Israel Resource Review 21st December, 1999

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Eye on Syria:
Timely Report on Developments
Vol. 1 No. 1
Prepared by Steve Rodan,
head of MENL, Middle East Newsline

Welcome to Eye on Syria, a timely report on developments in Syria as well as a review of pertinent articles in the Syrian official press as well as what is written about Syria. The service is meant to illuminate Westerners to one of the most closed societies in the world. The report is based on facts and analysis culled from numerous Syrian and Arab newspapers as well as diplomatic sources by correspondents in Jerusalem, London and Cairo.

First, a quick look at the Syrian media. Syrian newspapers, radio and television are all owned and controlled by the regime. Nothing appears in the media without the approval of authorities. Broadcasters are given text to read and have no room to improvise.

Syria has one radio station, television station and news service. They are leaden and dull but they faithfully reflect propaganda from Damascus. Slogans are repeated ad nauseum in a reflection of the highly ideological regime. We will spare subscribers of the rhetoric and, instead, give the main points of the media.

There are four Syrian dailies and they are remarkably similar. Al Baath is the newspaper of the ruling Baath Party. It focuses on so-called popular issues, largely the activities of the party around the country. Al Thawra is the ideological organ of the Syrian regime. Tishrin is the government daily. The Syrian Times is the English-language daily.

Quote of the day:

"The issue of the Lebanese resistance is a matter for Lebanon to discuss." --Syrian Foreign Minister A-Shaara rejects calls for Syria to crack down on Hizbullah military campaign against Israel.

Today in Syria

  1. Assad Losing Control of Family Feud
  2. Bashar Assad Expected to be Given High Post
  3. Syria Links Lebanese Talks to Israeli Withdrawal
  4. Syria Admits Killing of Major Islamic Leader
  5. Iraq, Syria Agree to Reopen Pipeline
  6. Iran: We Support return of Golan
  7. Syria Allows Criticism of Peace Talks

Assad Losing Control of Family Feud

Syrian President Hafez Assad, growing increasingly weak, is spending much of his time as peacemaker to quell the feud within his family over the grooming of his elder son Bashar as heir.

Intelligence sources in Washington, Tel Aviv and Paris said the difficulties faced by Assad in grooming his son as successor is pushing the president to win the Golan Heights in a treaty with Israel. They said this is the main reason Assad decided to resume talks with Israel last week.

"Until now," an authoritative U.S. defense source said, "Assad felt that even if Syria wouldn't get the Golan back, he could still ensure that Bashar takes over. Now, he's no longer sure."

Sources said the most intense opposition to Bashar, a congenial British-trained opthamologist, appears to be within the family and leading members of Assad's Alawite sect.

"Clearly, something is wrong in the family, particularly among the children," a source with excellent ties to the Syrian leadership said. "Assad has no choice but to intervene and make peace."

The sources said Assad has failed to win his son a seat in the Baath Party inner leadership, a prerequisite for any president. They said a party congress to consider the issue is scheduled for spring of 2000.

"Why the delay?" a source asked. "Assad can easily move up the date. What appears to be the case is that there is too much division in the family and this has affected the other Alawites."

The sources said the effects of the shooting of Assad's son-in-law Assaf Chawkat, head of military intelligence, in November by Assad's son, Maher, another military commander, continues to ripple through the ruling family. They said the tension is being compounded by Chawkat's wife and Assad's daughter, Bushra.

"We are dealing with a very vocal and dynamic woman, which is extremely rare among the Alawaites," a source said. "She has very strong views about the succession issue."

Chawkat is said to support the 34-year-old Bashar as successor to the president. The younger Maher is said to oppose the choice.

Lebanese sources following the succession issue said Bashar lacks determination and is "at best half-hearted" in his drive to become president. They said he made a poor impression during his visit to Paris last month during which he met French President Jacques Chirac.

The sources said Assad's health is increasingly deteriorating. The president works at most 2-3 hours a day and his mind often wanders at meetings.

They said Assad no longer travels and contributes little in meetings. They said in meetings with U.S. and other Western officials, Assad will say several words and his translator will go on for several minutes.

"It is obvious that the translator is told what to say in advance," a source said.

The problem is compounded, the sources said, by Assad's lack of capable aides. They said Assad returned the ailing Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara to his post because he couldn't find anybody else trustworthy to deal with Israeli and U.S. officials.

