Saturday, May 15, 2010

Syria: How does one Calculate the Legitimacy of a Regional Role?

Syria’s role in facilitating the Madrid peace talks, in 1991, gave the “Ok” to other Arab countries to imagine and work on a new era in the region. The prospect of an Israeli Syrian peace agreement between 1993 and 1996 opened up channels to various negotiations, treaties, and dialogue between Israel and most Arab countries in the 1990s. What this period 1993-1996 missed was an actual realization of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Oslo I and II in addition to the Israel- Jordon 1994 peace agreement, bypassed Syria, and complicated its negotiations with Israel. The start of the Syrian Israeli peace talks gave the rest of the Arab countries a strategic opening to come to friendlier understandings with Israel , all the while the Syrian peace track was lingering and dragging without any tangible results until the direct peace talks ended in 1996.

Many analysts concerned themselves with “why” the negotiations derailed between Israel and Syria in 1996. There are many contradicting and politicized interpretations, but one can easily extract a common theme of factors, namely: withdrawal concerns vs. security concerns, the distinct Syrian negotiating style and persistence on the 1967 line, the effect of Peres and Rabin’s rivalry, the Israeli election and public opinion, the Republican hold on the house and senate in 1994, the role of the Golan Lobby. Rabin’s assassination and many more factors contributed to the dead end reached by both parties.

Fast forward to 2010, The Israeli scene has changed, the right and conservatives have an upper hand in making or breaking coalitions, now more than ever. Israeli politicians are bound to fragile political alignments that can only play into the hands of the right in Israel. The question becomes: How much does a promise of a political opening for peace actually weigh nowadays in Israel?? Because of the fear of being scrutinized as “giving in” or selling out on Israeli security, can any Israeli politician afford to talk about peace, career wise? If a start of a peace talk with Syria, opened up Israel’s potential in the region in the 1990s which quickly faded after 1996, how can Israel calculate a normalization of relations of some sort in this region without addressing the Syrian equation head on?

If the interpretation of Israel’s position and military might in the region coincides with Ambassador Yoram Ettinger’s future vision for Israel,,7340,L-3851844,00.html , then one can find a latitude of excuses for Syria’s regional maneuvering since 2000. The strategic creativity of Syria’s foreign policy conduct, given economic and political isolation, has produced a favorable regional outcome for Syria. Hezbollah political accommodation in Lebanon, friendly Iraq, strategic and economic relations with Iran, good relations with Turkey. Regional realities and Syria’s carefully crafted web of interests can not be erased by military threats, those threats have emboldened and tightened the regional net effect in Syria’s favor. So how can one calculate the legitimacy of a regional role?...definatly not in threatening words, but based on outcome.

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