A Syrian Perspective on the Arab Peace Initiative

by Dr. Murhaf Jouejati
From a Syrian perspective, the Peace Initiative that Crown Prince Abdullah submitted to the Arab league summit in Beirut in March 2002 is the best diplomatic attempt yet to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully. The Initiative, which essentially calls on Arab states to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel’s return of Arab territories it occupied in 1967 and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, converges with Syria’s own vision of peace. In light of this, Syria endorsed the plan both in terms of substance and procedure.


In terms of substance, Syria supports Crown Prince Abdullah’s Peace Initiative because it is grounded in the land-for-peace equation -- the sine qua non for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. From a Syrian perspective, the land-for-peace equation, embodied in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, provides the foundation on which a peaceful settlement stands. Any deviation from its basic tenets by either side is a non-starter. Israel is to withdraw its armed forces from Arab territories it seized by force during the 1967 war in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel. The Israeli-concocted controversy over Israel’s obligation to withdraw from “all” or “some” territories is solved by the key UN principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,” a principle emphasized in the preamble of Resolution 242.


In terms of procedure, Syria fully subscribes to the Initiative’s holistic approach. Since 1972, Syria sought a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute based on the simple notion that the conflict is one between Arabs and Israel (as opposed to a Palestinian-Israeli conflict or a Syrian-Israeli conflict, etc.). In light of this, any peaceful settlement must include all Arab parties that have been victim of Israel’s territorial expansion.

Syria naturally prefers this approach to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s “step-by-step” approach (that led to a separate Egyptian-Israeli deal in the late 1970s). From a Syrian perspective, the underlying intention of the step-by-step approach was to split the Arab world and ultimately weaken the negotiating position of the remaining Arab frontline states vis-à-vis Israel. It was in this spirit that Syria torpedoed the May 17, 1983 Agreement between Israel and Lebanon. And, although Syria did not actively oppose the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles between Palestinians and Israelis or the Jordanian-Israeli Wadi Araba peace treaty of 1994, Damascus viewed both with equal discomfort.

On the other hand, Syria is of the view that the conflicting parties must, before any bargaining takes place, first reach a mutual agreement as to the endgame – Israel’s withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines in return for normal, peaceful relations. From a Syrian perspective, the road to peace becomes smoother if the endgame is well-defined and the requirements that each of the parties is to fulfill are clearly spelled-out. The evidence clearly indicates that this negotiating method is superior to the one adopted by Palestinians and Israel during the Oslo process , as well as under the Roadmap. It shall be remembered that in both cases, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators set out to tackle the “easy” questions first (in the hope of developing mutual trust) while keeping the “difficult” issues (delineation of borders, the status of Jerusalem, the refugee issue) until later. In either case, the outcome was a total failure and, in both cases, resulted in further violence. By contrast, although Syrian-Israeli talks also ended in failure, this was, from a Syrian point of view, due to Israel’s reneging on its earlier promises (both under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres) to withdraw from the Golan Heights to the June 4 lines in return for normal, peaceful relations with Syria, claiming that Rabin’s offer to Syria was “hypothetical” rather than the binding agreement Syria understood it to be.

All in all, Syria strongly backs Prince Abdullah’s peace Initiative because Damascus views it as just and conducive to a lasting and comprehensive settlement. The fact that the UN, the US, and the EU all endorsed the plan (in addition to Syria and all other Arab states – whether radical or moderate) is testimony to its soundness. In light of the universal support of the Peace Initiative, it is quite telling that the only party that finds fault with it is the right-wing of the Israeli political spectrum.

- An expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict with the Middle East Institute in Washington, and is Adjunct Professor at George Washington University. This article is part of a series of views on “Arab Peace Initiative” published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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Toward a Track-two Dialogue between Israelis and Syrians
Toward a New Arab Peace Initiative
Between Two Hotels in Beirut and Netanya
The Arab Initiative Revisited and Revived
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates
Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy
An Israeli View of the Arab Peace Initiative
The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative
There is No Alternative to Peace in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

Toward a Track-two Dialogue between Israelis and Syrians by Gerald Steinberg
Toward a New Arab Peace Initiative by Ambassador Robert H. Pelletreau
Between Two Hotels in Beirut and Netanya by Hazem Saghiyeh
The Arab Initiative Revisited and Revived by Tawfiq Abu Bakr
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates by Hassan A. Barari
Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy by Judith Kipper
An Israeli View of the Arab Peace Initiative by Ambassador Shimon Shamir
The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative by Nizar Abdel-Kader
There is No Alternative to Peace in the Middle East by Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim