Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 12, 1999
So, Hafez el-Assad is going to do us a big favor and take the Golan Heights off our hands. It will be quiet in Lebanon, Syria will stop developing its non-conventional weaponry and missile capabilities, and we can shop in the Damascus souk. Fantastic!
However, just before we take this wild leap of faith and pay the full price, it behooves our oh-so-eager Prime Minister to set down some ground rules for the negotiations. Here are some pointers for Ehud Barak:
Preserve our pride: We keep on hearing about Arab and Syrian ‘honor’. This means that Assad can’t honorably proceed with the negotiations unless he is guaranteed what he thinks Yitzhak Rabin promised him; that Assad can’t accept anything less than what Anwar Sadat got out of Menachem Begin, etc.
Syrian ‘honor’ also means that Assad himself won’t deign to meet our leadership until he absolutely has to. Not now, that’s for sure. That is why Prime Minister Barak is scurrying off to Washington this week to meet….. Farouk a-Shaara, Syrian foreign minister.
I say, send foreign minister David Levy to meet Shaara. Or Shimon Peres. When Assad is ready to really compromise and negotiate things that are hard for *him* to give up – not just talk about what it is that Israel has to give away – I’m sure that the Syrian president will be there himself. Then, Barak should take his place opposite Assad at the negotiating table.
Syria wants a peace deal just as badly as we do, doesn’t it?
Brook no terror: If there are talks underway, violence in Lebanon against the IDF by Syrian proxies should be out of the question. If Barak doesn’t insist on this as an absolute condition of the talks, Assad will use Lebanon to squeeze us every step of the way. We know how super-sensitive public opinion is to IDF deaths in Lebanon. Syrian-encouraged, Hezbollah-executed, bloodletting in Lebanon will sap Barak’s negotiating stamina and political maneuverability.
Negotiate a Cautious Time Frame: Learn from our Oslo mistakes and spread out implementation of our treaty commitments over 25 years, not five. This time, we should really test our peace partner’s peaceful intentions over time, and insist on concrete reciprocity. Once the Damascus souk opens to Israelis, and the Syrian press debunks the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – only then we should begin dismantling our first small settlement.
Tangible quid pro quo: Aside from the predictable p.r. gimmicks that Assad is sure to throw at us, like the return of Eli Cohen’s body, drive a hard bargain on the important issues: 100 percent-and-then-some guarantee of total, long-term quiet in southern Lebanon; an end to Syria-Iran terrorist cooperation; a significant build-down of the Syrian army (or are we going to hear that this too is a matter of Syrian ‘honor’?); and a generous Israeli security presence on the Golan.
If the Golan is so important to Mr. Assad, let him concede on an issue equally important to us: water. Barak should ensure that we maintain exclusive control of the water resources along the border and in the Sea of Galilee — with charitable provisions to Syria.
And what would be so terrible about saving our towns and villages up on the Golan too? How about a 100-year lease from Syria that allows Katzrin to survive the peace?
Obtain real public support: Although we all know that elections in Syria are a controlled sham, let’s see Assad put peace with Israel to a plebiscite – just for educational purposes! I want to see the Syrian press advocate and propagandize *for* peace with Israel – something that Arafat’s press in Gaza seldom bothers with.
And at home, Prime Minister Barak should recognize that he needs a significant public majority in order to sustain deep concessions on the Golan. For this treaty, there should be no Goldfarb shenanigans, no minority votes, nothing less than a clear (Jewish) majority supporting the peace. We can’t afford any more “historic” diplomatic accords that are not backed by a preponderance of the public.
As for me, I’m planning a family trip up to the Golan, to feel and experience the place first-hand once again. Security, history, community, opportunity and all. I’m going to make an educated decision when it comes time to vote, and I’m going to need plenty convincing.