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memri
May 12, 2000 No.
92

Syrian Intellectuals on the Peace Process and Normalization with Israel

The Lebanese daily Al-Nahar[1] published three interviews with Syrian intellectuals discussing the peace process and normalization with Israel after an Israeli-Syrian peace accord is reached. The three intellectuals are Riyadh Al-Turk, who spent years in Syrian jails, Tayyeb Al-Tizini, a Syrian intellectual living in Germany, and Burhan Ghalyun, a Syrian intellectual living in Paris. Following are excerpts from their answers:

Peace will not end Conflict

The First Question: How do you evaluate the peace process? Is it the just peace to which the Arabs aspire, or is it fraught with possibilities of continued conflict by different means?

Tayyeb Al-Tizini: "There are chances for a renewed conflict… for the following reasons:

  • Israel -- due to its ethnic and demographic constitution on the one hand, and its political ideology on the other -- cannot tolerate a peace that is based on real parity, despite what we hear now from Israel about the transformation from Zionism to Post- Zionism... Moshe Dayan's famous saying -- I fight, therefore I am -- still dominates Israeli society and its political ideology.
  • Syrian society, as part of Arab society, cannot tolerate a peace beyond ending the belligerent armed conflict..."

    "[Therefore] the peace for which [the parties] now strive, will only lead to [the emergence of] a new movement, or new movements, for [a more] organized and intensified struggle [against Israel]..."

    Burhan Ghalyun: "[Even] an unjust peace is better than war..."

    "[In fact] peace has already been reached, because the terms that were forced on the region prevent the outbreak of another war …between Israel and any Arab state or any possible Arab alliance [to wage war against Israel. Therefore,] there will be no war in the foreseeable future …because of Israel's strategic superiority over all the Arab states combined..."

    "[However] a peace agreement does not necessarily mean that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is over, as long the hope of building a unified Arab world remains, or as long as [at least] some of the Arabs, are determined not to give up the historical hope of establishing an independent Arab bloc..."

    Peace Will Lead to Democraticization

    The Second Question: How will the end of the conflict influence the existing political infrastructure in the Arab world? What is the future of the political and ideological life in Syria and what is the future of the Arab regimes following the peace? Will the peace open possibilities of democratization, or will it preserve the [present] dictatorships?

    Tayeb Tizini: "This peace will bring about social economic, political, and cultural struggle within Arab countries against the gangs that consume them completely. So far, the rulers used to demand that the people give up their [social and economic demands] and refrain from bringing them up because the 'enemy was at the gates.' Peace will serve as a new [opportunity] for the modernization of Arab society."

    "The political and cultural activity may increase towards [the emergence of] a civil society. I believe that the Arab regimes are worried by it and it may lead them to make concessions to public [demands]. The emergency laws may be abolished. In this respect, the possible peace will anticipate democratic developments…"

    Burhan Ghalyun: "The regimes will change, no doubt, and there will be real revolutions in this field... However, it will not be caused by the peace or the new relations with Israel. Rather, it will be due to the many social, economic, and political debts [of the regimes to their public], that have been postponed for a long while..."

    Normalization is Impossible

    The Third Question: What attitude will Arab culture have toward the peace? Will the rejection of normalization' continue, or will the peace prompt a new position regarding Israeli culture?

    Riyadh Al-Turk: "Cultural normalization with Israel is impossible, due to the differences in character between Israeli and Arab cultures. In our culture, the other and his heritage are held in high esteem. The Arab culture had relations with the Greeks, the Persians, and the Indians in ancient times, as well as with the enlightened, democratic and humanistic West since the Renaissance... The Israeli culture, on the other hand, rejects the other and places everybody under the title 'Gentile,' due to its supremacist attitude as 'the Lord's chosen people' armed in modern times with colonialist settlements."

    "I hope that the anti-normalization movement will not tend towards seclusion that will prevent us from noticing the changes in the Israeli society. …I hope that this movement will open its gates to the works of humanistic Jewish intellectuals, and especially those who identify with us and object to racism and bigotry..."

    Tayyeb Tizini: "The example of the Israeli-Egyptian peace, embodied in the Camp David Accord, proves that Arab normalization with a criminal political entity [i.e. Israel] is impossible. Normalization requires 'normal' relations that can only be created if the political structure of one of the parties [i.e. Israel] does not contradict the rights of other peoples for their homeland or for self determination. This does not exist in the peace that is being debated now [with Israel...]"

    Burhan Ghalyun adds: "…The question that will face Arab intellectuals following a Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli settlement -- as long as there is no convincing solution to the Palestinian problem -- is not whether they are willing to read an Israeli book -- which is obvious -- but rather, whether they are willing to lecture or participate in a scientific conference in Israel; or, if they are artists, would they agree to participate with Israelis in a joint movie, hold a 'Middle-Eastern' exhibition, or receive funds for an artistic or research project. Anything beyond that is politically meaningless. I am convinced that the lion's share of Arab intellectuals will refrain from cooperating with Israel, not out of fear of possible hegemony of the Israeli culture -- for after all this culture is poor in comparison with Arab culture -- but rather due to a reservation that derives from a feeling that their self-respect does not allow them to crawl to the threshold of the victorious power [i.e. Israel]..."