Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Peace Meal Strategy: Part II

But while Bashar tries to push his train-wreck of a "peace" plan along the Israeli track of U.S. Middle East policy, he does so at the risk of a head-on collision with a steaming powerhouse of regional diplomacy, one fuelled by the world's largest oil reserves and running along a parallel track of U.S. regional interes.

Enter Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, ostensibly aimed at Israel, the piece is fundamentally directed at Syria and its attempts to supplant Lebanese sovereignty through a peace proposal that only reaffirms an existing on ground reality in the Golan, while re-opening the door to subjugation and totalitarianism in Lebanon. In calling for an advancement of the Arab Peace Initiative*, Lebanon's Prime Minister has banked on the growing disdain in Riyadh for a Syrian regime pursuing a policy that has empowered the desert kingdom's regional arch-rival (Iran), and resulted in the gruesome death of pseudo-member of the royal family (oh yeah, he was also an ex-premier of Lebanon).

But in as much as an apprehension of Syria's diplomatic maneuvers is essential to understanding the political dialogue of the present, it is to the not-so-distant future that the attentions of the region's residents and observers have turned.

For Syria, the Hizballah summer-war card has been played and burned. Despite a concerted effort to rebuild the militia's weapons stockpiles and retrench the group north of the Litany, the presence of 15,000 UNIFIL troops in Lebanon's South, along with intense efforts to place the contested Shebaa Farms under a UN mandate will greatly reduce any pretext for the use of those weapons. In the meantime, the massive naval build up from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf will provide a healthy reminder to all concerned that any attempt to classify those UN troops in Lebanon as a target will result in severe consequences.

Nevertheless, there are signs that Syria is absolutely intent on pushing its regional "peace" proposal. For in all the secret negotiations and near-compromises conducted by this Assad and his late father, this is the only one that has been intentionally made public**. And while Syria continues to play hardball with Saudi Arabia and the U.S., it is well aware that it cannot do so forever, and that eventually its running alliance with the Iranians will run out of steam (e.g., how would Iran react to Syria actually selling Hizballah - a vehicle of Iranian influence in the region - out).

In Israel, the country's beleaguered Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, will be looking for a way to salvage a premiership wrought with scandals of corruption, incompetence, and defeat. Given the man, and his party's, penchant for embarking on groundbreaking political projects capable of re-defining the political landscape both at home and in the region, there is much hope that the Saudi proposal will be given serious consideration, perhaps even including a set of secret talks all of their own.

Despite all this talk of regional players, however, perhaps it is the old addage of "distance breeding clarity" that will hold most true this summer. For in the eyes of another troubled leader burdened with creating his legacy, the prospect for a breakthrough in any peace process this summer seems bleak. In declaring June 27th as his day of retirement from the office of Prime Minister, Tony Blair might have been responding to the pressures of a Labour Party anxious to dump a man now inescapably linked with a wildly unpopular war in Iraq. But he was also declaring his resigned abandonment of an attempt to mimic efforts by his ideological twin, Bill Clinton, to define his legacy through a lasting Middle East Peace.

*The starkest contrast between the 'Saudi' and 'Syrian' peace proposals can be found on the dates of each proposal’s respective ‘formal’ launch: One day before the official publication of the Arab Peace Initiative (during the Beirut Summit of March 2002) a Hamas suicide bomber walked into a Netanya hotel and detonated a suitcase packed with explosives, killing 30 of the hotel's guests. The message was clear, if there was to be any drive at peace in the region, Syria would use its Hamas and Hizballah “negotiating cards” to ensure that its terms were met, no matter what the price for Palestine, no matter what the price for Lebanon.

**This strategy, of conducting negotiations in secret and then slowly revealing their extent to the general public is one regularly used to gradually acclimate the residents of a country to an eventual settlement with an enemy they have been trained to revile for decades.


  1. what a fascinating analysis.. havent given this topic enough attention for a while.. this is a function of the matter dropping of the radar of our media here.. for whatever reasons..

    i blogged about this concept some time ago when it was first leaked in our press.. quickly denied by our government i might add..


    but i must say i dont view it with as much scepticism and actually think it is very creative and holds a lot of potential for an excellent outcome..

    i want to hear more about why you think its bad for lebanon though..

  2. For Israel, the proposal has merits.

    For Lebanon it doesn't, though, and thats simply because of the subtleties I hinted at in the post:

    No explicit/implicit acknowledgement of the Lebanese state or Lebanese sovereignty over water and territories specifically mentioned in the document.

  3. but its not a tripartite agreement..

    israel has been keen to have a peace deal with lebanon for ages.. in fact there almost was one until syria blocked it..

    i think a breakthrough with syria would facilitate a breakthrough between us and by doing so difuse the locus of control that syria holds over lebanon.. potentially.. and obviously draw all the recognition needed..

    our peace deal with jordan is subsidised by israeli tax dollars that continue to fund a division of water rights with jordan even in times of drought..

    for this reason i have no doubt that even the most cynical in my country would trade water rights for peace given the economic and IR advantages attached that would more than fund the fiscal impact of such a deal term..

  4. ok just read ur response to anon..

    i must admit the material i saw about the proposal didnt include any full text - which may be related to the fact that the proposal was never officially endorsed..

    if indeed it is lebanese rights that it is discussing then i question the validity of such extraterritorial negotiations.. hwvr.. this may well be a good opportunity for lebanon to buy-in to the process and steer its own course..

    having said that i appreciate fully that following last summer it may well take some considerable time before lebanon as a whole is prepared to move forward towards a peace deal with israel - in which case the deal with syria needs to work around any such issue.. preferrably without offending lebanese sovereign integrity - even if only by implication..

  5. Anonymous4:47 PM

    as usual, very good post. parts I and II are equally good and agree with you. I always enjoy reading your posts (even though you may at times go awhile w/o posting) because you give an intellectual insight in the situation based on the facts at hand. thx

  6. Thanks for the positive endorsement Buckeye.

    Lirun, unfortunately in the world of international diplomacy implication is all it takes.

    But as for Lebanon pursuing its own negotiations with Israel, the reality remains that Lebanon, being what it is, cannot embark on such a journey without it being within the context of a widespread Arab initiative. That is the importance, for us, of the Arab Peace Initiate I talked about in this post.

    Apart from that, sure Lebanon would most likely happily enter into a de facto understanding of tranquility along the border (similar to the one thats been in place between Syria and Israel), given some basic demands are met (by both sides).

  7. hey jade

    i am so frustrated by our border..

    farms aside.. which from an israeli perspective are a non brainer.. it seems so ridiculous that we cant have peace..

    if jordan could do it and egypt could do it.. and by the way for egypt - as the first arab country to shake our hands - it was a huge issue for the arab international community - i reckon our respective countries could give it a go..

    its tough because we are entering into a catch 22 phase..

    without peace with the palestinians its harder for arab countries to justfy peace with us.. but at the same time these arab countries harbour the terrorist infrastructure (justification aside) that is partly responsible for breaking down the very trust required for the purposes of making a peace deal..

  8. Jimmy9:39 PM

    Look at what I found:
    Ha'aretz 21/05/07


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