... and Syria wants all the Golan

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

If there were a Middle East prize for the most consistent policy on Arab-Israeli peace, Syria would be the undisputed winner. For a generation, Syria's requirement hasn't budged: Israel must return all the strategic Golan Heights, occupied in 1967, for peace.

"Syria's 'red lines' [nonnegotiable points] are the same as they have been for 25 years," says Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "First, [President Hafez al-Assad's] pride and Syria's national pride must be protected; second, that he gets every inch of the Golan back."

Both Syrians and Israelis have compelling reasons for making peace now. From the Syrian point of view, analysts say, these include Mr. Assad's age and his desire to pave the way for his chosen successor, son Bashar. Assad also wants to take advantage of the opportunity to work with an Israeli leader whom Assad has called an "honest man." A peace deal, furthermore, would end Syria's isolation and open its flagging economy foreign investment.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

"Both sides realize that this is the last chance," says Murhaf Jouejati, a US-educated political scientist in Damascus. "Land-for-peace is [Assad's] guiding principle," such that for any solution "there is no victor or vanquished. This entails that Israel withdraw from all the Golan. In return, Assad seems prepared to negotiate with Israel on all its demands."

The broad outlines Syria envisions for this deal, analysts say, is the peace made between Egypt and Israel. The 1979 Camp David peace treaty returned the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, in exchange for peace. American cash compensated Israeli settlers, paid the cost of the pullout, and - at a cost of $5 billion each year - still provides massive military and economic assistance to Egypt and Israel.

Diplomats say that such a windfall for Syria is unlikely, but the dividends of peace would still be enough to reinvigorate Syria's economy.

As Syria and Israel head to the negotiating table, here is a rundown of how Syria views the issues:

*Territory. Still in dispute is to what exact line Israel would withdraw from the Golan. Syria demands a pullback to the line of June 4, 1967, the eve of the Arab-Israeli war, which put Syria on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Israel wants the final border to be based on a 1923 line drawn by colonial Britain and France, which would give Israel a 10-yard-wide strip around Galilee, one of Israel's chief sources of water.

A compromise solution is likely to fudge the issue, by recognizing Syrian sovereignty up to the shoreline while keeping Syrians from it. Diplomats in Damascus say that far more important will be permanent agreements that share the Golan's other abundant water resources.

*Security arrangements. Syria will not accept that Israel keep its electronic station on the top of Mt. Hermon in the Golan - a post that enables it to directly eavesdrop on every conversation that takes place in Damascus.

Syria also argues against Israeli demands for "early warning" stations, which could give notice of a ground offensive against Israel. Syria says that military threats these days come more from arsenals of ballistic missiles - Israel's are nuclear-tipped, and Syria's with chemical warheads - rather than tanks and infantry. US and Israeli satellites can also conduct pinpoint surveillance.

*Settlements. The Geneva Conventions and Golan-specific UN resolutions both forbid building on occupied land and require withdrawal from it. But Jewish settlements in the Golan today number 33 and are home to 17,000 Israelis.

Syria's demand is clear and uncompromising: no settlements at all.

*Normal relations. Unlike Israel's relatively warm 1994 peace with King Hussein of Jordan, Israeli wishes for "normal" ties with Syria are not particularly welcome. Syria defines peace with Israel as "not war" - a far cry from the open acceptance and friendliness that Israeli negotiators have included on their agenda.

Syrians say that the damage of five major Arab-Israeli wars are still with them. On a personal level, many take a hard line: Even if peace is agreed, they say, they don't want to see Israeli tourists in Syria and would not consider doing business with Israel - much less travel to the Jewish state.

*Lebanon. Though the Syria-Israel border has been quiet for years, Syria exerts military pressure on Israel by facilitating the Hizbullah militia's resistance to Israeli military occupation of southern Lebanon.

The presence of some 35,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon gives Damascus a controlling interest, and any Syria-Israel peace will almost certainly yield peace with Lebanon, too. Unsettling Damascus, Mr. Barak has declared that he will pull Israeli troops out of Lebanon by next July. If carried out unilaterally, the move could deprive Syria of its most effective lever against Israel to force a deal on the Golan.

So the stakes are high for Syria. "Assad can gain becoming a normal country, at a time when he is isolated, has no patron, and when the world is moving in other directions than he is able to move," says Ms. Kipper. He wants to "prepare the ground for his successor. The guys who make the war need to make the peace."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...