Posted by: sean | October 23, 2008

Interview with Imad Moustapha

Via Qifa Nabki, Syria Comment is hosting an interesting interview with Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustpaha. There will apprently be a second part, but this one focuses on Israeli-Syrian peace talks, Syrian-Lebanese relations and Palestinian issues.

I found this exchange particularly interesting:

Egyptian and Saudi journalists these days argue that Syria, which successfully led the Arab world’s decade long boycott of Egypt after President Sadat signed a separate peace treaty with Israel, now appears to be interested in a similar deal that achieves nothing for the Palestinians. How are Syria’s negotiations with Israel, thirty years after President Sadat’s Camp David Accords, different from Sadat’s? Will Syria insist on negotiating towards tangible gains for the Palestinians in addition to recovering its occupied Golan Heights?

[I.M.] This is an extraordinary question based on a totally false premise. When Kissinger came out with his famous dictum that ‘there could be no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria,’ he realized two important facts. First, by drawing Egypt into a separate peace with Israel, the US effectively eliminated the largest and most powerful military in the Arab world from the Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby, shifting the balance of power in the region decisively in Israel’s favor. Second, it established a new precident [sic] in Arab politics: separate negotiations with Israel. Such a culture of every man for himself dashed any hope of a comprehensive pan-Arab peace agreement with Israel. Only sticking to a unified strategy could have given the Palestinians more leverage in their negotiations with the Israelis.

For this reason, Syria staunchly opposed the separate Egyptian peace agreement; we spearheaded a campaign to convince the rest of the Arab states not to be trapped into individual negotiations with Israel.

Unfortunately, we failed and Israel won. After Camp David there was the Wadi Araba agreement, which was then followed by the Oslo agreement. Syria’s position was not that Arabs should not negotiate peace agreements with the Israelis, but rather, that they should not do so separately. The golden adage of divide and conquer has rarely proven more accurate than in this instance. As each additional Arab state signs a separate peace with Israel, those that remain find it more difficult to negotiate peace and achieve their demands.

Today, the Palestinian Authority is negotiating its own peace agreement with the Israelis. We understand their circumstances and appreciate how difficult it is for them to live under the draconian law of occupation. To see one’s land being steadily confiscated by the Israelis cannot be easy. We are not happy with the state of Arab disunity and lack of political coordination that prevails among us, but this, unfortunately, is the sad reality in the Arab world. This is the legacy of the Camp David Accords.

Earlier in the interview in response to a question about the post-peace role of Israel in the region, Moustapha emphasizes that “any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under its endorsement of the Pan Arab Peace Initiative.” He then goes on to stress the importance of collective Arab bargaining, not only for the Palestinians but for other Arab countries (presumably Syria and Lebanon). He then laments the state of Arab disunity, blaming the first Camp David Accords, but it’s unclear whether he sees Syria as acting in response to that situation by embracing the “every man for himself” (ou chacun pour sa gueule), or if any Syrian deal would necessarily be part of the Saudi deal. His wording is unclear when he says that “any Syrian approach … falls under its endorsement of the Pan Arab Peace Initiative.”

How can a bilateral agreement fall under the Saudi deal? Does this mean that Israel and Syria would just be bilaterally agreeing on the Syrian part of what would finally be a pan-Arab agreement? Any thoughts on this would be apreciated.

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