A-Shaara, a member of the Sunni Muslim majority, rather than Bashar, the sources said, is being employed to lobby the ruling Baath Party to support negotiations with Israel. European Union peace envoy Miguel Moratinos told Israeli officials last week that A-Shaara spent five hours trying to persuade the Baath Party's central committee to support the negotiations.

A-Shaara was said to have been slated for retirement. But Arab diplomatic sources on Dec. 21 said Assad plans to name A-Shaara as Syria's new prime minister. The London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat said the move could be announced on Monday and is meant to raise his title to that of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak by the time the two men meet near Washington on Jan. 3.

Sources said Assad hopes to obtain billions of dollars in Western and Arab aid in the wake of a peace treaty. They said a formula is being discussed in which the European Union will contribute $3 for each $1 in U.S. aid.

Eliahu Kanovsky, a professor at Bar Ilan University and regarded as one of the most prominent economists in the Middle East, said Syria wants a quick infusion of billions of dollars in Western aid similar to that Egypt received when it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

"I believe that the economic situation, which has deteriorated in recent years, is behind the expressed willingness of Syria to seek a peace agreement with Israel, hoping that this will save the situation," Kanovsky said in a study.

Bashar Assad Expected to be Given High Post

The son and heir-apparent of Syrian President Hafez Assad is expected to be appointed to a senior post, diplomatic sources said.

The sources, who monitor developments in Syria, said the president appears ready to embark on a new effort to advance the career of his son, Bashar, in a bid to ensure his succession. They said the 34-year-old Bashar is being considered to a senior government post.

That move, the sources said, will probably involve appointing Bashar to a leadership position in the ruling Baath Party. A session of the Baath Party Central Committee is not scheduled until the spring but Assad could call for an early convention.

The sources said the appointment of Bashar will probably be announced as part of a new Cabinet. Assad is expected to appointed Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara as prime minister. The London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily said on Dec. 21 that A-Shaara will keep his post at the Foreign Ministry.

The newspaper said the new government is expected to be announced before the start of the next round of Israeli-Syrian negotiations on Jan. 3. Syria has pledged that it will maintain an equal level of representation at the negotiations, the Israeli team of which is led by Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

During A-Shaara's illness in October and November, Bashar served as de facto foreign minister and was sent to Paris to hold talks with French President Jacques Chirac as well as visits to the Gulf states. Bashar is believed to have also been placed in charge of Syrian-Iranian relations, regarded as the most sensitive element in Syria's foreign policy.

The diplomatic sources said Bashar's key role has been trying to drum up Gulf financial support for Syria. The efforts appear to have led to results.

On Monday, Kuwait agreed to grant a loan to Syria to develop infrastructure projects. Syrian Minister of State for Planning Abdul Rahim Sbei and the director general of the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development, Bader Hameidi, signed an accord whereby the fund will provide a loan of 6 million Kuwaiti dinars help finance a provincial highway in the north.

The Kuwaiti fund has provided Syria with 25 loans. Diplomats said Kuwait has agreed to consider financing other projects in Syria in the fields of communications, electricity and sewage.

Syria Links Lebanese Talks to Israeli Withdrawal

Syria has delayed a green light for Lebanon to join negotiations with Israel until the Jewish state issues a commitment to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights.

The London-based Al Hayat daily said on Dec. 21 Syrian leaders have told their Lebanese counterparts that they are waiting for an Israeli commitment to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines, the eve of the Six-Day war in which Israel captured the Golan Heights and other territory. So far, Israel has objected.

The newspaper said this will be the major demand by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara in the next round of negotiations with Israel, scheduled for Jan. 3 at a secluded location in Virginia. Earlier, President Hafez Assad told U.S. President Bill Clinton that neither Lebanon nor Syria would sign a separate peace treaty with the Jewish state.

On Dec. 20, A-Sharaa briefed President Emile Lahoud, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Salim Hoss, and Interior Minister Michel Murr at Baabda Palace. He said the decision whether to allow Lebanon to begin talks would be made after the next round of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

A-Shaara grew testy when he was asked by a reporter when Syria would withdraw its 40,000 troops from Lebanon. "Nobody has the right to ask this because we have not heard of this [demand]," the foreign minister said.

The Syrian foreign minister said the priority in the current negotiations is the return of Israel to its June 4, 1967 borders, the eve of the Six-Day war. That is to be followed by an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, relations with Israel and water issues.

