As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Syria Deal?

What I think is more interesting in Seymour Hersh's latest than the predictable Cheney comments about President Obama ("he's pro-Palestinian," etc.), is this idea that Israel will sit down and hammer out a peace agreement with Syria, returning them the Golan Heights:

A few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, (Syrian President) Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal. “We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,” Assad said. “We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.”

American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America’s willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first—and perhaps best—chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

A senior Syrian official explained that Israel’s failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world. Assad also has the support of Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,* the ruler of Qatar, said last month when I saw him in Doha that Assad must take any reasonable steps he can to keep the talks going. “Syria is eager to engage with the West,” he said, “an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued.”

Obviously, the racist Israeli Foreign Minister, who said today that concessions invite war, may prove an impediment. But I'm guessing that Obama figures he could ring up a quick victory in the Middle East peace process by moving this along. In addition, it moves Syria a little more out of Iran's orbit, which could either bring Iran along into negotiations or isolate them. And it bolsters the possibility of a broader Middle East peace process.

The President said today that he will engage in "frank discussions" with the Israeli government in moving them to the bargaining table on a two-state solution. And with Netanyahu already unfavorable on his first day as Israeli Prime Minister, he could probably use something like a Syrian deal as well. I'm glad the US is operating with what appears to be a firm hand in the region, and they shouldn't kid themselves about the stakes:

Israelis, in other words, are not on the whole nearly this nutty. Which I think makes the case that it’s important for Western governments, most of all the United States of America, to not pretend that this Israeli government is anything other than what it is. A government headed by a Prime Minister who wants to bomb Iran, who thinks he can dictate regional strategy to the President of the United States, and who opposes the creation of an independent Palestinian state backed up by a main coalition partner who rejects the concept of land-of-peace and the basic precepts of liberal democracy is just not a government you can work with as an ally. People keep saying that Netanyahu is more pragmatic than his rhetoric but if so he needs to demonstrate that pragmatism fast, or else the world will just have to hope his coalition collapse sooner rather than later.

Now, this other Hersh idea that Cheney has stay-behinds inside the US Government, I'd definitely like to hear more about that. But the Cheney stuff in this particular article are a sidelight.

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