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Commentary Last Updated: May 2nd, 2008 - 01:12:10

Not another bilateral deal!
By Linda Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 2, 2008, 00:10

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What is Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert up to? Syria has been amenable to peace talks for years, and has been systematically ignored or rebuffed, so what is prompting Olmert�s apparent change of heart?

Olmert has sent signals to Damascus via Turkey to the effect he�s ready to deal with the entire militarily strategic Golan Heights on the table. For his part the Syrian leader, Bashar Assad, has responded positively but cautiously. In this case, he would do well to approach this tentative offer with a shovelful of skepticism.

Let�s first give Olmert the benefit of the doubt. Let�s suppose he�s experienced one of Oprah�s �Aha!� moments or some sort of mind-altering epiphany and he�s sincere. The question is: Can he deliver when his country�s right wing and many in his own party are foaming at the mouth at the thought?

The timing is suspicious, too. It was only last September that Israeli planes were flouting international law by crossing into Syrian airspace. There, they sprinkled not rose petals but deadly payloads that destroyed a Syrian site which the Israelis and Americans say housed a nuclear reactor. Needless to say, the aggressor and its superpower ally have no evidence to support their claim other than CIA photographs which Syria�s ambassador to the US Imad Moustapha has characterized as being fabricated, �ludicrous and laughable.�

These recent US revelations are said to have enraged Mohamed El-Baradei head of the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Such intelligence should have been passed to the agency for investigation since Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), he says.

Though to be fair, under the NPT, signatories have the right to build anything they like provided the structure is for peaceful purposes. Indeed, they are only required to disclose information to the IAEA concerning their program within a certain timeframe before the introduction of enriched uranium or plutonium to the facility.

The fact that the international community once again turned a blind eye to Israel�s illegal and unprovoked belligerence against its neighbor is yet another example of its double standards.

Israel can get away with more or less anything, including its refusal to admit to having a nuclear weapons program itself or having to own up to its stockpile of more than 200 nuclear warheads. Syria, on the other hand, builds an empty husk that allegedly resembles something in North Korea and it�s bombed and the country is vilified.

The point is why should such a charmed nation as Israel, which doesn�t have to answer to anyone except its paymasters and protectors in Washington, volunteer to hand back a chunk of strategic real estate that includes a precious water resource to a foe that is not of itself perceived as an existential threat?

In other words, from Israel�s perspective would a land-for-peace deal with Syria be worth the pain of kissing the Golan goodbye? I, personally, don�t think so unless there are ulterior motives at play.

Olmert�s motive in putting out feelers for peace with Syria is unknowable but I would suggest it is focused on manipulating Damascus to burn its bridges with Israel�s prime foe, Tehran, and turn its back on such non-state actors as Hezbollah and Hamas.

If Syria were tempted to acquiesce, Iran would be further isolated while southern Lebanon and Gaza would be vulnerable to Israel�s eventual reoccupation. Syria would also lose geopolitical clout and would end up gagged and hamstrung within the region, fated to bend to Washington�s diktats forever more as the �low-hanging fruit� it was before its marriage of convenience with Tehran.

Conversely, based on that scenario, Israel would end up king of the block without having to fire a shot. It could simply look on patiently as Hezbollah and Hamas were starved of money, weapons and friends. There are some countries in our neck of the woods that would relish this outcome.

They consider Hezbollah and Hamas as divisive troublemakers or dangerous extremist ideologues. But they should be careful what they wish for because the demise of those organizations, together with a defanged Syria, would provide Israel with carte blanche to do its worst.

The only way to put the kybosh on Olmert�s sneaky tactics -- if that�s, indeed, what they are -- is for all Arab countries to rally around Syria and insist that there is only one possible peace deal: a comprehensive peace process involving all. If Olmert is serious about swapping his tanks for tractors and if the Israeli people are ready to put 60 bloody years behind them in exchange for peace, prosperity and progress, then Israel should do more than consider the 2002 Saudi peace initiative, which is the only existing formula for long-term regional stability.

A comprehensive peace would be good news for all the players, except for avaricious foreign powers who would no longer be invited to hang around where they�re not wanted. And with Lebanon�s security assured, along with the birth of a Palestinian state, Hezbollah and Hamas would fast lose their respective support bases.

Arabs would do well to cast aside their petty grievances with one another and, for once, stand together on the principle of �all for one and one for all.� Let Israel know its self-interested schemes won�t work from now on.

It has already benefited from bilateral peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan that have resulted in glacial d�tentes that have failed to trickle down to street level.

Damascus should refuse to be party to yet another chilly sham designed to leave Syria with an extra 1,200 square kilometers of land and Israel with untold power and mastery.

Where are the heroes? Where are the lateral thinkers? Where are the political innovators in this part of the world? Why does making peace have to be so complicated?

What is stopping a high-level Arab League delegation from inviting itself to Jerusalem for face-to-face talks with the Israeli government, Sadat-style? Why do Arabs need intermediaries such as the US or Turkey to do their talking for them?

Forging peace shouldn�t be like arranging a marriage or purchasing a property. It�s time that Arabs put out a sign saying, �No brokers� and gave an address where, provided it�s a serious party, Israel can apply.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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