"The elements of peace are known," A-Shaara said.

A-Shaara would not say whether Syria has fulfilled a U.S. demand to press the Hizbullah and Amal militias to end their attacks on Israel.

"The issue of the Lebanese resistance is a matter for Lebanon to discuss," he said, adding that Syria "understands the role of the resistance in Lebanon and the important role Lebanon has played in defending its rights against the Israeli occupation."

Syria Admits Killing of Major Islamic Leader

Syria, seeking to head off concern of increasing unrest, has acknowledged that a leading Islamic cleric was assassinated in what the regime asserts was a criminal attack.

Syrian sources said Sheik Mohammed Amin Yakan, 62, was assassinated on Dec. 16 as he was driven to Tarhin village near Aleppo. They said four suspects were arrested and two remain at large.

Yakan was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood and served as a mediator for President Hafez Assad in his attempts in 1997 to reconcile with the underground Islamic opposition. Assad drove the Brotherhood underground in 1984 in a campaign that was said to have killed 20,000 opponents of the regime.

On Dec. 21, the London-based Al Hayat daily quoted official Syrian sources as saying that Yakin was killed in a hail of gunfire by opponents trying to reverse a government decision on land use. They said the sheik was responsible for a piece of land being sought by an Aleppo-area family and designated for the construction of a research center.

The suspects were quoted by Syrian sources as saying that they meant to shoot toward Yakin's car to intimidate him. They said they did not mean to kill him.

The sources said Syrian authorities are continuing their investigation. Diplomatic sources said the killing has raised tension around Aleppo and the surrounding area and could point to a loosening of President Hafez Assad's grip on power as his health deteriorates and his family is divided.

Syria, the sources said, is undergoing a creeping process of Islamization, with Islamic fervor increasing both in Damascus and particularly in provincial cities. They cited an increase in mosque attendance, beards and public observance of the fast month of Ramadan.

The Islamization has a militant side, the sources said. They report that Christians and non-Sunnis are expressing rising concern over pressure to observe Muslim tenets in towns with large non-Sunni minorities.

Iraq, Syria Agree to Reopen Pipeline

Iraq and Syria have agreed to reopen an oil pipeline shut down since 1980.

The reopening of the oil pipeline would allow Iraq to export oil through Syria to Western Europe at reduced cost. The pipeline will also bring revenue to Syria.

Officials said the pipeline has a capacity of 300,000 barrels a day. It was closed by Syria after Iraq invaded Iran, Syria's leading ally.

For years, Iraq has been exporting oil the Iraqi harbor of El-Bakr on the Gulf and through a pipeline that passes through Turkey to Jihan harbor on the Mediterranean Sea.

Oil analysts said the reopening of the pipeline through Syria could lead to an increase in Iraqi exports. They said it would also reactivate the Gulf harbor at Khour El-Amia.

They said Iraqi oil exports could be increased from nearly 600,000 barrels daily to nearly 2.9 million barrels daily for the coming year.

In another development, the U.S.-based Largo Vista Group Ltd., said it reached an agreement for 49 percent of a joint venture to establish operations in the United Arab Emirates for distribution of petrochemical products worldwide. Majority share would be held by the UAE's Silver Falcon.

Iran: We Support return of Golan

Iran has provided a qualified endorsement of Syrian negotiations with Israel.

In its first official response, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Teheran supports Syria's efforts to obtain the Golan Heights. The spokesman said Iran understood that this would mean negotiations with Israel.

Hamid Asefi, the spokesman, said Teheran did not regard Syrian negotiations with Israel as part of the Middle East peace process opposed by Iran.

"The Syrians have also proved that they move in line with their rights," Asefi said on Dec. 21.

But the spokesman said Iran, Syria's leading ally, will continue to oppose reconciliation with and recognition of Israel. He said the Palestinians are making concessions to Israel on their basic rights.

"No progress has been made regarding the restoration of Palestinians rights" Asefi said.

The break in nearly two weeks of silence by Iranian officials come as Bashar Assad, the son and heir-apparent of President Hafez Assad, is expected to arrive in Iran over the next 48 hours to meet leaders of the Islamic regime. The focus of the talks will be the Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

On Dec. 19, the Kayhan International daily, which is aligned with the ruling Islamic clergy, raised the specter that Israel and Syria might reach a peace agreement. The newspaper said Iran would not stand in the way of such a development but would not join any reconciliation effort.

