Bashar, Don’t Take Netanyahu’s Bait

Josh Landis outlines well the problems with America’s decision to maintain the Syria sanctions, but also outlines nicely what the Syrian and the Americans have done and not done so far in the relationship. Here is an excerpt:

What has Syria done for Obama?

* Both Hizbullah and Hamas have reached out to the US, claiming to want engagement and expressing willingness to compromise on key issues. Syria has great influence on these groups and has helped with this outreach.
* Syria wants intelligence sharing on al-Qaida and Iraq, but it has not handed over Iraqi Baathists resident in Syria to the US.

What has Syria refused to do for Obama?

* Syria will not agree to concessions on the Arab peace plan, i.e. stating that Syria will give all resident Palestinians citizenship as part of a Palestinian-Israeli deal. (This is symbolic because Syria is the Arab state that has granted Palestinians the most privileges. They have all the rights of Syrians except citizenship, i.e. they can hold all government jobs, go to schools, access subsidized medical care, etc. There is little doubt Syria wold give Palestinians citizenship, but not outside the context of a deal.
* Syria will not stop arming Hizbullah and Hamas before it gets back the Golan
* Syria will not cut relations with Iran or down-grade them.
* Syria will not hand over Iraqis who have taken refuge in Syria.

What has the US done for Syria?

* Send Feltman and Shapiro to Damascus twice.
* Stop insisting on a checklist of conditions before talking.
* Softened its rhetoric on Iran and Syria.
* Not made too much of a fuss that Britain and Europeans have opened relations with Hizbullah
* Distanced itself from Israel a bit – see this story: “Jerusalem worried over breakdown of U.S.-Israel cooperation under Obama,” Haaretz, Aluf Benn

What has US refused to do?

* Send an ambassador to Damascus
* Stop supporting Hariri coalition in Lebanon’s elections
* Reduce economic Sanctions or lift them altogether
* Renew intelligence sharing over Iraq and al-Qaida
* Pressure Israel to negotiate with Syria on the basis of land for peace
* State that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are “illegal” rather than simply “unhelpful.”
* Admit that Hamas is a legitimate organization that represents Palestinians and must be included in a peace deal
* Admit that Arabs have a right to resist occupation of their land

Overall, despite today,  it is clear that the United States and Syria are on a positive path, and that much can be improved by a clarification of Syria’s future role in the region, in other words where does it see itself headed in terms of relations to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Visioning helps clarify positions, so that the Syrians should send more clear signals of where it would like its allies to go should there be a comprehensive peace process with Israel that was real and substantive, or in the eventuality that Syria does receive the Golan back. And there are many interim steps as well that can help build the relationship further. The Syrian/American relationship is vital for the future stability of the Arab world in its relations with the West because Syria is in the best position to take the opposition to Israel out of the realm of ideology and into the realm of practical opposition to Israel’s positions. This is the most important linkage to a new Middle East.

The problem is that those in Israel who do not want a new Middle East, who want and need a fierce Arab opposition in order to hold on to all the historic land of Israel are driven by ideology to elicit from the Arab world as much inflammatory and violent positions as possible. That is why Netanyahu chose today, the day that America is renewing sanctions on Syria, to pronounce that he will never give back the Golan. For sixty years there have been Israelis like him who hope and count on Arab anger, Arab rage, Arab violence. The greatest threat to his position is Arab nonviolence and Arab statesmenship and diplomacy. It would be very helpful to Netanyahu right now if Bashar takes some action to support militarily Hamas or Hezbollah because it would prove to the West that there is no Arab peace partner. But I say, don’t take his bait. Forge ahead with the Western relationship. Obama’s people are the greatest hope in sixty years for America to join the rest of the Quartet and the rest of the world in a forceful insistence on a real path to a real Palestinian state as the ultimate and most important solution to Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslim problems. Syria and the Syrian people can only benefit from that path.

© Marc Gopin