Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Who’s Actually Ready for Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks?
What exactly are the prospects for renewed Syrian-Israeli peace talks now?
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s has called for a new round of Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli negotations. The problem is that it is unclear whether Israelis or Syrians are still on board with the idea.
In a Reuters article about Erdogan’s proposal, some Israeli officials said they were now sceptical of Turkey’s role: Benny Begin, a Netanyahu confidant, suggested Turkey’s fierce criticism of the Israeli Gaza offensive had damaged Ankara’s role as a neutral negotiator and said any negotiations for a peace agreement would have to be conducted directly between Syria and Israel without a negotiator.
As for Syria, the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman quotes the Syrian political analyst, Sami Moubayed, who argues that the meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Erdogan shouldn’t necessarily point solely to an interest in restarting Syrian-Israeli peace talks. Rather, it highlights improved Syrian-Turkish relations (they historically had their own tensions over a disputed Turkish land grab on the Syrian-Turkish border and Syria’s harbouring of Kurdish Workers’ Party leaders). Zaman also quotes Israeli analyst Shlomo Brom, who argues that the only ostensible mediator in future talks now could be the United States.
Meanwhile recent posts by Joshua Landis, an American analyst of Syrian politics, suggest that Syria’s best strategy may be to sit back and do nothing for now.
As Landis argues, “Syria may be weak militarily but it holds many regional cards.” Right now, its position is fairly good. Saudi Arabia is making moves towards improving relation. Between improved diplomatic relations with Lebanon, and the current Lebanese political standstill, Syria hasn’t lost its foothold there either. It will also be important in internal Palestinian negotiations.
“[Syria] will likely stand firm,” Landis says, ” allowing Lebanon’s emulous factionalism to paralyse progress in forming a government. Assad can also stand back as Netanyahu and Obama play their game of chicken over settlements and the future of Palestinian land. If Obama blinks and allows Netanyahu to continue to expand Israel’s control over Palestinian land, as most expect him to do, it will be Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan — America’s allies — which will take the most heat for America’s failure.” Best to stay in the clear for now.
Meanwhile, Assad can stand by his argument of there being “no peace partner”, argues Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el. Bar’el specifically points to a Knesset bill proposed in 2008 that would require a referendum for a Golan pullout, which, he says, makes a pullout nearly impossible (see our coverage of that bill here). Now, Bar’el says, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will try to add “extra protection from expected American pressure.” For Bar’el, this signals that “Israel is neither ready nor ripe, nor does it desire to make peace with Syria.”
As an alternative to a land pullout, some analysts have toyed with the idea of making the Golan a kind of shared nature preserve. ( You can find more details about the vision for natural preserve plan here, formulated by a Syrian-American biologist. ) But given the ongoing intransigence on the political playing field, planning for parks seems far off.
Under the current conditions, does it even matter that Turkey’s ready to play referee again? And is the United States in a position to do a better job?