"Although there has been some sort of a mixed reaction in the Islamic republic over the resumption of Syrian-Israeli talks, political observers believe that at the end, Iran cannot be more Syrian than Assad but at the same time maintain its position that Israel is an illegitimate entity," the newspaper said.

The mild tone constrasted with assessments reported in Israel. Israeli government sources said on Dec. 20 that European Union Miguel Moratinos brought a message from Syrian leaders to their Israeli counterparts that expressed Assad's fear that Iran and Hizbullah would torpedo any agreement.

The message urged Israel to quickly agree to a peace treaty before Iran and Hizbullah could organize opposition.

Kayhan said it expected tough negotiations between Israel and Syria in a land-for-peace deal. The newspaper said the Golan Heights is of "crucial strategic importance" for both Israel and Syria.

Iran, the daily said in an editorial, has been cautious in its response to Syria's efforts. Kayhan said that since Syria first agreed to negotiate with Israel, Iran has done little more than express implicit criticism.

Earlier, the Iran News said Teheran is divided over Syrian talks with Israel. The argument pits those who urge Iran to prepare for joining the process of reconciliation with Israel against those who pledge never to make peace with the Jewish state.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri urged the Islamic world not to reconcile with Israel and instead bolster its militaries. In a speech at Teheran University, Nateq-Nouri said, "Palestine is for Palestinians. The thieves have to leave so we can go back home."

Syria Allows Criticism of Peace Talks

In an unusual move apparently designed to increase support for any peace treaty and forshadow official policy, the regime of President Hafez Assad has allowed criticism of Syria's decision to resume negotiations with Israel.

A Syrian writer has warned that Israel stands to gain more from a peace accord than Syria and warned against normalization of relations with the Jewish state. This could harm Syria's relations with the Palestinians and Arab regimes in the Middle East.

Ali Orsan, chairman of the Syrian Arab Writers Association, said Damascus has signalled that it will make significant concessions to Israel in return for the Golan Heights and allow full Israeli control of the Sea of Galilee and an Israeli presence in an early-warning station on Mount Hermon.

"The success of these negotiations will facilitate many dangerous Arab changes regarding the Arab-Zionist conflict,'' Orsan wrote in the Al-Usbu al-Adabi magazine. "The Zionist occupier will have recognized borders, water, normalization and a reputation for striving for peace. We, on the other hand, will remain with thorns stuck in our throats."

Orsan is regarded as heading an organization subservient to the Syrian regime and excerpts of his article were also published in the London-based Al Hayat daily.

Western diplomats said the criticism voiced in Syria was meant to prepare Syrians and other Arabs for normalization of relations with Israel that would include full diplomatic ties, open borders, tourism and trade. Another aim, they said, was to signal Syria's pledge to help the Palestinians after a peace treaty is signed by Damascus and the Jewish state.

Arab diplomatic sources and report asserted that Syria has rejected the opening of embassies until the "last Israeli soldier" leaves the Golan Heights. The Al Hayat daily said Syria has also rejected an Israeli proposal for an exchange of territory to ensure that Israel maintains the Hamet Gader outpost, which oversees the Yarmouk River.

Orsan said Syria won a "political victory" when Israel agreed to resume negotiations at the point they were suspended in 1996, an implicit recognition that the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin pledged a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But this does not mean that Israel will honor such a commitment.

"This omission does not mean Syria failed to learn the lessons of the past, when Zionist deception was revealed on several occasions," Orsan wrote. "It is sufficient to mention the American attempts to evade Rabin's deposit in order to force Syria to resume the negotiations without mentioning the progress that was achieved at the Wye Plantation. It is possible that Syria received a written American guarantee for a withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 border, but the question remains whether this issue has become inevitable from the Israeli perspective? I seriously doubt it."

"It seems that this issue will become one of the obstacles the negotiators will face, but will not lead to the breakdown of the new negotiations, nor will it prevent the forging of some mutual understanding," he added.

Orsan appeared to confirm reports that Syria has agreed to an Israeli presence in the establishment of an early warning station on Mount Hermon, the highest point in the region. He said security arrangements and water-sharing, particularly Israel's insistence of full rights to the Sea of Galilee, have been obstacles to a peace treaty.

