On January 27, 2000, Syrian Foreign Minister, Faruq Al-Shara, spoke to the annual convention of the Arab Writers Association in Syria. Shara's speech was published, in full, by the Arab Writers Association's weekly, Al-Usbu' Al-Adabi. The Lebanese daily, Al-Safir published the Question and Answer session following Shara's speech.
Military Imbalance Between Israel and the Arabs
"Israel is stronger than all the Arab states combined. The US, Israel's strategic ally, nurtures it with all kinds of weaponry: from the rifle, through the missile and the airplane, to the super-computers that cannot [even] be found in Europe. The US also lets Israel participate in its 'Star Wars' [plan]... A few months ago, Germany gave Israel a gift: three submarines of the most advanced type that, after Israel equips them with nuclear warheads, would enable it to threaten all the countries in the region."
"Israel's budget is twenty times the size of the Syrian budget. The Syrian yearly armament budget amounts to 7% of the Israeli [armament budget]…"
On Military and Non-Military Conflict
"For half a century, Israel has claimed that it wants peace and strives for peace, but fails to achieve it because the Arabs are warmongers. Israel managed to deceive world public opinion - especially the Americans..."
"The question facing all of us today is whether such a peace - and I mean a real peace, the way Syria perceives it - would help assist Israel to expand and form the "Greater Israel," which is still the objective of the Zionist idea? My answer is: possibly yes. Nevertheless, even if peace helps Israel to accomplish the goal of the "Greater Israel" - war would help it even more and faster, because there is no balance between the Arabs and Israel when we talk about military conflict."
"On the other hand, if we turn the military conflict into a political, economic, commercial, and cultural competition, in all its aspects, and if we isolate the Israeli weapons and practically neutralize them - although they will always be behind the scenes… then the results will be better, and the catastrophes [we may face will be] smaller. [This] is because we will force Israel to use means other than military ones, in which it has an advantage over all the Arabs combined. Maybe [by doing so] we will succeed."
"In any case, for fifty years we have tried the path of military struggle, and [the result was] that wewere left alone along with Lebanon. This does not mean that in a state of peace we will throw away our weapons. Do not misunderstand me. There is a state of war, there is a state of peace, and there is a state of 'no war and no peace.' In most years we were in a state of 'no war and no peace;' now we are trying the peace. Until this very moment nothing has happened and we are still in a state of war. [However,] establishing a state of peace in the future would mean turning the state of [military] conflict into a [different] conflict - political, ideological, economical, commercial, etc. that may give us a better standing. Therefore, we must give this type of conflict a chance, just as we gave a chance to the military conflict."
Syrian "Red Lines"
"I want to repeat what I said in Washington [at the White House, on the resumption of negotiations, December 15, 1999] that was misunderstood... 'If the Israelis are not ready to give back all the occupied Arab lands to their rightful owners, they send a message to the Arabs that the conflict with them is an existential one and not a conflict over borders.' I laid the responsibility on Israel, before the world community, when I said that Israel is sending a message to the Arabs that they have no alternative and that it is 'either us or them.' In any case, the Israelis are those who see the conflict as an existential one and view the Arabs as Indians that should be annihilated."
"In no way did we agree to discuss any of the elements of peace before the issue of the full withdrawal is settled. In order for the withdrawal to be full, it must be to the June 4 line and without leaving any Israelis - either civilian or military, nor any semi-military or semi-civilian; also, no [Israeli] ground [early warning] station and no Israeli in any ground station. This is what full withdrawal means and we did not give it up."
"We told them: even if we starve, we will not give up this demand. [We said this] because they wagered on Syria's weakness, and were wrong. Syria is strong with its leader, strong with its people, strong in its resources, in its capabilities, its organizations, and its parties, and it cannot weaken... Syria will never sign any dictated agreement with terms that are unacceptable to it or violate its sovereignty."
"All the leaks [regarding Syria's positions in the negotiations] are totally baseless. What was published in Al-Hayat when we were at Shepherdstown, that Syria will be required to restructure its army and reduce the amount of its weapons, all this nonsense is baseless and was never discussed at all. It was leaked that Syria agreed to revise its school curriculums. This is baseless, and the Israelis will not dare bring it up with us."
