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No Peace With Israel Any Time Soon

Despite attempts to revive talks between Israel and Syria, analysts in the latter country doubt a peace deal is anywhere on the horizon.

Analysts told IWPR that the many obstacles include the long-standing hostilities between the two countries, the complexity of the Middle East peace process, and Syria’s role in Lebanon.

Turkey, which is acting as mediator, is to send an envoy to Jerusalem following talks between its prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week.

President Assad has said that he will not countenance negotiations unless Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert declares he is ready to withdraw from the Golan Heights and publicly announces that he wants peace.

As Mazen Darwish, head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression in Damascus, put it, “The issue is more complicated than regaining land, implementing security measures on the borders and creating embassies.”

Darwish said that the Golan Heights is “the most essential issue”, but suggested that the Israelis had their own matters they would want to be addressed, such as security, water, arms and the question of restoring economic and cultural relations.

Syria and Israel would also have to overcome decades of mistrust and this will take “years of difficult efforts”, he said.

“When the two sides believe that peace is necessary and is a condition for own survival, then there will be a lot to negotiate,” he added.

One sticking point is likely to be Syrian support for the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, and the close ties between Damascus and Tehran.

Samir Al-Taki, who is reportedly leading Syria's indirect contacts with Israel, told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station this week that the country would not cut ties with Hezbollah or Iran to get a peace agreement with Israel.

Habi Salih, a writer and political analyst who belongs to the opposition Damascus Declaration group, sees a peace deal is “highly unlikely”, as Syria faces mounting international pressure to remove its influence from Lebanon. The pressure is creating instability and tension inside Syria, he said.

A political stalemate between the Syrian-backed opposition and Lebanon’s western-supported government has left Lebanon without a president since November.

Salih said he did not expect Israel to withdraw from the Golan until Syria’s role in Lebanon was resolved and Hezbollah was disarmed.

Damascus will also come under pressure to sever relations with Palestinian groups, particularly Hamas, he predicted.

The Damascus Declaration group has expressed opposition to the government’s indirect negotiations with Israel, maintaining that President Assad was not democratically elected and therefore cannot speak on behalf of the nation.

Darwish said a Syrian-Israeli peace deal would be unlikely without a wider peace plan to resolve the Palestinian question.

“I doubt that it’s possible, in view of the growing radical Islamic currents, and the Palestinian issue will continue to charge people’s emotions,” he said.

Within Syria, there is wide public support for the Golan Heights to be restored.

“Regaining the Golan Heights is a patriotic issue that all Syrians, including the people of the Golan, agree upon,” said Atif Hassan Khatib, a pharmacy student at the University of Damascus. “The Golan is a part of Syria, which has a right to every inch of its soil.”

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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