"It is plausible that security, emphasized by the Zionist entity, achieved the understanding of the Syrians regarding the early warning station in the Hermon," Orsan said. "The Syrian side will also consider the Zionist entity's need for water. We may not be able to legally drink from the water of Tiberias [Sea of Galilee] but we would be able to fish in it, using long arms. There may be some merely cosmetic modifications to the border that would connect the principle of the June 4, borderline with the so-called international border, drawn by Britain and France in 1923."

But Orsan, in what could forshadow the intentions of Damascus, said after a peace treaty, he will focus on ending Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"The Arab-national aspect of the Palestinian problem is stronger within me than all the marginal [interests] of [one Arab] country," Orsan wrote. "The problem of Palestine will remain an existential conflict with the Zionist occupiers, until victory, the removal [of the Zionists], and the liberation, even if it takes a hundred years."

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The Man Who Convinced Eshkol
to Take the Golan

by David Bedein,

The course of history can be changed by the determination of one man who stands up for what he believes in when he is listened to by people who are in a position of power.

The initiative to demand that Israel take the Golan Heights came from not from real estate-seeking settlers who wanted to move to the Golan, but rather from the residents of the Upper Galilee, or, to put it better, directly from the regional Mayor of the Upper Galilee, Yaakov (Yankela) Eshkoli, the man who led the delegation of Upper Galilee residents to lobby Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and the Israeli government on the fourth night of the Six Day War.

Eshkoli's mission: to convince Eshkol to issue an order to the Israel Defence Forces Northern regional command to take the Golan Heights and to remove the Syrian threat, once and for all, from over the heads of the Galilee settlements.

Eshkoli, now 88, was elected four times to be the regional mayor of the Galilee, and served in his position from 1955-1971

Speaking with remarkable resilience and a clear memory after 20 years of severe heart disease, the aging Eshkoli, with his ninety year old wife Yaffa at his side, cannot keep repeating how pleased he is that he has lived to tell his story, while talks with Syria get under way and while the future of the Golan is indeed on the agenda.

"13 years ago I had a heart attack and the doctors declared me to be clinically dead. I guess I recovered so that I could tell my story today", Eshkoli says, with a wink and a twinkle in his eye, when I met him on his porch, on Kibbutz Cfar Giladi.

Cfar Giladi is one of the oldest Galilee settlements, located just north of Kiryat Shmoneh and sandwiched in between Lebanon and the Golan Heights, where he and Yaffa, now 90 years old, have been kibbutz members since 1932.

Eshkoli says that he is always eager to relate the role that he played in convincing the Israeli government to take the Golan in the midst of the 1967 war.

As Eshkoli tells it, by the fourth day of the 1967 war, it was clear that Israel had delivered a solid defeat to Jordan and Egypt.

That left Syria, which had been raining a steady stream of rockets into the Hula Valley below, leaving the residents of 31 settlements in the Upper Galilee region in Eshkoli's jurisdiction to spend those glorious days of 1967 in deep underground bunkers, glued to their transistor radios.

Eshkoli recalls how he placed constant calls into Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon from his underground bunker on the Kibbutz to ask to see Levi Eshkol, then Israel's prime minister, to demand action on the Syrian front.

Allon, the 1948 war hero who with liberated the Galilee, promised to get Eshkoli called him on the fourth day of the war with the good news that Eshkoli could meet Eshkol and the Israeli cabinet that evening, warning him that at least one senior Israeli cabinet minister opposed any move towards the Golan Heights . . . .

Leaving his kibbutz in an army jeep , picking up Kibbutz leaders from other settlements in the region, while every kibbutz member was ordered into the shelters because of the continuing Syrian artillery bombardment, Eshkoli remembers that he had the feeling that his Hula valley was burning while the rest of the country was dancing in the streets

Eshkoli speaks of his descending the steps into the underground headquarters of the Israeli government in Tel Aviv as if it happened last night. Eshkoli gets tears in his eyes when he describes the hug that Levi Eshkol gave him when he showed up. Eshkoli that his full delegation of four be allowed to enter the cabinet meeting, and he recalls the Bible that he was asked to swear on that any matter of security that he would hear would be kept in strictest confidence.

Eshkoli was given five minutes to speak. "The longest five minutes in my life", Eshkoli remembers. His appeal was simple and clear, when he reminded Eshkol that he and every Israeli leader who had ever come to visit him in the Galilee after Syrian rocket attacks had promised them that if there would ever be another war, that they would use that opportunity to remove the Syrian threat, once and for all.

