Five false assumptions about the Middle East
There is an increasing recognition on the part of Americans that United States policy in the Middle East must be balanced; that while our relationship with Israel must remain special, it should not be exclusive; and that while we must continue to support Israel's integrity and security, we must not support all of Israel's policies -- especially those which jeopardize our broad national interests in the area. These include moving toward an Arab-Israeli peace, containing the Soviet presence, and curbing radical Arab influence.Skip to next paragraph
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There is also a healthy dialogue today in the American press as to how to advance these interests. In this process, however, we must avoid pitfalls flowing from several false assumptions. Let me identify them and provide some clarifications.
Item one: If Israel gets off the Golan Heights, Israel will again become a target for Syrian guns. It is an historical fact that Syrian guns only started firing down upon Israelis after Israel had violated the 1948 armistice agreement by moving into the demilitarized zone created by this agreement and located at the base of the Golan Heights. Also, in violation of the agreement, Israel forced Syrian farmers cultivating the land there to withdraw.
In any case, it is clear to everyone -- including the Syrian Government -- that the only way to get the Israelis off these heights is to demilitarize the Golan, presumably under a US-Soviet guarantee. A demilitarized Golan in the context of a peace settlement is certainly more congenial to both Israel's and Syria's long-term interests than continued Israeli occupation of the Golan in a state of permanent confrontation.
Item two: Syria is unalterably opposed to peace and therefore there is no point in including Syria in the peace negotiating process. It is true that Syria helped sabotage efforts to bring about the Geneva Conference in 1977; that Syria's public rhetoric is stridently anti-US, anti-Israeli and antipeace; and that the behaviour of the Syrian representative at the UN suggests that Syria will never make peace on reasonable terms.
Yet, as one who has just served for three years in Syria, I can state that Syrian public rhetoric does not necessarily reflect Syrian policy and that President Hafez al-Assad would be prepared to involve Syria in the peace negotiating process if: (1) there were clear indications that Israel were prepared to make the necessary concessions for peace (such as withdrawing from the occupied territories, including in particular the Golan); and (2) if the Palestinian leadership, i.e., the PLO, could be brought into the process.
Item three: The Fahd peace plan is tantamount to dismantling Israel. The Fahd peace plan, as some allege, not only does not propose dismantling Israel, but is also not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. It should be understood for what it was intended to be: a Saudi alternative to the Camp David negotiating framework. In essence, it echoes the famous UN Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories in return for Arab acceptance of Israel and peace, adding a Palestinian dimension.