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Sami Moubayed

Damascus, Syria

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst and historian based in Damascus, Syria. Moubayed is the author of "Damascus Between Democracy and Dictatorship (2000)" and "Steel & Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria 1900-2000 (2006)." He has also authored a biography of Syria's former President Shukri al-Quwatli and currently serves as Associate Professor at the Faculty of International Relations at al-Kalamoun University in Syria. In 2004, he created Syrianhistory.com, the first and online museum of Syrian history. He is also co-founder and editor-in-chief of FORWARD, the leading English monthly in Syria, and Vice-President of Haykal Media. Close.

Sami Moubayed

Damascus, Syria

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst and historian based in Damascus, Syria. more »

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The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria

Syria finally decided on November 25 to attend the U.S. peace conference in Annapolis. This came only after the U.S. incorporated the Golan Heights issue into the conference agenda, after Syrian protests that it would not attend unless the occupied Heights were on the conference table. Had Syria not chosen to attend, the conference would have been doomed to fail. The reason is simple: the Americans cannot talk peace in the Middle East without Syria.

Not much has changed in terms of Syrian demands towards the Middle East peace process since Madrid, 1991. I’ll first detail the story here at length, because I believe it to be a prelude to what will happen at Annapolis on November 27.

On March 6, 1991, after the liberation of Kuwait, President George Bush Sr. gave his famed victory speech, saying: “We must do all that we can to close the gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The Syrians believed him and showed enthusiasm towards what came to be known as the Madrid Peace Conference. The Israelis, led at the time by Yitzhak Shamir, did not. They were distracted by an international conference, co-sponsored by the U.S.S.R., which would bring them face-to-face with all of the Arab countries.

Seven days later, Bush sent his Secretary of State James Baker to meet President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus. Before the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Edward Djerjian advised, “Nobody can predict how long this meeting’s going to last. So be careful how much you drink. Assad will not leave the room. If you drink too much, the forces of nature will overcome you!”

After the meeting, Baker told the U.S. President, “Assad gave me the clear impression that he is serious about pursuing peace, but that he will be a tough nut to crack!” Assad told his American guest: “A peace conference should not be convened just once and then disappear. The conference should be re-convened whenever necessary.” Assad insisted that the U.N. co-sponsor the event, but Baker replied, “Mr. President, the Israelis will not accept the United Nations—they hate the United Nations.” Baker promised a U.S. guarantee to get the Israelis to withdraw from the Golan. The Syrians went along with that—and the rest is history.

Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara went to Madrid and called on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza, and South Lebanon. Shamir—uninterested—replied with a thundering speech, accusing Syria of being a state sponsor of terrorism. Shara was furious. He took out a newspaper clipping (given to Walid Moualim by a member of the Lebanese delegation), dated 1948, with a picture of the young Shamir under the bold words WANTED. Shara said, “I will just show you, if I may, an old photograph of Mr. Shamir. Why was this picture distributed? Because he was WANTED. He helped, as I recall, in the assassination of Count Bernadotte, the U.N. mediator in Palestine in 1948. He kills peace-makers!”

I believe Annapolis will follow a similar pattern. The Syrians did not want to create a problem at the conference but the Israelis, uninterested in peace, intimidated them to such an extent that they set aside their prepared speech and resort to the famed WANTED one. True, the Syrians will be represented at Annapolis by Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Miqdad, but they are very skeptical about what the Americans have to offer. Ehud Olmert is as uncomfortable with the conference as Shamir was in 1991. This time it is not Shara at Annapolis, but his trusted protégé, Dr Miqdad, a seasoned Syrian statesman who served as his country’s ambassador to the U.N. in 2003-2006.

The real difference, however, is that unlike President Bush Sr., this U.S. administration is not interested in a better Middle East. The Syrians have not forgotten that less than three months ago, the Israelis violated Syrian airspace on September 6, 2007. They claimed to have targeted a Syrian radar post, with help of the United States.

Shortly after the international community condemned the strike, Ehud Olmert said he was ready to start unconditional peace talks with the Syrians. He had made the same offer back on July 11, 2007, on the Saudi channel al-Arabiyya, saying: "I am ready to sit with you and talk about peace, not war. I will be happy if I could make peace with Syria. I do not want to wage war against Syria." This proposal was echoed by President Shimon Peres on September 18, who added, "We are ready for dialogue with Damascus."

