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memri
February 23, 2000 No.
24

Syria’s Approach to Peace, Security, and Normalization with Israel

After Ha'aretz published the American working paper which tried to summarize the points of agreement and disagreement following the Shepherdstown talks,[1] the Lebanese daily Al-Safir published the Syrian reaction, which amended the working paper according to Syrian positions. [2] This is the first time that Syria has provided a comprehensive document explaining its goals in the current negotiations.

Comparing the Syrian and American documents makes it possible to establish the present gap between the two sides, although this gap may be revealed as even larger when the Israeli reaction to the American paper is published. The Syrian amendments also identify the defining characteristics of Syria's approach to peace, security, and normalization.

Borders

The June 4, 1967 line will be, according to the Syrian document, the "international permanent border" between Syria and Israel.[3] The document reads, "Every side commits to respect this border and the [sovereignty of] the other side over its land, water, and skies…. Both sides recognize the other's sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and right to exist in peace within secure and recognized boundaries [which are the June 4, 1967 line]."

Relationship between the Two States

The Syrian document states that the relationship between the two sides will be "ordinary, peaceful relations ['adiyah]." This is a different concept from the normalization [Tatbi'] that Israel demands. The two sides will establish "friendly, neighborly relations" and "will refrain from the use of force or the threat of force either directly or indirectly against each other." They will also "strengthen the peace, stability, and development in their areas and will solve all disagreements deriving from the interpretation or the application of this agreement in peaceful ways through arbitration or by appealing to the International Court." Syria and Israel will exchange embassies that will be manned by resident ambassadors, but diplomatic and consular relations will not be "full." Syria rejected this word and omitted it from its reaction to the American paper.

Normalization

The Syrian document objects to "cooperation" between Syria and Israel in almost every area. The term was omitted in the Syrian reaction to the American paper in almost every place it appeared. Syria will remove discriminatory economic restrictions against Israel - particularly the economic boycott. But Syria will not remove "all" these restrictions and will not allow for "normal" economic relations as suggested by the American paper. The Syrian document rejects American calls for economic cooperation. There will be no free and unimpeded access of goods and services between the two sides. Rather, economic relations between the two sides will have to "comply" with - and, in fact, will be conditioned on - "Syrian interests, laws, and regulations."

The two sides will "establish" transportation and tourism relations. But these relations, must "respect" - and, in fact, will be conditioned on - "Syrian traditions and customs." Telephone and postal relations will be "allowed" but with the reservation of "respecting the international agreements" to which Syria is committed. Both sides will be permitted legal assistance in the courts of the other side.

Water

The Syrian document omits the word "cooperation" on water issues as suggested by the American paper. Instead, a water committee will be "established."

International Relations

The clauses from the American working paper that prohibit Syria from interfering with Israel's right to participate in international organizations were omitted by Syria.

Military Alliances

Clauses from the American working paper that prohibit Syria from cooperating in or concluding an alliance of a military nature hostile towards Israel with third parties were omitted by Syria.

Security Arrangements between Syria and Israel

According to the Syrian document security coordination between the two parties will not be "direct," instead it will be conducted through international observers. The early warning ground station will operate for only five years and it will be staffed by foreign parties with Syrian liaison officers but without Israelis. The intelligence gathered through satellite systems will be submitted to both sides.

The demilitarization will be based on the three principles drafted in the 1995 "non-paper:" equality, mutuality and reciprocity. However, "if during the negotiations over the security arrangements it is learned that the application of the principle of equality is impossible or geographically very difficult – military experts of both sides will discuss the difficulty and solve it by correcting it either by additions or omissions or any other mutually agreed solution satisfactory to both sides."

Hostile Violent Activity

The American working paper suggested that "each side" refrain from: "organization," "incitement," "instigation," "assistance," "participation," and "threats" of violence against the other side from its territory and from territories under its control [most probably referring to Lebanon].

Syria rejected these prohibitions and limited its commitment only to the prohibition on organizing violent hostile activity against the other side, omitting all of the other proposed prohibitions.

However, Syria even conditioned the prohibition on organization with the following caveats:

  • a. That it applies only on its own territories, not in territories under its control [such as Lebanon]
  • b. That the prohibition would be limited by considerations of Syrian sovereignty, political and media freedom, and basic human rights in Syria
  • c. That the prohibition would be limited by considerations of [the absence of] "a just solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees."

Additional Syrian Demands

Syria demanded that with the signing of the agreements the two parties begin negotiations to turn the Middle East into a region free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Also, according to the Syrian approach, the agreement with Israel will be signed only together with an Israeli-Lebanese agreement.

Conclusions

The Syrian approach to peace, security, and normalization as it is revealed from its reaction to the American working paper can be analyzed in two different ways.

One is to consider the articles hostile to Israel as negating the articles addressing the commitment to peace between the two states and conclude that the articles dealing with the commitment to peace are not valid. This would mean that Syria's goals in the negotiations with Israel are not to sign an agreement with Israel, but rather to gain other advantages such as improving its international status - particularly with the US, eventual removal from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, economic benefits from improved relations with the West, western pressure on Israel, and strengthening its status in the Arab world.

The other interpretation is to try and reconcile the contradictions in the Syrian approach and perceive it as a new and different approach that does not comply with common perceptions of peace and security relations. Because Syria, in the words of its Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shara, "Does not intend to reach a new Camp David Agreement or a new Oslo Agreement nor a new Wadi Araba [Jordanian-Israel Peace] Accord… and is not willing to accept these precedents as a model."[4]

Hence, the Syrian approach to peace, security and normalization may be understood as an agreement on the continuation of the conflict by other means short of war. Within this framework, Syria is ready – in order to guarantee Israeli withdrawal – to establish limited relations with Israel.

However, Syria is not ready to accept, even after an agreement, any prohibitions on continued, indirect activity against Israel from Lebanon or from any other territory.

*Yigal Carmon is the President of MEMRI.


[1] Ha'aretz (Israel) January, 13 2000

[2] Al-Safir (Lebanon) January 15, 2000. One day later, on January 16, 2000, it was published in Al-Hayat (London-Beirut).

[3] It is noteworthy that the Syrian reaction to the American paper – and innumerable public statements by the Syrian leadership and its spokesmen – disproves the rumors and interpretations, published both in the US and Israel, that Syria had given up its demand for an Israeli withdrawal to the line of June 4, 1967. These false rumors and interpretations appeared after the Syrian Foreign Minister did not spell out this demand in his speech at the White House. The Syrian document unambiguously states that the line of June 4, 1967 is their absolute demand.

[4] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 19, 2000