Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hopes Trump Reality

Ha'aretz broke the non-story with the headline Israeli, Syrian representatives reach secret understandings:

In a series of secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006, Syrians and Israelis formulated understandings for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.

The main points of the understandings are as follows:
  • An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.
  • As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.
  • At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.
  • Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.
  • The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.
  • According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.
You can tell the excitement this has stimulated within Ha'aretz given the plethora of spin-off articles:
More on the Israel-Syria contacts:
The article was written by Ha'aretz correspondent, Akiva Eldar. I met Eldar in Israel a few years ago and was struck by his stubborn faith in the Oslo process, suggesting a return to it three years after its collapse. By that stage, most Israelis had accepted that Oslo was not only dead, but also a mistake, and perhaps even a driver of the Palestinian terrorist war known as the second intifada. Except for a few hopefuls like Eldar.

Neville Chamberlain was the first to set aside the reality of security for hope and faith in peace with the Munich Agreement.

Back to the Syrian peace understandings. Setting aside the news that the relevant Israelis and Syrians reject these meetings happened or any understandings were agreed upon, what is interesting is the content of what was allegedly agreed.

In particular, consider the commitments through the lens of two attributes - reversibility of commitment, and impact on military balance of power:
  • Peace agreement signed: easily reversible, no change to military balance of power
  • Israel withdraw from the Golan: not easily reversible, favours Syria
  • Kinneret Park: easily reversible, no change
  • Control of waters: not easily reversible, no change
  • Demilitarised zone: easily reversible, no change
  • Relationship with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran: easily reversible, favours Israel
Therefore, if the understandings had turned into an agreement, which subsequently broke down, Israel would be left with control of the waters and Syria with control of the Golan.

The other aspects would revert back to where we are now, i.e. no Kinneret park for joint use, no peace agreement, a militarised border and Syria re-establish connection with Hezballah, Hamas and Iran.

The shift to Syria of the military balance of power would remain intact.

The Oslo process shattered the idea of giving away tangible assets, like land and military equipment, for intangibles like commitment to peace. Particularly when doing such a deal with a tyrant. The Syrian understandings seem like a case of Munich and Oslo lessons not learned.

When will an agreement require Israel's counterparty to offer something as permanent and strategically important as that offered by Israel?

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