Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Syrian-Israeli Negotiations

Do Negotiations Mean a Chance for Peace?

The logic of established patterns of behavior creates a set of expectations. For example, when countries involved in a sustained conflict decide to commence peace talks, such an act suggests that they believe that there is some chance for success. However, there are circumstances in which negotiations for peace have little or nothing to do with that objective. I am afraid that this is the case with the new round of negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Before the recent sensational announcement on talks between Israel and Syria, Israel was already involved in two sets of negotiations which have little or no connection with the achievement of any substantial serious agreement. In the given political circumstances, and despite the fanfare, there is no chance of any agreement between Israel and Syria, just as there is no chance of any permanent cease fire between Israel and the Hamas in the Gaza strip, and just as there is no chance of any comprehensive agreement between Israel and Palestine as a result of the current talks in Jerusalem.

Is it likely that ostensibly serious players in the international arena really invest so much energy in what are actually bogus negotiations? You might think that major powers would be embarrassed when it turns out that this much ado had nothing to do with peace. They might even be concerned at the loss of their own credibility. Well, Bush’s Annapolis “peace this very year” ploy should lay any doubts on this account to rest. Israel, the United States, with the cooperation of an increasingly isolated segment of the Palestinians, are involved in this charade for the ‘nth time.

Bush is not serious about peace. Meanwhile, the existence of horrific, desperate conditions for the people experiencing the conflict on the ground, are just as often as not, no more than golden opportunity for the public relations spinners to do their thing. The rich and the mighty can play hypocritically at “bringing peace” with little fear of negative consequences. They are able to disregard negative consequences when it becomes clear that the mission remains unaccomplished. Meanwhile, the repressive status quo remains in place with its devastating results for the people of the region.

We owe a word to friends who feel that we are unfair and cannot afford to be too choosy when it comes to peace initiatives. This argument is based on the “optimistic” assertion that it is better to talk than to fight. In order to bask in the glow of this kind of optimism, we are supposed to suspend our better judgment regarding the real motives behind this outbreak of negotiations. We are told to get real and respond positively to positive events. But we had this very same argument just a few months ago with those who asked that we reserve judgment before coming out against Annapolis. We must however, for our part, continue to relate to the politics of Annapolis and to the politics of the Turkish sponsored Syrian-Israel negotiations with a refusal to buy erzatz goods. These so-called diplomatic initiatives have one main purpose: to isolate Teheran.

“War is (indeed) the continuation of politics,” but it is also true that bogus negotiations are most often the continuation of preparations for war, or simply a convenient smokescreen for the continuation of the status quo. Sadly enough it is quite easy to play on the emotions of the people who sincerely hope for peace. For the uninitiated onlooker it is sometime difficult to perceive that the negotiations are really a form of camouflage for threats.

The Turkish Connection

The Turkish government has acquired a role in kind of farce for the same reason that Egypt is “mediating” between Hamas and Israel. Egypt has squandered its own prestige in order to placate Israeli whims, while Israel insists that it is not negotiating and will never negotiate with Hamas, even for a cease fire. After Egypt suffers the indignities of helping Israel to perpetuate the fraud that it is not negotiating with Hamas and actually comes up with a reasonable compromise, Israel, the “non-negotiator” sends the Egyptians back to Hamas with another package of new demands. Some of these are off the wall like demanding the return of Gilead Shalit as a pre-condition for a cease fire - when everyone knows that the negotiations regarding Shalit have been long mired in a disagreement about the composition of the Palestinian prisoners to be released. Hamas, which is supposed to act like a gangster earns respect by showing responsible good will. But Israel has its nose in the air and keeps talking about an impending invasion. The Egyptians know quite well that without Israeli willingness to reach a cease fire they are on a fool’s errand. On the surface, it makes Egypt appear as an important factor in the region. In fact, it demonstrates Egypt’s abject conformance to Israeli whims. But what some country’s leadership will do for a moment of glory, even when the moment must turn sour, quickly, very quickly.

The Turkish government wants to be considered a regional power. It believes that it can eventually distance itself from responsibility when the Israel-Syrian talks break down. But Turkey will not gain any prestige. Israel which has no intention of serious negotiations on the Golan, has already issued its real demand, a radical revision of Syria’s regional and international status. Syria will not get close to a clod of earth of its own territory until it will convince Israel and the United States that it has turned its back on its current association with Iran and Hezballa.

A Slavish Show of Independence

There are some commentators who are overwhelmed by the fact that the Israeli initiative comes without specific Washington blessing. This is even considered in some quarters as proof of Israeli independence. In truth, Israel is out to win a prize for its patron by showing Washington that it can use its regional strength and acumen to pull off something that Bush desires but which his advisers consider impossible. Washington considers Israel a strategic ally and a strategic partner. This partnership includes Israel’s right to sacrifice itself as a surrogate for the United States, up to and including Israel’s “right” to provoke Iran into a regional conflagration. Thus Israel is relatively independent in choosing the means to achieve results desired by the United States. This is especially true when the major partner is a walking political cadaver like George Bush.

And If Peace Wins Through

There are those who suggest that we desist from analyzing Israeli and United States machinations. They argue that we are back tracking on our traditional support for peace between the parties. However, If Israel is actually forced to really relinquish its control of the Golan, we will throw flowers at the retreating troops and see this as another indication that the occupation must end on all fronts for a stable peace. But this is not what is happening nor is there, unfortunately, any reason for assuming that this is happening.