Eshkoli reports that the one Israeli minister to oppose the idea: Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli commander in chief who had just been appointed to be Defence minister. Dayan had given the veto to his northern regional commander, "Dado" Elazar, whom he forbid to attack Syria on the Golan, "lest this cost us 30,000 dead and risk a war with the Soviet Union", which had just pushed through a cease-fire in the UN Security Council. Dayan the war hero from the 1956 war with tremendous popular following, also made a great impression on the cabinet.

Eshkoli recalls that he then thought to himself: "Will I be responsible for world war", and then said that " I could only think of my wife and the children of the kibbutz who at that moment were in the shelters". It was then that Eshkoli made a threat, which he says to this day that he meant with all his heart, which was that if the IDF does not remove the Syrians from the Golan then he would recommend that all Kibbutzim pack their bags and leave, and that the people of Kiryat Shmoneh would follow. Silence followed Eshkoli's emotional appeal to the Israeli cabinet.

As Eshkoli turned and began to leave the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol grabbed his hand and proclaimed that "The words of Eshkoli have entered the heart of Levi Eshkol, and they will play a crucial role in what we decide to do on the Golan Heights".

Eshkoli could not know when he left the government meeting, heading back north, whether he had succeeded in his mission. Would his words hold greater weight than Moshe Dayan?

Heading back to Kfar Giladi, Eshkoli stopped off at the bunker of the IDF Northern regional command. By then it was 5AM. "Dado" was slumped over his desk, next to a bottle of half-empty scotch .

Eshkoli reported to "Dado" what had happened at the government meeting. And while they were talking, "Dado" received a call from the Israel Defence Ministry. Moshe Dayan's resonant voice was on the line with an order - "Ascend the Golan and Succeed" were Dayan's words, and they were repeated on the 6AM Voice of Israel radio newsreel.

"Dado" loudly said to Eshkoli that he had succeeded with Dayan where he, the IDF northern regional commander had not.

Indeed, Dayan's vote in the government was the lone voice in the government to vote against the Golan attack . . . .

Dayan never forgave Eshkoli for besting him at the government meeting. Eshkoli shows me a yellowing news interview from 1976 with Moshe Dayan with the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, where Moshe Dayan could only recall Eshkoli and his delegation with anger and resentment, characterizing them as "Dado"'s agents, claiming that , anyway, "the provocation's of the Galilee farmers and fishermen in no-man's land were the cause of the Syrian shellings".

Eshkoli looks at the picture of Moshe Dayan and starts to yell at him "Right - All of my 31 communities provoked the Syrians from their shelters. Our provocation against the Syrians is that we live and prosper here in the Galilee, which the Syrians see as a province of their country".

Asked about the current negotiations that might bring the Syrians back to the Golan Heights that face down on his kibbutz, Eshkoli could only raise a trembling hand and point to the hills and say that to "bring back the Syrians would be suicide for us".

Eshkoli's successor as regional mayor of the Upper Galilee region, fellow Kfar Giladi member Aharon Valenci, is much more sanguine in his attitude to the possibility of territorial compromise on the Golan, saying that he trusts Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and that if the Syrians are serious about peace, then the issue of the Golan would not be as important as it once was, noting that "99%" of his kibbutz were supportive of the peace process with Syria. Valanci said, however, that he will wait to see what the Syrians convey to their own people in their own media.

However, another prominent Galilee kibbutz leader, Muki Tzur, from Ein Gev, on the shores of the Sea of the Galilee and meters away from the Golan Heights and what might again be Syria, writes an interview with KIBBUTZ, the magazine of the Kibbutz movement, that it was premature to take a position on the peace process.

Tzur, the 1967 author of the best selling book known as the Seventh Day: Conversations with Fighters from the Six Day War, writes in his article that Jewish and Israeli history has taught us that any peace process with Israel's adversaries will be long, hard and complex, and that no decision can be made under the pressure of an immediate desire for peace. The price of a mistake in the peace process in the North would be guns in place once again on the Golan, trained on the 31 settlements of the Hula Valley in Israel's lush Upper Galilee region.

Yankela Eshkoli stood up to Moshe Dayan.

That is why the guns in the Golan were removed, and that is why 33 Israeli settlements replaced 15 Syrian army camps on the Golan Heights.

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Can Tyrants Make Peace?
A Perspective on the Syrian/Israel Talks in Washington
by David Bedein

One of the lessons of the twentieth century that is that a tyrant does not make peace with a democratically elected leader.