In the wake of the air incursion, Israel also transferred troops out of the Golan Heights to the Negev to defuse rising tensions on the border. Hours before the Israeli planes crossed the Syrian border, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, delivered a message from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that troop deployment on the border with Syria would be reduced to prevent war, insisting that Israel was not interested in war with the Syrians. It became clear to the Syrians on September 6 that Solana had been tricked by the Israelis, who were lying about their intentions vis-à-vis provocation with Syria.

In a speech in July 2007, before the attack, President Bashar al-Assad re-emphasized his country's willingness for peace, reminding that the basis of any Syrian cooperation would be the borderline of June 4, 1967. He also asked for guarantees, saying that from experience in the 1990s, Syria does not trust the Israelis. "We did not trust them before the 1990s and now distrust them further." Assad asked for something similar to the agreement reached with the late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, which promised to restore the Golan Heights in full to Syria.

With September 6 in the back of their minds, the Syrians are also aware that Olmert is in a difficult position because of the less-than-satisfying results of the Israeli war with Lebanon in July-August 2006. In that war - unlike any other in Israel's history since 1948 - none of the Jewish state's objectives was met. Israel said they were invading Lebanon to rescue two Israeli soldiers whom Hezbollah had abducted. Today, more than a year later, the two soldiers remain in Hezbollah captivity. Israel said it would crush the Lebanese military group, but Hezbollah remains alive and kicking and, according both to its own reports and to those of Western observers, has managed to rearm itself with an arsenal larger than the one it possessed before the war.

Olmert understands all of these difficult realities, and so does the Israeli public, which holds him and his team accountable for the ill-fated Lebanon adventure. With such a defeat on his record, the Israeli prime minister cannot possibly talk peace with the Syrians - or with anyone else. He needs to obtain his war medals to "right the wrongs" done to his image in Lebanon. Only after waging a war - and either winning or not losing it - can Olmert project himself as a peacemaker. That was the prevailing mood in Damascus this summer.

U.S. President George W. Bush vetoed peace with Syria in the aftermath of the occupation of Iraq in 2003: "Syria has to wait," he said, until all other pending issues are solved in the Middle East. That was seconded by both prime minister Ariel Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, neither of whom was interested in talks with the Syrians.

This lack of interest continued until 2006. Then Israel suddenly seemed to change course with regard to Syria. Public opinion in Israel shifted. Many believe that only Syria can secure Israel's border with Lebanon. Making peace with the Syrians, the Israelis now believed, seemed all the more logical since it automatically would mean a calm front with Hezbollah.

Early this year, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz said secret talks had taken place in Europe between Israelis and a private Syrian citizen. In April, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to Damascus with a message to Assad from Olmert. The Israeli press went into a frenzy revisiting the Syrian-Israeli peace track. The "Syria story" made headlines in the Israeli press, and quotes from Syrian newspapers began appearing in leading Israeli dailies to monitor Syria's readiness for peace.

One reason for this about-face was domestic pressure on the Israeli prime minister. His Kadima-Labor cabinet seemed on the verge of collapse. The Winograd Report on the summer war nearly destroyed his career, because its findings implicated some of his top officials in wrongdoings during the Lebanon war of 2006. The premier needed to divert Israeli attention - fast - to steal the limelight from former prime minister Ehud Barak, who was making a political comeback in Israel.

The Syrians were, and still are, unimpressed by the Israeli conditions for peace, which included halting Syria's cooperation with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

All of these recent events help explain why the Syrians are worried as they head off to Annapolis. Countries interested in peace don’t go around flying into their neighbor’s airspace without permission, especially when the two countries are in a state of war. They don’t fire missiles into other countries’ territory. The last time I checked, this was called ‘war-making’ rather than ‘peace-making.’ But despite all that, the Syrians have been committed to peace since Madrid and are willing to try Annapolis. But it’s doubtful that Annapolis will lead to a breakthrough, with George W. Bush in the White House, and Ehud Olmert in power in Tel Aviv.

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Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Anonymous on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: HIO
Pal Rider on The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria: Adios: You
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