The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

UPDATED: A Knesset bill to watch

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This isn’t getting much coverage:

The Israeli parliament’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill on Monday requiring a 60-MK majority and national consent on withdrawing from territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

The referendum bill on withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights and East Jerusalem mandates that any government decision be brought before Israeli citizens in a referendum, Israeli news site Ynet reported. [Ma’an News Agency]

I don’t know what the likelihood is that a bill like this would pass but the fact that it might see the light of the Knesset is troubling. Firstly, it damages the potential of success for a future Israeli-Syrian peace track. By putting a plot of land viewed widely by Israelis to be a key strategic advantage to a populist referendum it harms any opportunity of future Israeli governments easily returning it to Syria.

Most pressingly, what this bill essentially achieves is yet another barrier to a two state solution and an independent Palestinian state. By putting in place further political roadblocks, it makes it easier for far right populist politicians like Avigdor Lieberman to manipulate both public opinion and votes in the Knesset and further the two state impasse. Once again, one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan becomes ever more inevitable.

Update: One of the smartest Twitter users in the Middle East, @Elizrael, points out that there is already such a law in place for the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied after the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981 with the Golan Heights Law. This action is not recognised internationally and is still considered occupied territory, as per UN Security Council Resolution 242 which remains in force to this day.

The bill that @Elizrael refers to also appears to be called the “Golan Heights Law” and was proposed by Likud MK Silvan Shalom. Any return of the Golan Heights was to require a 50% special majority of Knesset members (61/120) as well as a majority in national referendum. This was a move by the right to preempt any move by Barak to hand the Golan back to Syria, as negotiations at that stage were considered quite advanced. Incidentally, one piece of evidence indicating that Israel’s current path of discriminatory lawmaking is not that recent an event, Likud MK Uzi Landau advocated excluding Israeli Arabs from such a referendum on the grounds that it would be unfair to have Arabs voting on a proposal to hand back Arab land. On March 1,2000, the Knesset gave the bill preliminary approval. (1)

Unfortunately, I can find no further evidence or information on the interwebs about this bill, or whether it was passed. If anyone hears of anything, let a brother know. According to @Elizrael, “The Golan law was passed, however, it needs additional legislation of how to conduct the referendum, which wasn’t passed. The additional legislation has been delayed for years (including by Bibi now) because it can cause problems with the US. This means that the current law will also never see the light of day.”

All this makes for some interesting food for thought.

1. The only thing I could find via google on this bill came form Steven K. Maize’s 2006 book, “Israel’s Higher Law”. Page 215.

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Syrian Scuds & Israeli Settlements

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It’s been a Middle East fest for the Obama Administration today with several key pieces of news being discussed. An issue that’s dominated discussion over the past few days is the alleged transfer of scud missiles from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon, with Hillary Clinton fielding questions on it on Thursday. Israeli President Shimon Peres has accused Syria of sending Scuds to Hizbullah. Syria denies the charge and says Israel may be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike. (Daily Star)

The National gives a succinct roundup of the latest phase in Syrian-Israeli games:

Syria wants the Golan Heights back, but Israel does not feel the necessity to make concessions to a weaker adversary. Israel wants Syria to break its ties to Iran, but Damascus will not abandon an alliance that gives it more influence. When the two countries have engaged in indirect talks, most recently under Turkish mediation, they have been interested in theatrics, not progress.

FP’s Blake Hounshell, in a controversially titled post, cannot understand why Syria would do something like this, given its position:

For all the figures you read in the press about the size of Syria’s military and its vast arsenal of tanks, the country is essentially a tin-pot dictatorship with little ability to project power beyond Lebanon, where for decades it has dominated its smaller neighbor’s domestic affairs.

That post drew the ire of a Syrian embassy spokesman in Washington that fired back:

How can the “dumbest country” outmaneuver the strongest country in the world, and its superpower, along with the numerous Western and other countries that followed in its footsteps and that tried to isolate it? How can the superpower, during its previous administration, work so diligently on isolating “the dumbest country”, yet end up being isolated itself (former Bush-official and current Obama-appointee, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman: “consequently, the United States, not Syria, seems to be isolated”; Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in a 2008 op-ed: “our policy of non-engagement has isolated us more than the Syrians.”)?  how can the “dumbest country” face all these economic sanctions imposed by the superpower, while simultaneously achieving some of the highest economic growth figures in the region and being considered one of the top ‘frontier markets’?

It seems this Scud fiasco is provoking a broader discussion about Syria’s position in the region and the future of Syrian-Israeli talks as well as Obama’s policy of engagement.

UPDATE: There is growing doubt about whether this transfer actually took place and, it seems, certain US officials at least, agree that Syria is usually not a dumb country:

“We don’t think Scuds of any shape or size have been moved to Lebanon,” one of the officials said.

“The Syrians aren’t always known for making the right political calculations. But in this case, surely they realize that transferring this kind of weapons system to Hezbollah — and especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon — could lead to serious consequences,” the official added. [Khaleej Times]

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has rejected President Obama’s request to halt settlement construction in East Jerusalem:

The aides said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his government’s position to Obama over the weekend, ahead of the arrival Thursday of the US president’s special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the contact between the two leaders was private.

The State Department responded via spokesman Philip Crowley who told reporters that the long-standing Israeli position on settlement in East Jerusalem is understood but that the status quo cannot last. There has also been talk of a “gentleman’s agreement” between Obama and Netanyahu whereby Israel won’t publicly announce a freeze in East Jerusalem so as not to lose face but will not announce any new settlement building either. This, to me, at least seems the most likely case. While it’s obvious that Netanyahu cannot afford to to be seen as if he is giving in on this issue so as to preserve his coalition in Israel, neither would he want to rock the boat further by announcing more settlements, considering the shit-storm the last announcement caused.

The other piece of US-MidEast news today has been further talk of renewed Iran sanctions in May. Read the full story here.

Syria – Israel peace talks to resume?

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Much has been made of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad’s statement that he would like to see peace talks resume between Israel and Syria. Of course, the mind wanders and wonders: who exactly will be brokering this? If Turkey is cooling its ties with Israel, I doubt that they will step in again between the governments of both countries. The new broker could have been Croatia, whose president has been speaking to both parties, but Netanyahu wants to talk directly to Syria now.

If it does ever get down to the negotiating table, the real question will be of the Golan Heights. As an editorial in Ha’aretz points out today while slyly cutting Netanyahu down for “setting preconditions under the guise of opposing the setting of preconditions”:

The Israeli approach to relations with Syria needs to be managed from the end to the start, and the end is a vision of regional peace between Israel and its neighbors. In parallel to efforts to reach a permanent settlement with the Palestinians and without hurting their interests, Israel must seek peace with Syria in the context of Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967: full and secure peace in return for complete withdrawal. Those who do not want such a deal will seek to undermine it using arguments of procedure.

And across the border from Syria and Israel, its been 15 years since Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty. The date went unnoticed until US President Barack Obama referred to it, and Naseem Tarawnah at The Black Iris puts it best:

Jordan and Israel’s Inspiring Peace

“As we work with Arabs and Israelis to expand the circle of peace, we take inspiration from what Jordan and Israel achieved fifteen years ago, knowing that the destination is worthy of the struggle.” – US President, Barack Obama on the 15th anniversary of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. Monday, October 26, 2009. [source]

After all that has happened in the occupied territories and even in Jordan these past 15 years later: does anyone feel inspired?

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 30, 2009 at 4:24 pm