Powered by WebAds

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why not negotiate with Assad

Former JPost editor Bret Stephens has a lengthy article in the current issue of Commentary in which he recounts the history of Israeli (and American) negotiations with Syria and suggests that either country engaging with the Syrians is not a great idea (Hat Tip: Instapundit). Here's his bottom line:
Though the Clinton administration’s Mideast forays are now remembered as a hallowed period of robust and engaged American diplomacy, their achievements were relatively meager: The only lasting peace to emerge from the various processes was the one between Israel and Jordan. And that particular agreement demanded hardly any process at all, but rather was the result of a strategic decision by King Hussein to which the Rabin government all but instantly acquiesced. Fundamentally, it was a gentlemen’s agreement, and its success rested on the personal character of its leading decision makers.

Elsewhere, diplomacy proved to be an exercise in frustration and diminishing returns, purchased at a considerable cost to U.S. diplomatic capital and Israeli self-respect. By the time the elder Assad was through, he had succeeded in showing the back of his hand to an American President, his secretary of state, and an Israeli prime minister, among others. He did this while pocketing the Israeli concession of the mythical June 4 line and accustoming Israeli leaders to the idea that a “peace” with him would involve no real grant of legitimacy to the Jewish state, no hard guarantees of security, and no dramatic regional realignments of the kind that would make his frigid peace worth having. And he did all this while maintaining active and not-so-clandestine relations with terrorist groups, from Hizballah to Hamas, which he did little to rein in and occasionally unleashed as part of a self-serving Jekyll-and-Hyde routine. Even Yasir Arafat, who did occasionally jail members of Hamas, looks somewhat better in comparison.

Put simply, while the peace process expanded Hafez Assad’s options, the same process reduced Israel’s. That goes double for his son, who would enter into a peace process with his father’s achievements as a baseline from which to seek further concessions. [Former US ambassador to Israel Martin] Indyk may believe that the mere resumption of a process without a serious expectation of a peace deal is some sort of achievement, but he fails to consider how it puts Assad in the enviable position of never having to engage that process with even minimal good faith. Which, in turn, amounts to an inducement for bad faith. How either the United States or Israel might benefit from this is a mystery.

Some of Indyk’s other assumptions are also open to question....

As for Iran, it is by no means clear that Syrian engagement in a process would have any effect on the Tehran-Damascus alliance. Indeed, if the past five years of international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are an indication, Tehran has learned that a sham interest in diplomacy is an excellent way to play for time and reap unreciprocated concessions without actually conceding on fundamentals. Why shouldn’t it draw the same conclusion regarding the prospect of Syrian diplomacy with Israel? Tehran has no dearth of incentives to maintain close ties with Damascus. Syria is its bridge to the Arab world, particularly its clients in Gaza and Lebanon. Syria is also its ally against a nascent democracy in Iraq that seems increasingly unlikely to succumb to the threats of its neighbors.

Of course, there is always the chance that Assad might actually say yes to a deal with Israel that allows him to recover the Golan Heights. In that case, Israelis might thrill to pictures of a handful of their diplomats staffing a bunker-like embassy in Damascus, as they do in Cairo and Amman, and the Obama administration would also surely see it as a diplomatic triumph.

At the same time, however, it is easy to imagine a scenario in which an ostensibly “demilitarized” Golan, under Syrian sovereignty, is infiltrated by Hizballah while Syria uses demilitarization either as an alibi to do nothing or as a pretext for the re-militarization of the area. If this seems far-fetched, note that Israel is now prepared to acquiesce to a large Egyptian troop presence in the Sinai in order to stop Hamas’s weapons-smuggling into Gaza. By such or similar means, Syria really could transform a deal with Israel into yet another phase in its proclaimed “liberation of Palestine.”

Such considerations all lead to a single conclusion: No “process” between Syria and Israel under U.S. auspices is currently worth having. The regime in Damascus has offered no indication that it is prepared to accept Israel’s right to exist, or respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, or abandon its links to terrorism or to Iran. Instead, for nearly two decades, Syria has offered only indications to the contrary, indications that have multiplied since Bashar Assad came to power almost nine years ago. For Israel to engage in such a process risks its status as a sovereign, self-respecting nation, one that is nobody’s fool. And for the United States to do so risks the diminishment of its status as a serious power and a reliable ally.
Read the whole thing.

The United States is sending two diplomats to Damascus to meet with Assad this week: Dan Shapiro and Jeff Feltman. In Thursday's JPost, Herb Keinon argues that this doesn't mean that there is or is going to be a thaw in US relations with Syria.
If the envoys don't like what they hear, then - just as happened with Durban 2 - the US might simply conclude that the conversation was going nowhere and say there was nothing more to talk about until Damascus changed its tune. But if they hear something pleasant to their ears, Feltman and Shapiro may hold a series of talks with the Syrians, or the US may want to ratchet up the level of the diplomats conducting the conversation.

Indeed, its interesting that the decision to send a delegation started with sending Feltman and Shapiro, a relatively mid-level delegation.

Had the US wanted to signal a serious thaw in relations, Mitchell - or even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - would be making the pilgrimage.

Feltman and Shapiro represent not a thaw, but a de-icing. Whether relations freeze over again will depend very much on what they hear from Assad.
Yes, but when the US 'walked out' on Durban II, it left a huge concession to the 'human rights council' on the table. I'd rather not see anything like that happen again.

My kids usually listen to me when I tell them not to touch hot stoves. I wish the Obama administration would do the same.


At 7:00 PM, Blogger M. Simon said...

You don't get it.

We elected a Muslim Communist to the Presidency.

To have any hope other than that he will be held in check by Congress or if it comes to it: the American people is unwise.

You are fortunate to have Benji as your leader. Make sure he holds his ground. The Obamunist has nothing for him.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The chinless ophthalmologist isn't stupid. He hasn't budged an inch and seen the Americans and the Israelis come running to him. If you were Syria's dictator, why give up what has worked for you? The others have dropped the price they're willing to pay to get Damascus' favors and in such a market, just jack up your price. And the Syrians know desperate customers when they see 'em.


Post a Comment

<< Home