli-Syrian relations had entered the phase of reconciliation.
Asad needs to be more open and forthcoming. He must go beyond sound bites. "The Syrians refused to descend from their mountain of words to the bedrock of reality," noted Shimon Peres. Asad's statement that peace with Israel is a "strategic asset" to Syria and his public remarks about "normal relations" with Israel are two most significant developments. Yet, following decades of mutual enmity, fear and distrust, a growing number of Israelis remain deeply skeptical of Syria's intent. They are looking for human manifestations of Asad's "peace of the brave."
Asad can follow Sadat's example without major personal or political risks. Before taking his historic journey to Jerusalem, Sadat did not seek, nor receive, a prior commitment from Prime Minister Begin to relinquish all of Sinai. Addressing the Knesset, Sadat made Egypt's territorial claim clear, and he did not deviate from it until Egypt recovered the last inch of Egyptian land lost in 1967. If Asad decides not to go to Jerusalem, he might still invite a group of Israeli academics and journalists to Damascus to hear him make the case for Syria's insistence on recovering all of the Golan and its commitment to attain equitable peace and mutual security. He can invite Rabin or accept an invitation from him to meet anywhere, without breaking any taboos or taking any personal risk and without compromising on one single inch of disputed territory.
3. To persuade the Israelis to give up the tangible security asset that the Golan has represented for what many still consider an elusive peace, they must be assisted to embark on a process of learning, adjustment and confidence building, said Yehushafat Harkabi, one of Israel's leading historians. Asad, who has demonstrated incredible political savvy, must now tune into the Israeli public and carefully gauge their sentiment and political pulse. He must join the battle to win over Israeli public opinion by reaching out to the Israelis and allow human relations between the two nations to develop in a positive environment. In a recent poll conducted by Bar Ilan University's BESA Center for Strategic Studies, more than 90 percent of Israelis opposed total withdrawal from the Golan and more than 70 percent opposed any withdrawal but might accept a symbolic pullout only. However, Samuel Lewis, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, who conducted on behalf of the State Department a week-long meeting with many Israeli officials, including members of the opposition parties, to discern public attitudes, has offered a different but rather consistent view. He told Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that the Israelis will support whatever Rabin decides in connection with the Golan as long as they were convinced of Syria's sincerity about peace.
For his part, Rabin must assume the task of educating the Israelis and thus disabuse the public of the notion that the Golan and national security are synonymous. He will have to face not only the settlers' wrath, but also a majority of Israelis who are confused and angry about not receiving clear direction from their government. As David Hartman, a leading Israeli philosopher and social theorist, noted, "We have been educated for thirty years on that se-curity issue… we must control the Golan otherwise the Galilee is in danger. This one (government official) says this, and there is another one who says that. " Rabin must make it clear that full peace with Syria, while maintaining a credible Israeli military deterrence, is preferred over maintaining strategic territory but living in a perpetual state of war.
Many Israeli military experts, including General Dan Shomron, Israel's former military chief of staff, argue that under conditions of a peace of reconciliation (sulch), the importance of the territory as a strategic asset diminishes considerably. As long as peace prevails, both sides will develop extensive vested interests in their relationship. Neither country will then have a compelling reason to undermine the agreement. Asad and Rabin must work separately and together to sway Israeli public opinion in this direction.
4. Removing Syria's name from the American list of countries that sponsor terrorism would have a tremendous positive effect on the peace process. The removal of Syria's name is made easier by the fact that the U.S. State Department has not accused the Syrians nor provided any evidence, at least since 1989, that they have played either a direct or indirect role in any terrorist activity. Nevertheless, this change of policy should only reflect the changing role that Syria has and must, indeed, continue to play in the pursuit of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Removing Syria's name will make it eligible for the procurement of American investments, loans and advanced technologies. It would also encourage the European Community to have direct and o pen financial dealings with Syria, which can translate into an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars into the nation's economy. Finally, it will accord Asad the acceptance he seeks as the leader of a major Arab power especially in the eyes of his own people.
