OSLO TWO AS FAILURE? OR WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE SYRIAN-ISRAELI SECRET NEGOTIATIONS?
On Tuesday the 16th, the Labour-Zionist (hence dovish) Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published revelations about a series of secret Israeli-Syrian negotiations involving high ranking Syrian and (retired) Israeli officials. According to the report in Haaretz, the two sides were able in talks lasting over two years to come to a substantial level of agreement on most of the outstanding issues separating the two countries. In particular, a division of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since June 1967, and annexed in 1980, was agreed in principal, with the Israelis, retaining the control of the Sea of Galilee. With most of the Golan would be turned into a park for joint Israeli-Syrian usage. The timing of the Israeli pull-out from the heights would range from five to fifteen years. As a quid pro quo for the withdrawal, Syria would disengage itself from its ties with the more radical wing of the Palestinian movement Hamas, and, would pressure the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, to de-militarize and become merely a political party. Commitments were also made about re-orienting Syrian foreign policy away from the Persia, and, for Syria to use its good offices to assist American efforts to stabilize Iraq. According to the article, an (unnamed) European mediator, involved in the talks, had discussions about the same, as high up as the Syrian foreign minister himself. According to Haaretz, both former and current Isreali Prime Minister's Sharon and Omert were informed of the ongoing talks. The talks, which last occurred in the summer of 2006, petered out, due to the fact that Tel Aviv, refused to turn these pourparler, into official negotiations (see for the above: www.dailystar.com.lb).
What is one then to make of the above episode, and, where does that leave us currently in the overall Arab-Israeli dispute? First, that the contrast with the overall evolution of the talks with those that occurred in the early 1990's which eventually resulted in the Oslo Accords, is striking. Notwithstanding the fact, that in many ways, Tel Aviv, was able to receive much of what 'official' Israeli opinion would want, sub rosa, from a settlement: phased withdrawal, joint usage of the Golan Heights, Israel retaining control of waters of the Galilee, a re-orientation by Damascus away from its alliance with Teheran, and, the radical elements of Hamas, a demilitarization of Hezbollah, Sharon and Omert, refused to authorize bringing the negotiations to an official level. The Sherlock Holmes question then raises itself...'why did not this particular dog bark'? The answer to this question is the fact that unlike the situation in the early 1990's, when American pressure, particularly under the President George Bush the Elder, was intense on Israel to negotiate with its Arab enemies, the regime of Bush the Younger has taken the opposite tack entirely. Far from even giving the pretence of being interested in pressuring Tel Aviv, in negotiating, current American policy, as operated by the National Security Council Staff, is one in which pro-Israeli, ultras, like Elliott Abrams, et. al., are entirely in control. For all intents and purposes, any American endeavor to actively and positively intervene, to foster a climate of negotiations, is conspicuous by its absence.
The upshot is, that first Sharon and now Omert, feel completely free to stall, ignore and generally make non possumus stands concerning any negotiations with Syria (and the Palestinians as well). Notwithstanding the fact, that many elements within foreign policy establishment (the admittedly mostly Labour aligned), are actively arguing for negotiations with the Assad fils, regime. Indeed, it is widely rumored within diplomatic circles both in Tel Aviv and in Washington, that any Israeli desire to even contemplate negotiations with Syria, have been vetoed in a sotto voce way by Washington. Even, if these claims are not true (which is my own opinion of the matter, for what it is worth), what it does indicate is, that Washington is seen in Tel Aviv as not in the least interested in any attempt to arrange a grand bargain with Damascus. And, that rhetorically if not in reality, 'regime change' is still seen as the preferred American policy towards the Assad regime. A policy which much of the Israeli establishment views with distrust at best. And, unfortunately, it appears that nothing, rien plus, will be done, to alleviate this unfortunate state of affairs, until Messers. Bush and Cheney, tutti quanti, are seen off the stage of power, in January 2009. Which means that the possibly dangerous stalemate from last Summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah will continue.
