Thursday, May 22, 2008

Three agreements?

There are three sets of negotiations currently underway in the Middle East:
1. It was announced on Weds by the PM's office that Israel is engaging in negotiations with Syria thru the intermediacy of Turkey. Turkey has been talking to both sides in this dispute for a long time, and as both a Muslim state and a secular state, and a good friend of Israel, Turkey is in a good position to mediate. It is fairly clear that the US does not particularly support Israel talking to Syria right now, because it sends terrorists into Iraq to fight US forces, and because it is an ally of Iran, that is certainly an enemy of Israel and the US. However, one argument goes that Syria is an Iranian ally because it has no other friends, and one of Israel's goals is to wean Syria away form extrmism and support of terrorist organizations, including Hmas and Hizbollah. While this is a quite unrealistic goal, nevertheless Israel has what Syria wants, the Golan Heights. The majority of Israelis are against returning the Golan Heights to Syria, knowing what they did when they controlled the Heights previously, they showered the Israeli settlements below with shells. Many fear that PM Olmert is sponsoring these negotiations becsue of his current legal problems. Previously Syria was making a return to negotiations contingent upon the negotiations taking up again where they left off last time under PM Barak, who was prepared to give almost everything. But, Damascus has apparently dropped that precondition, so we will see if anything really comes of these talks. The leftist/liberals who are always criticizing Israel over not talking to its extremist neighbors should admit that their criticism is unfounded.
2, In Doha, the Qatari FM acted as intermediuary between the Lebanese Govt. and Hizbollah. Hizbollah was criticized in the Arab world because they turned their guns on other Lebanese factions and killed at least 67 people. On the other hand, they withdrew their forces after taking over East Beirut and agreed to negotiations. The most pressing need was the appointment of a new President, a position that has been vacant for 6 months since Pres. Lahoud (who was pro-Syrian) resigned. The sides had agreed on Michel Suleiman, the current Lebanese Army Chief, as a compromise candidate, but Hizbollah had blocked that vote. Now Hizbollah have backed down and have agreed to his appoinment, as well as agreeing to remove its arms from Beirut and not turn them again on Lebanese civilians and to remove its protest tent in E. Beirut. The Qatari FM was quoted as saying that the value of this agreement is that both sides win. But, Hizbollah gained a victory because they have been given veto power over all decisions of the Lebanese Govt. So much for Lebanese Indpendence, now they are effectively controlled by Iran.
3. There is a ceasefire agreement in the offing between Hamas and Israel, thru the mediation of Pres. Mubarak of Egypt and his Security Chief Omar Suleiman. Israel has said that no ceasefire was possible without the release of the kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Hamas at first rejected this, but now have apparently accepted this condition. Israel has said that if all offensive acts stop, including all rocket attacks, then it will stop all military attacks in Gaza. We wait to see whether or not this ceasefire will actually go into effect. If it does, that will mean that Hamas is feeling the pressure of the IDF attacks and the blockade enough to want a breather. But, the last news is that Hamas in Gaza announced that the ceasefire agreement has failed.
One common aspect of these three negotiations is that the US was not the intermediary in any of them. Maybe the Arabs have grown a little tired of the US under Bush being so pro-Israel. But, these negotiations correspond to Israel's preferences, namely that Israel likes to deal with its enemies thru local intermediaries.


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