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The Key To Peace Is The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights.
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) Jan 05, 2007
To open a door, you need a key. And to open peace talks in the Middle East, you also need a key. In the latter case the key is the Golan Heights. Captured from Syria by Israel in the June 6, 1967 Six Day War, recuperating the Heights remains a major priority for the Syrian government. Without the Golan, no peace initiative in the Middle East would have much of a chance. As an official government Syrian newspaper put it in an editorial earlier this week, "for Syria the Golan is the key."

As I was saying...

The Syrian government-run daily newspaper Ath-Thawra opined that "for Syria and its people, recovery of the Golan Heights is the overriding priority." The paper was highly critical of terms set out by the United States government for Syria to assist the U.S. in Iraq.

"American efforts to present dialogue with Syria as an act of good faith are mean-minded as Syrians are not so taken with (President George W.) Bush as to perform free services for a country that supports Israel and cynically fights against Arab rights."

President Bush has dismissed calls from the Iraq Study Group to initiate dialogue with Syria, insisting that the Baathist regime first cease what he said was allowing the smuggling of men and material to insurgents in Iraq.

For Ath-Thawra, which in effect reflects the government's thinking, the issue for Syria when it comes to the peace negotiations is the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel seized in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981. Syria and Israel remain technically in a state of war. Attempts at establishing peace talks between the two countries have consistently failed in the past. The latest efforts to initiate peace talks between Syria and Israel broke down in 2000.

"You cannot tackle the Iraq question independently of the other issues in the region, because the root cause of all the problems is Israel's occupation of Arab lands", the paper said.

In the Middle East, politicians and the newspapers representing them tend to speak almost in code. One sometimes needs to read between the lines and then consult tea leaves to understand what those words really mean.

In the case of the above paragraph, here is the translation in plain English:

"You cannot tackle the Iraq question independently..." means that no matter how hard the administration goes about trying to solve the problem in Iraq, the thorny question of the unresolved Arab-Israeli dispute will continue to unsettle the rest of Middle East.

In other words, the article in the Syrian newspaper is a reminder to the United States that the unresolved Palestinian issue will continue to hamper any chance for peace in the Middle East.

"As far as Syria is concerned, the recovery of the Golan Heights is the overriding priority," went on to say the newspaper. The paper was echoing words already spoken by President Bashar Assad on a visit to Russia earlier this month. "They (the Americans) have to differentiate between a dialogue and giving instructions. We are open to a dialogue, but we will not take instructions," Assad said.

Syria finds itself somewhat in a position of strength in the Middle East today. Given its alliance with Iran; its power of influence over Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militia; its control over a number of Lebanese militias; and its control over various Palestinian groups, the government in Damascus is able to dictate, more or less, its terms. Or Syria can retreat in its corner and pout. And a pouting Syria means one that can use the above mentioned resources -- Hezbollah, the militias, etc -- to work in any way it chooses.

SyriaComment.com, Joshua Landis' respected and authoritative blog, reports that British journalist Patrick Seale, author of the biography of Syria's former President Hafez Assad, father of current President Bashar Assad, said Sunday morning that the latest Syrian peace overtures toward Israel were serious.

Seale, who is believed to be close to the Syrian regime, told Israel Radio in an interview that Assad wants a diplomatic pact because he fears the anarchy in the Middle East, which he believes has been caused by the failure of U.S. policy.

Indeed, failure of U.S. policy or not, the Middle East has never been in as precocious a situation as it is today. President Bush may decide to send 20,000-40,000 more troops to Iraq in an effort to stabilize the country or at least the capital, Baghdad.

But for President Bashar Assad, who lives closer to the conflict, has reason to be worried. The civil war in Iraq, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the renewal of the civil war in Lebanon, are all issues that Syria fears could drag it into a renewed conflict.

This would explain Syria's interest in opening the door to peace in the Middle East. But for that to happen there is need for a key. And that key sits atop a plateau called the Golan Heights. -- (Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

Source: United Press International

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