I’ve been saying for a while that one of the best things America could do in the Middle East is broker a deal between Syria and Israel by negotiating a settlement for the Golan Heights. This would cut off the ground link between Iran and Hezbollah, help secure the Iraq-Syria border, and perhaps put some pressure on the military branch of Hamas to fall more in line with the political branch (although I’m not sure where Meshaal would go if Syria expelled him).
Ha’aretz reported yesterday that there has been a secret session of private diplomacy between Syria and Israel. The plan is an exercise in creative thinking that would allow Syria the pride of getting the Golan Heights back but stop them from controlling the area’s water sources or using the Heights militarily. The idea would be to create a natural park under Syrian sovereignty to which Israelis had access without a visa or Syrian approval.
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.
This is a good start, and I’m glad to see that there is some progress being made; however, I’m a little skeptical that Assad would accept such a deal, even if the Syrians were pressing to turn the private talks into official secret talks between Israeli and Syrian government members. An Iraqi diplomat friend of mine once told me that Bashar’s father Hafez explained why he couldn’t accept taking the Golan Heights and letting the Israeli’s keep the water rights: Sadat had been killed for less.