A dictator views an agreement with a democracy as one of expediency, designed to strengthen and bolster his regime of military supremacy, press censorship, government corruption and suppression of human rights and civil liberties.

A leader of a democracy believes that the spirit of freedom in his nation will preserve any such peace agreement for generations to come.

A dictator who gains tangible assets at the negotiating table thinks that he has won a battle by his sheer show of force , as he readies himself for the next round of conquest, which can be by either military or diplomatic means in the future.

A democratic leader promises "peace in our time" to his people, while the residents of his nation envision of a life of peace, for themselves and for their children.

As Israeli Prime Minister and Syrian Foreign Minister arrive for crucial talks in Washington, the media in Israel is rampant with the word "peace". Yet the government-controlled media in Syria is rampant with the word "liberation of Palestine" as these talks begin.

Meanwhile, pundits in Israel debate the pros and cons of ceding vital security assets of the Golan Heights to Syria as the price of a peace treaty with Damascus. Yet Syrian government TV conveys a daily message to their people, promising that the Golan Heights is the first step of the Syrian nation liberating all of Palestine. "The Galilee is next, and then on to Jerusalem", proclaim Syrian spokesman on official Damascus radio.

Tell that to most Israelis and they are incredulous.

The Jews of Israel, tired of continuous war that has plagued the Holy Land since 1936, would like to live in a nation that is not under military threat in the next century. Who wouldn't?

Many Israeli entrepreneurs have developed recent business contacts with people in the Arab world, and they are delighted to hear a desire for peace from Arabs whom they meet with, in every walk of life.

That most certainly includes Syrians whom Israelis have been meeting with in discrete joint business ventures over the past few years.

However, what people who live in a democratic country cannot conceptualize is that a popular desire for peace may not be reflected in a totalitarian regime.

The late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, asserted in his last appearance on October 31, 1995 at the Israeli Knesset parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that the missile capacity and military resolve of Syria, aligned with Iran and with Libya, represented a threat to the very existence of the Jewish state. After Rabin's assassination four days later, official Syrian media praised Rabin's killing, describing it a as a "confidence building measure".

And after a series of bombings in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv in February and in March of 1996, official Syrian media endorsed these "acts of liberation". That is when talks broke down, while Shimon Peres was Israel's Prime Minister and while Ehud Barak was Israel's Foreign Minister.

Now peace talks resume, with Ehud Barak firmly at the helm of the Jewish state.

Has anything changed? Hardly.

Except that Barak, working closely with the outgoing Clinton administration, would like to push for a definitive peace treaty with Syria and wave that piece of paper to the people of Israel when he descends AIR FORCE ONE in Israel, arm in arm with the US president.

Yet on a more sanguine note, long time peace activist and newly elected Israeli Knesset speaker Avrum Burg said on Israeli Channel One Television two days before Burg's departure for the US that at the only way that Syrian President Assad will be able to "sell" any peace agreement with Israel will be for Assad to make that appeal for peace directly to the people of Israel, from the rostrum of Israel's Knesset in Jerusalem, just as President Sadat did in 1977, when he addressed the Israeli Knesset and declared - "no more war, no more bloodshed".

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Official Fatah Website:
Towards an Arab Comprehensive Strategy For Peace

If one reviews the peace process since its launching after the U.S. aggression against Iraq in which the Syrian regime participated, s/he will realize why the Syrians looked for a peace settlement with the U.S. rather than Israel.

President Assad believes that the U.S. can impose such a settlement on Israel. In addition, he made Israel pay a heavy price in South Lebanon. And regardless of the political changes that took place in both Israel and the US, President Assad adhered to his own negotiating strategy.

Barak, the prime minister of Israel, therefore, tailored a special strategy for his negotiations with Syria which is different from the one Israel adapted on the Israeli Palestinian track. For example, while the word security features quite often in all peace agreements with the Palestinians, the word peace dominates the dialogue between Israel and Syria. Barak claims that the security of Israel dictates the conditions of peace with the Palestinians. On the other hand, he says that peace with Syria brings security to Israel. This explains why Israel would not accept the implementation of the same negotiating strategy with all Arab countries.