5. To allay Israeli anxiety over repeated terrorist activities in Israel and across the Lebanese border, Syria must make a good-faith effort to reduce its military and financial support to the Marxist-terrorist groups operating from Syrian or Lebanese territory. Moreover, Syria should show restraint in the acquisition, development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction. In accordance with the Taif agreement, Asad must also commit himself to disarm and then disband all militia groups, in particular, Hezbollah and the Damascus-based Palestinian organization led by Ahmad Jabril. The expulsion of the Jabril group from Syria is one of the conditions the United States has made for removal of Syria from the State Department's list of countries that support terrorism.
Cessation of hostilities emanating from southern Lebanon will prevent even more destructive Israeli retaliations in the future than the bombardment of southern Lebanon in 1993. In addition, it will certainly help build Israeli confidence to cede the bulk of territories, which is the key to any peace agreement. Cessation of hostilities would restore normalcy and stability and encourage Israel to withdraw from the security zone, which it recognizes as Lebanese territory. These are the signals that Israel will be looking for to satisfy itself regarding Syria's intentions.
A FRAMEWORK FOR AN AGREEMENT
Israeli and Syrian contemporary history has been marred by bloody conflict, enmity, mutual fear and distrust. These feelings and attitudes have become an integral part of a culture that envenomed two generations of Israelis and Syrians. They cannot simply be erased by formal talks or public declarations regardless of how well they are intended. Israel and Syria realize that the only viable option is peace. They must also realize that because of their historical experiences the structure of peace must be built over a period of time and consist of a number of stages. They must allow for time to heal the wounds and for mutual confidence-building measures to take hold.
Therefore, the first step is a joint declaration of principles to provide the foundation on which peace can be erected: Israeli recognition of Syria's sovereignty over the entire Golan Heights and a Syrian declaration of its willingness to make a peace of reconciliation with Israel.
This qualified declaration falls short of Syria's demand for an Israeli commitment to a total withdrawal based on its claim that the whole world recognizes Syrian sovereignty over the Golan and that Israeli recognition does not consequently constitute a real concession. This may very well be the Syrian perception, but it is Israel, and not the world that controls the Golan, and so Israel must accept this principle before actual withdrawal can take place. Moreover, for the Israelis, although such a declaration by their government will evoke a tremendous outcry by the opposition, it will go a long way toward conditioning the national psyche to the point where the government can set the stage for a structure of peace that would entail the return of the Golan without taking unacceptable and premature security risks.
The Syrian declaration may, also, not fully satisfy the Israeli requirement for full peace with normal relations, including trade, cultural and diplomatic exchanges. But then a Syrian declaration that employs the word sulch, which means a peace of reconciliation, rather than salam, which connotes merely a state of nonbelligerency, will send a clear signal to Israelis and Syrians of the changing mood of cooperation about the future.
This declaration of principles should constitute only the first part of a two-part document. Part two will create an agenda for negotiating a comprehensive peace, including the establishment of four committees to deal concurrently with a) mutual security, b) military issues, c) the settlements and d) normalization of relations.
Israel would not have to withdraw from a single inch of territory before the four major committees have concluded detailed agreements, said Ambassador Al-Mualem, covering the entire spectrum of relations between the two countries. As a goodwill gesture, first offered by Rabin in the summer of 1993, Israel could make a limited territorial concession to signify its willingness to trade territory for peace and to encourage Syria to reciprocate. As soon as the declaration of principles is signed, Israeli and Syrian delegations can begin negotiating the Israeli phased withdrawal, establishing a specific timetable for a total pullout over a period of six-to-eight years. Obviously, full compliance and adherence to the timetable engenders confidence and trust. Nothing is as crucial as this intangible commodity.
