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December 01, 2010 Edition 3

A Syrian perspective
Imad Moustapha

Two important developments took place in November that will leave an indelible impact on the peace process (or lack thereof) in the Middle East.

Articles in this edition
American public opinion and the Middle East peace process - John Zogby
The real issue is political leadership - David Pollock
Consistent support - Ghassan Khatib
The iron wall - Tamar Hermann
First, the US offered Israel an unprecedented bribe for simply agreeing not to undermine the prospects of resuming talks with the Palestinians for a mere 90 days. In return for extending the moratorium on building settlements in the West Bank--that excludes Jerusalem--the US administration has committed itself to providing Israel with both the wherewithal to further consolidate its occupation of Arab territories, and a guarantee to oppose any attempt to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. In the long annals of US acquiescence to Israeli blackmail, this is a remarkably unique instance of amply rewarding the culprit for agreeing to partially abstain from breaking international law for a brief period of time.

Second, the Israeli Knesset passed a resolution that will prevent any Israeli government from evacuating the occupied East Jerusalem and Syrian Golan without a general referendum. Given the stark shift to the right in the Israeli body politic, one immediately realizes that the real purpose of this resolution is to render the possibility of freeing East Jerusalem or the Golan a practical impossibility.

The implications of both actions are grave and nefarious. They only reaffirm that the Israeli government lacks both the will and the capacity to make peace with any of its neighbors.

By imposing additional constraints on the possibility of an eventual Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, the Israeli Knesset is legislating what is illegal and unlawful. By doing so, it reveals to the rest of the world the extent of Israel's obstructionist stance toward the Obama administration's peace efforts and the Mitchell mission.

Meanwhile, Syria still believes that peace should be given a chance. A paramount national objective of Syria is freeing its occupied Golan from the Israeli military occupation, and allowing the Syrian population expelled from the Golan to return to their towns, villages and homes.

For Syria, the return of the occupied Golan back to the June 4, 1967 line is non-negotiable. Complete and full withdrawal to that line is not only the basis for a just solution, but also for conducting peace talks with Israel. Negotiations would focus solely on the modalities and implementation of a peace agreement.

All parties will benefit if the return of the occupied Syrian Golan can be achieved through peaceful negotiations based on the principle of land-for-peace. However, patience has its limits, and Syria cannot be expected to wait endlessly until the other side understands that ending occupation is the only means to attain peace. With the passage of time, more and more Syrians are losing faith in the possibility of achieving this through peaceful negotiations.

For this reason, Syria insisted in the last round of Turkish-mediated indirect peace talks with Israel that it will not move toward direct talks unless Israel guarantees that the line of June 4, 1967 will be the basis for a peace agreement. Syria believes that if direct peace talks resume without guarantees for their fruitful conclusion, the repercussions for those who still believe in the possibility of a negotiated peace agreement will be devastating.

However, most importantly, Syria realizes and firmly believes that the core of the Arab-Israel conflict is the Palestinian question. Here lie two issues: Jerusalem and the right of return. It is only when an independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state is established that real peace can prevail throughout our region.

As such, the pan-Arab peace initiative remains the only available option at present.

Whereas it came as no surprise that Israel flatly rejected this peace plan, the lingering setback rests in the total incapacity of successive US administrations to comprehend the merits of this initiative and, in turn, utilize their leverage on Israel to seriously consider it.

Until this happens, if ever, Syria believes that all available options should be pursued to guarantee our inalienable right: the return of the land to its rightful owners.-Published 1/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Imad Moustapha is Syrian ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC.
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