"It was also said that Syria would expel the Palestinians or the ten organizations [i.e., the Palestinian rejectionist front]. This is also unfounded. We will not urge any Palestinian to leave [Syria], except to return to his homeland, Palestine..."
Syria's Overall Strategy
"If the Israelis do not agree to that - they will lose. And [if they agree,] and we manage to regain our rights and our land in their entirety, it would be an important achievement for one generation, or two or three. If we fail, God forbid, we will loose nothing, because [in any case] we will win the sympathy of Arab and international public opinion. The Arabs will stand by our side in any case, because we will tell them: We did all we could. We went [to the negotiations,] we talked, we showed open hearts and minds, but the expansionist racists [i.e. Israel] want to force their terms on us and on all the Arabs and we must not accept these terms. Any Arab who believes in his Arab identity, nationality, history, heritage, and his religion, will stand by our side from the edge of Saudi Arabia to Mauritania, whose ambassador to Israel has just presented his credentials to Weizmann."
"The Israelis tried to leave the issue of withdrawal to the end of the negotiations in order to turn the withdrawal issue into a hostage and trade it for elements of peace. We told them: there is no way we will accept this; [without marking the borders,] the talks will not continue. We are in control of the situation and we will not let it drop from our hands. You can be assured that our position is stronger than Israel's despite all its weapons. The Arabs who follow this new style [of negotiating] did not compliment us for nothing. They learned to recognize the difference [between us and the others]. At first, they tried to say that the Syrians are just like the rest of the Arabs, in order to justify their own wrong way and the free concessions they gave to the Israelis. However, at the end they themselves recognized what the Israeli press and American senior officials have confirmed: the Syria delegation acted wisely, strictly guarded Syrian interests, insisted on its rights, adhered to the sovereignty of its homeland, and was faithful to its people. So will it be in the future."
The Question and Answer Session
Q: "How do you differentiate between 'a settlement' and 'peace'?"
Al-Shara: "I find the argument over terminology to be pointless. 'A settlement' means a solution to disagreements, while 'peace' has a deeper meaning. [And yet], peace can be everything and can be void of any meaning. Israel made peace with Egypt, but I don't see any peace between them. Israel does not respect the peace. In its view, peace means a handshake, embassies, a flag, etc. But does Israel respect Arab civilization and Arab culture? Does Israel show understanding to Arab feelings? Does Israel reconsider [its attitude] towards the crimes it committed against the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Egyptians and the Arabs in general? If the new Israeli wants a real peace, he has to condemn all his crimes against the Arabs."
Q: "You talked about replacing the military conflict with a cultural one. Does this not grant the Zionists a right in Palestine? Is it not contradictory to the principles of the Ba'ath party?"
Al-Shara: "This, I believe, is an important question, because even the Ba'ath party, to which I have the honor of being a member, understands that restoring Palestine in its entirety is a long term strategic goal, that cannot be achieved in one stage. I am talking about the party's [position], not about the negotiations. Even the Ba'ath party's ideology – for more than thirty years now – sets stages for the liberation [of Palestine]. The first stage is the stage of restoring the occupied lands [of 67] and of guaranteeing the national inalienable right of the Palestinian Arab people."
"From another perspective: what do the Arabs hate about Israel? Do they hate the Jews as Jews? Not at all. [Let me] prove it: not one Syrian Jew was hurt [in Israel's] 67 aggression, even though people from Suq Al-Hamidiya [one of Damascus's markets] could have gone to the Jewish quarter and killed some four or five Jews. No government nor any security force could have deterred them from doing so."
"Nevertheless, it did not happen. There are Jewish synagogues in very good condition in Damascus, Aleppo, and Qamishly, that were not damaged by any Syrian even at the height of the Israeli aggressions. Why? Because the Syrian is a civilized human being. [Also] the Armenian who lives in Syria became a Syrian. Many Armenians did not move to Armenia after it became independent, because they felt that their connection to Syria was deeper. This is true of the Kurds as well; they are proud of their connection to Syria. Syria is the cradle of civilizations. Any human being can live [in Syria], once he [chooses] to belong to this land, to this homeland and to this nation."