The following is the full text of the document reportedly drafted during secret Israeli-Syrian talks as published Tuesday in Haaretz:
"Preamble: The objective of this effort is to establish normal, peaceful relations between the governments and peoples of Israel and Syria, and to sign a treaty of peace attesting to this achievement. The treaty will resolve the four "pillars" at the core of negotiations: security, water, normalization and borders. There is to be no agreement on any single one of these issues unless and until all of these issues are resolved.
- Syrian sovereignty, based upon the June 4, 1967 line in the Golan Heights, is acknowledged by Israel. The mutually agreed upon border will be determined by both parties (and guaranteed by the US and the UN)
- Framework Agreement, Implementation and the End to the State of Belligerency. A "Framework Agreement" will address the issues of security (including early warning), water, normalization and borders. Negotiations to reach such an agreement should proceed as expeditiously:
- The state of belligerency between the parties will cease upon signature of a framework agreement between the parties, and will include the cessation of hostile actions by each party against the other.
- Application of Syrian sovereignty in the Golan Heights, the establishment of normal, bilateral diplomatic relations and the implementation of relevant provisions related to water and security will commence as soon as possible after the conclusion of a Framework Agreement but no later than the signing of a treaty of peace.
- Implementation of the Israeli withdrawal to the mutually agreed border will occur during a period (the exact time frame to be mutually agreed) from signature of the Framework Agreement.
- Peace Treaty:
- Satisfactory implementation of provisions and obligations established in the Framework Agreement will result in the signing of a peace treaty between the parties.
- Demilitarized zones will be established in the areas of the Golan Heights that Israeli forces will vacate.
- No military forces, armaments, weapons systems, or military infrastructure will be introduced into the demilitarized zones. Only a limited civil police presence will be deployed in the areas.
- Both parties agree not to fly over demilitarized zones without a special arrangement.
- The establishment of an early warning system includes a ground station on Mt. Hermon/Jabal al-Sheikh operated by the United States. http://www.dailystar.com.lb
- A monitoring and inspection and verification mechanism will be established to monitor and supervise the security agreements.
- Direct liaison between the parties will be established in order to: Create a direct, real time communication capability on security issues in order to minimize friction along the international border; Help to prevent errors and misunderstandings between the parties.
- Zones of reduced military forces will be established in Israel west of the international border with Syria and in Syria east of the Golan Heights. The respective depth of these zones (as measured in kilometers) between Israel and Syria will be according to a ratio of 1:4.
- The Parties will cooperate in fighting local and international terrorism of all kinds.
- The Parties will work together for a stable and safe Middle East, including the solution of regional problems related to the Palestinians, Lebanese and Iran.
- Israel will control the use and disposition of the water in the Upper Jordan River and Lake Tiberias.
- Syria will not interrupt or obstruct natural flow of water in either quality or quantity in the Upper Jordan River, its tributaries and Lake Tiberias.
- Syrian use of the waters of the upper Jordan River, its tributaries, and Lake Tiberias for residential and fishing purposes is recognized and guaranteed.
- In order to safeguard the water resources of the Jordan River basin, Syrian territory east of the mutually agreed border will be designated as a Park open to all and administered by Syria. The Park is to be established in the Golan Heights upon completion of the Israeli withdrawal and application of Syrian sovereignty in accordance with the treaty of peace. The park will extend from the agreed upon border eastward to a line to be determined by mutual agreement.
- Park characteristics: Park is open for tourism; it will be policed by Syrian park service personnel; the park will be free of permanent residents except for conservation and law enforcement personnel; no visa will be required for entry into park [from Israeli territory]; Syrians will issue onsite official entry permit for a nominal fee; visitors wishing to enter other Syrian territory east of the Park must have a proper visa and transit Syrian controls on park's eastern perimeter; entry to the park is valid for one day during daylight hours."