Sunday, September 5, 2010

Syria’s Involvement in Palestinian Affairs: An Inavitable Role

As expected, 11 Palestinian factions in addition to Hamas have announced, from Damascus, their boycott of current peace negotiations between PNA's Mahmoud Abbas and Natenyahu, predicting its doom. During the first round of negotiations, that ended last week in Washington, there was an increase of inflamed rhetoric in Syrian and Iranian newspapers concerning "disgrace" and "loss of the remainder of Palestinian rights" in these negotiations. While most Arab countries view these latest negotiations with some optimism, Syria positioned itself again on a particular platform , closely resembling that of Iran and Hezbollah. The question becomes: How much of Syria's negative reaction to the negotiations is to contradict and downsize Egypt? How much of it is a reaction to the pressure exercised by the Lebanese authority against Palestinian arms in Lebanon (Ahmad Jibreel faction)? How much is to reassert the value of Syria's role in "any" peace negotiations in the region? And how much of Syria's position is involuntary?

All those factions that decry the illegitimacy of Abbas's claim that he is representing the Palestinian people, carry a political weight. This political weight is managed by Syria. Palestinian personel, their whereabouts and contacts, is closely monitored in Damascus. One can safely assume that the timing and the content of Mishaal's announcements from Damascus are thoroughly discussed between Syrian and Palestinian officials.

Characterizing Syria's involvement in Palestinian affairs thru Hamas and others, as a political card in Syria's hand, is a gross understatement. For one, it leads to the false assumption that this relation can be dismanteld given that the appropriate price can be offored to Syria. The other false assumption would be that one can isolate Syria's role in Palestinian affairs from Syria's interest in a malleable Lebanon and Syria's interest in a friendly Iraq.

Declaring the defense of "Arab Rights" as Syria has done over the past 40 years, has created an expectation parameter, noticable and measured by all the politically relavent groups in Syria. This parameter shaped Syria's proclaimed role in the region as the defender of Palestinian rights of return and land. This parameter is at the same time independent from any pragmatism expressed by one Syrian official or another. No one, in the current Syrian political configuration can overide or undermine the interlocked relation between Syria and the proclaimed Palestinian and Arab rights, as it has defined and informed Syrian foreign policy for over 40 years.

Syria was able to manage its involvement in Palestinian affairs, especially after Arafat's death. Syria extended its perspective on Palestinian concerns to third parties like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Iran and Turkey in the last 10 years. Syria kept its pressure on Egypt with regards to the terms of a Palestinian - Palestinian reconciliation (The Egyptian Paper 2010).

In short, 400,000 Palestinian refugees residing in Syria do affect Syria's position from the peace negotiations. Palestinian militants in Syria and Lebanon, not represented in the peace negotiations, do affect Syria's position from the peace negotiations. Syria's strategic allience with Iran has a Palestinian focal point, and hence the congruence with the Iranian position from the negotiations is vital. Syria's own definition of its "Defense of Arab Rights", which created Syria's regional role in 1970s, and is now an independent ligitimacy parameter, affects Syria's position from the negotiations. As one Syrian official said: "even if we wanted to disengage from Palestinian affairs..Palestinian affairs will not disengage the Syrians".

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