Apart from how Israel differently perceives the Palestinian and the Syrian peace tracks, there are certain differences and similarities between the two tracks from our points of view as Palestinians and Syrians. Syria, like Egypt and Jordan, is seeking a permanent solution that leads to a peace accord with Israel. This helps the Syrians in adhering to their position which is derived from their interpretation of U.N. Resolution 242 and the principle of land for peace. Withdrawal from Syrian territories occupied in 1967 and not to international borders as Israel demands, will achieve peace and security to Israel. This requires certain arrangements that will be implemented following Israel s complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

To the Israelis, the Golan Heights is in a similar position that of Jerusalem. Both are Arab territories occupied in 1967 and were annexed by Israel in violation of international law and Geneva Fourth Convention. Unlike earlier precedents, Israel's full withdrawal from the Golan Heights is of particular importance to the issue of Jerusalem.

It is difficult to predict what the Israeli Syrian negotiations will lead to, under the sponsorship of President Clinton. But one thing is clear. Barak, in the political arena, has a military mentality; he wants to achieve victory against more than one enemy. Although it seems that Barak has given in to the Syrian negotiating strategy, he has taken a calculated risk realizing that the U.S. role will diminish sooner than the Syrians expect. President Clinton, after all, will at a certain point be unable to impose on Barak a peace settlement on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks. We should not forget that the U.S. presidential elections have somehow started. Barak, also, understands that he can make an achievement if he connects the Lebanese track to the Syrian one. This will enable him to withdraw his troops form south Lebanon in return for a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Such a deal, selling the camel and the cat together, would guarantee the success of the referendum he promised his people.

These days, the number of observers who think that there is no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria, is on the increase. However, history shows that there is no war or peace without Palestine. Mistaken are those who believe that Israel can achieve peace with Mauritania while it continues to deny the rights of the Palestinian people. Peace with Jordan and Egypt and, in the future, with Syria and Lebanon, will remain frozen as long as Jerusalem is not the capital city of the independent state of Palestine. However, the Israelis continue to assume that peace with Syria can be achieved due to certain internal considerations that concern Syria. They also assume that stability in the area can be brought about without considering the Palestinian role. But this is not true. Comprehensive peace can not be made without solving all the permanent status issues. This requires an Arab and, in certain cases, Islamic consensus. Palestinians, for example, can not by themselves decide the future of Jerusalem without obtaining the consent of the Arab and Muslim nation. As to the issue of refugees living in the Arab world, no solution can be made without being coordinated with the countries concerned. Borders of the independent Palestine are also of great concern to all Arab countries bordering on Palestine. Will Israel able allowed to create buffer zones with these countries as it is now doing inside Palestine? The answer is surely no.

The Palestinian position towards the Syrian demands stems from the same understanding. Syria s call for the liberation of all Arab occupied territories received the full blessing of the Palestinian leadership. This also applies to the liberation of Al-Hima and Ka wash triangles, an area which was under Syrian control and was occupied in 1967. Differences of opinion with the Syrians will not make us negotiate their liberation with Israel.

A future outlook requires that Syrians and Palestinians coordinate their positions to achieve a comprehensive peace. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are asked to play an effective role to bring about an Arab unified position on all permanent status issues; i.e. borders, Jerusalem, refugees and Israeli settlements. For this reason, an Arab summit is necessary to block Israel s attempts to impose their hegemony on the region. It is also necessary for the Arab world to renew its hopes for unity at the outset of the third millennium.

Coordinating our position with the Arab world may require a confrontation with the Israelis over the construction of settlements. The tenth round of final status talks has ended without any positive results. The U.S. and Israeli positions on settlements do not meet our demand to halt any further construction of settlements. The currect situation is in the interest of the Israeli government which assumes that settlements and peace can go together.

Starting the Israeli Syrian negotiations was not an easy task to Barak. Jewish settlers in the Golan have warned that they will wage a fierce battle against any future dismantling of their settlements. Obtaining the Knesset s approval was also difficulty. Only forty seven members voted in favor of starting negotiations with Syria. Arab members played a crucial role in the voting.

Relying on the support of the opposition will undermine any serious efforts on the part of the Israeli government and will also make Barak play one track against another. Palestinians will then have to reassess their own situation. Internal social and economic conditions ought to be given our utmost concern. The claim that we are in the middle of the peace process and those internal condition are of secondary importance, is not true. Strengthening our home form is a prerequisite for peace negotiations.

Nobody should despair. The international legality, Arabs and all peace loving nations support the Palestinian position. And we will continue to be in a very strong position as long as we believe in the inevitability of victory.

Revolution Until Victory

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