Committee for Mutual Security
The responsibility of this committee is to develop the mechanism and the logistics to ensure the mutual security of both nations, including the following:
1. The permanent demilitarization of the areas from which the Israeli troops are withdrawn, allowing only for a joint internal security force to secure the area. 2. The establishment of a joint air and ground surveillance procedure to ensure mutual compliance. This will also encourage the establishment of daily encounters and good relations between the military personnel of both countries. 3. The institution of direct communication lines between Israeli and Syrian military commands to prevent any misunderstandings and to deal effectively with accidental violations. 4. The stationing of U.S. troops on the Golan to give both Israel and Syria a greater sense of security. Secretary Christopher made it clear on "Face the Nation," in the fall of 1993, that "any new agreement between them (Israel and Syria) might well mean some kind of U.S. force on the Golan."
1. The joint committee that deals with military issues must first focus on weapons of mass destruction. The proliferation of these weapons is the most destabilizing factor in the region and no Middle Eastern country can feel safe unless they are brought under control. 2. The development of regional security remains critical, especially in the wake of the growing strength of Islamic fundamentalism and the determination of some Islamist groups to undermine the peace and, especially the state of Israel. As odd as this may now seem, Israel and Syria have a common interest in cooperating militarily to maintain regional stability.
The future of the Israeli settlements would be resolved during the staged withdrawal, without foreclosing the possibility that some settlers may wish to stay as residents of Syria as long as they adhere to Syrian laws and pay Syrian taxes. Many others may relocate with full compensation, similar to the inhabitants of Yamit and other settlements in the Sinai. Initially, Sinai settlers resisted vehemently relocation but were persuaded to leave in compliance with the Camp David accords.
Normalization of Relations
The function of this committee is to establish the ground rules for normalizing relations. Thus, 1. Upon completion of the first phased withdrawal, trade and cultural exchange will commence, allowing for gradual socioeconomic ties to develop between Israeli and Syrian citizens as a way to cultivate trust and mutual understanding. 2. The problem of water supplies and distribution will have to be resolved, and opportunities for regional economic projects that might include other countries will need exploration. One such major project that will have far-reaching implications is the establishment of an international free trade zone on the Golan Heights, with Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon as the main sponsors. The fertile land of the Golan, availability of water, the snow slopes in the winter and the wonderful year-round weather, will make the Golan one of the most attractive resort spots as well. With an international airport, hundreds of restaurants, hotels, entertainment and recreation facilities, the Golan could provide tens of thousands of jobs and become a major source of hard currency to the sponsoring nations, especially Syria.
Converting the Golan into an international trade center will rapidly accelerate the normalization of relations between Israel and Syria and transform the entire region into an oasis of economic prosperity and growth. It will also dramatically change the nature of Israel's future security concerns. 3. Upon completion of the Israeli withdrawal, Israel and Syria will establish full diplomatic relations, including the exchange of ambassadors, and sign a peace treaty. 4. Syria should remain open to the possibility that Israel might seek to lease a thin strip of land, 2-3 miles wide, along the international borders for an additional specified period of time. Former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Talcott W. Seelye, suggests that "while insisting on total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, Syria would probably agree in the course of negotiations to a minor border adjustment if this were required to obtain Israeli agreement to a final peace settlement."
Syria holds the key to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and only limited further progress can be made on either the Jordanian or the Palestinian front without Syria's full sanction. During his visit to Damascus in early December 1993, Jordan's King Hussein promised Asad that he would not sign a separate peace treaty with Israel. Although Syria has neither actively undermined nor supported the Israeli-PLO agreement and the Israeli-Jordanian peace agenda, the absence of an agreement between Syria and Israel will complicate matters for Jordan and the PLO, denying them and Israel the opportunity to reap the benefits of peace. In addition, Syria is extremely well positioned to inhibit many opposition groups, be they from the left or the right, from undermining the peace process as long as Syria has a vested interest in its success.
Finally, Israel and Syria will have to compromise. The Syrians are not likely to regain the Golan Heights unless they choose, in Asad's words, "the peace of the brave," a full-fledged peace of reconciliation, not a mere state of nonbelligerency against Israel. And the Israelis, who have not known real peace with Syria since the creation of their state in 1948, may yet find that no piece of land, regardless of how strategic it is, can in the long run substitute for real peace.