Daniel Levy on “Draft Israeli-Syrian Peace Deal Revelation”


This is a guest post by Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation as well as Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation
An Informal Diplomatic Surge: Draft Israeli-Syrian Peace Deal Revealed
As Secretary Rice continues her swing through the Middle East, pointedly avoiding Damascus, journalist Akiva Eldar today revealed that two years of informal meetings have produced a draft text for an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.
The full text can be read here and the story here.
While neither is as detailed nor dramatic as the Geneva Initiative model Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, the new text exposed in Haaretz goes another step in demystifying the parameters of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace.
Also this week, former officials and negotiators from Israel, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, the Gulf, the US and Europe met in Madrid to mark the 15th anniversary of the conference convened by Jim Baker and the grown up Bush after the first Iraq war. So the vacuum created by the administration’s dogged insistence on military escalation combined with diplomatic docility continues to be filled by unofficial peace initiatives.
Eldar’s piece in Haaretz details a series of meetings between the former Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and ex-Ambassador Alon Liel and US-based associate of the Syrian leadership, Ibrahim Suleiman, mediated and hosted by European government officials.
The talks took place between January 2004 and the summer of 2006. The governments in both Damascus and Jerusalem have denied that the talks received any official blessing. It does seem that this was an exploratory back channel that probably got closer to leadership circles on the Syrian than the Israeli side.
The talks themselves dealt with the four pillars that would need to be addressed in any future Israeli-Syrian negotiation: security, water, normalization and borders.
The main innovation in the draft text is the idea of establishing a “park” adjacent to the Lake of Tiberias on what would be the new (old) Syrian side of the border. The park area would guarantee continued Israeli freedom of access to what is the most disputed territorial component of any future border arrangement.
Other than that, the paper outlines a border demarcation based on the 1967 lines, the establishment of demilitarized and reduced military presence zones, provisions for early warning stations and international security oversight, water use arrangements, and a timetable for full withdrawal and full peace.
The Israeli media has been abuzz all day with speculation regarding this new peace plan as it follows a period of intense debate on whether Israel should continue to adhere to the American veto of engaging with Damascus or whether Israel should explore the negotiation option that Syrian President Assad has been suggesting.
Several senior Israeli ministers have argued in favor of the latter.
Re-engaging on the Israeli-Syrian track would of course be in line with the US “New Diplomatic Offensive” recommended by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. President Bush’s rejection of a diplomatic surge almost guarantees the failure of the American mission in Iraq and further undermines US credibility and capacity to lead and build alliances in the broader Middle East.
We have just marked the seventh anniversary since the last Israeli-Syrian political negotiations, hosted by President Clinton at Shepherdstown.
Four senators (Dodd, Kerry, Nelson, Specter) recently visited Damascus and heard firsthand of the Syrian willingness to constructively engage on the Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian issues. But President Bush seems determined to escalate on the Syrian front, as elsewhere, and to forego diplomatic solutions.
If the serious thoughtful diplomatic recommendations of the ISG wise elders and the cautioning of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against escalation and in favor of diplomacy are in a language that the President does not understand, then maybe he should turn to his own preferred sources — even in the Bible, seven lean years were enough.
— Daniel Levy


10 comments on “Daniel Levy on “Draft Israeli-Syrian Peace Deal Revelation”

  1. Winnipeger says:

    i second mp’s comments. it truly is amazing. folks spend months demigoging israel and then nobody has anything to say about this positive development reported in the israeli press.
    my guess is that some contributors here may be disappointed. after all, when this becomes reality who will they accuse of genocide?
    israel is a very convenient scapegoat – as the jews have been throughout history. when a comprehensive peace agreement in the middle east becomes reality, some folks here will have to find another bogeyman.


  2. MP says:

    It always amazes that genuinely good and hopeful news gets so little comment on these comments. Mr. Levy, thank you for bringing this development to our attention.


  3. pauline says:

    Remember the words of President Carter:
    “And any member of Congress who’s looking to be re-elected couldn’t possibly say that they would take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians, or that they would insist on Israel withdrawing to international borders, or that they would dedicate themselves to protect human rights of Palestinians — it’s very likely that they would not be re-elected.”


  4. bAkho says:

    Bush has consistently failed to utilize the State Department and diplomacy throughout his administration. Is Rice in place to bring diplomacy to bear on foreign relations? Or is Rice there to freeze out any opposing opinions to the Cheney Cabal from reaching the president? Rice is the least effective Secretary of State in my memory and she has serious credibility problems.


  5. Dan Kervick says:

    I won’t comment on the substance of the negotiations and the plan outlined. But hopefully the public revelation of the mere existence of the talks will help get things moving.
    Bush and Rice have made several statements lately that suggest that they are afraid to negotiate with Syria and Iran because they believe they are in a weak position, and believe suggesting talks now will make them look like supplicants. They say they need to be in a stronger position. (Bush is all about “strong”.)
    The problem with that approach is that until they open up a diplomatic initiative, the US position will continue to degrade and will never reach the magical strength threshold.
    So let’s hope the Israeli/Syrian talks give Bush some cover. He doesn’t need to reject talks with Syria to show his domestic supporters that he is standing strong against the enemies of Israel – not if Israel itself is willing to talk with those enemies.


  6. Carroll says:

    They want to peel Syria away from Iran and Lebanon.
    Their problem is bigger than that though…so seems like a finger in the dike to me.
    There hasn’t been anything “official” about peace to come out of Israel or the US since we bought off Egypt for them.
    But this will be something for everyone to talk about for a week or so.
    If I ever see anything official I will get excited.


  7. Pissed Off American says:

    Theres a degree of irony here that bears notice. It seems Jordan and Syria are the only two countries that are currently accepting refugees from Iraq. Yet Bush refuses to actively engage Syria in helping to solve this total disaster in Iraq. So, while Bush is nattering some insane horseshit about the “Iraqis owing us a debt of gratitude”, Syria is the country that is actually acting humanely towards the victims of Bush’s misadventure in Iraq.


  8. rich says:

    See, this is why I like Israel.
    I get the distinct impression sometimes that the US has been outmaneuvered left right and sideways.
    You’d wanta believe they were working together, in tandem, just for competency’s sake, but it just doesn’t seem plausible.
    In some ways the talks with Syria were no surprise, esp w/murmurs in the news of parallel diplomatic contacts with Iran. And Israel certainly exploited the US’s larger footprint with its full-scale assault on Hezbollah, brilliantly. In the short term.
    I’m sure we’ll hear neocons and pundit PR flacks try to claim this was the ultimate purpose all along. The valiant Sir Bush, driving a desperate Assad to the bargaining table. It’sa lotta bull. Assad & Iran are at the bargaining table because there’s much to be gained, and at our expense, since we’re in the most weakened and vulnerable position.


  9. Dennis says:

    If the punch bowl gets “spiked”, and it will, it will be Bush who does it.
    How much longer isit going to take for anyone, someone, anybody on the mainstream media or even some brave soul in Congress (if there is one) to say to the American public, “Bush does not now have, nor has he ever had ANY intention of withdrawing from the Middle-East. His is a plan to keep the American military tied up there forever.”
    This is the plan! This is what’s happening.
    And it isn’t spoken up front because of fear that the American people would then be out in the streets in an upheaveal and the Bush administration and Congress know it.
    You don’t have to be a blind conservative not to see it, just an ignorant one to deny it.


  10. Den Valdron says:

    Colour me impressed.
    And let’s cross our fingers that the Bush administration doesn’t set out to screw it up.


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