A window into a
By Ze'ev Schiff
It is not often that a person heading a team conducting delicate political negotiations, such as those between Israel and Syria, publishes a study on the negotiations while they are in progress. But it happened this week, when the James Baker Institute at Rice University in Texas published a research paper by Major General (Res.) Uri Saguy, the head of the Israeli team negotiating with Syria.This 85-page paper was written by Saguy while he was a research fellow at the institute, on the eve of his appointment to his present post. An introduction to the paper states that Saguy in January 2000 accompanied Prime Minister Ehud Barak to the Shepherdstown talks. The introduction was written by Edward Djerejian, a former American ambassador to Israel and Syria who is now working as the director of the Baker Institute. It may certainly be assumed that the institute sent the paper to both the Syrian president and his foreign minister. For them, it will surely be an interesting paper, providing them with an opportunity to enter the thoughts of the Israelis sitting across from them at the negotiating table.Saguy's work can be reviewed from two points: the research perspective and the recommendations scattered throughout it. The research chapter deserves high marks. It excels in its description of the background necessary to understand the process of readying Israel and Syria to conduct negotiations. For Israel, it was a process in which it learned to understand the limitations of its military strength and the legitimate needs of the Arabs.
This is the case, although many Arabs, including some in Syria, see terrorist acts against Israel as legitimate and the peace has not really trickled down to the popular level. Saguy stresses that peace will not eliminate the strategic threats to Israel, but will prevent their materialization. Israel, therefore, will emphasize its security requirements and maintain its deterrent ability. Syria has grasped, according to Saguy, that the comprehensive Arab military option against Israel does not exist. Israel no longer unites an Arab consensus around it. Syria has understood that Israel's military advantage stems from its special ties with the United States. Some joint interests of Israel and several Arab states have also emerged in the face of threats from radical Islamic elements.
Syria was the last country that adapted itself to the global changes and its difficult economic situation is spurring it forward to precede the Palestinians in reaching an agreement with Israel, so that it can reap the economic benefits of peace. The section of Saguy's study offering recommendations should be seen in a different light, and reactions to it have been mixed. One example is the proposal that the United States and Israel recognize Syria's de jure control of Lebanon. Saguy believes a Syrian presence in Lebanon in times of peace will give Israel a strategic advantage - at least in regard to preventing terrorism. This is a very significant accomplishment for Damascus. Is this really Israel's ambition: a large Syrian state spreading in the distant future across Lebanon's territory? There is also an ethical contradiction between Saguy's willingness to grant approval to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the acknowledgment that the era of controlling other nations is over, as is illustrated by the Palestinian issue. Another proposal states that it is not necessary to include the elements of normalization in a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, and that such elements would best be left to a later time when bilateral agreements between the countries are signed.
According to him, it is more important to have a good peace from a strategic perspective than to force on Syria elements of normalization which are of limited use to Israel in any case. The question is whether strategic peace can rely only on security arrangements. Saguy also accepts the Syrian argument that demilitarization arrangements and thinner deployments should also apply in Galilee on the Israeli side, even if they do not match the extent of those on the Syrian side. Saguy is careful not to state his opinion on the Syrian demand for a withdrawal to the June 4 lines, and it is unclear from the study what he thinks about an Israeli warning station on Mount Hermon. In contrast, he believes the Syrian demand that Israel disarm itself of nuclear weaponry would not be a factor preventing a peace agreement, provided that the Syrians are satisfied regarding their demand for an Israeli withdrawal.
He believes that most Golan Heights residents will consent to an extensive withdrawal from there. In any case, the head of the Israeli negotiating team feels that in order to achieve an agreement, the aggressive and direct involvement of the United States, including its president, is necessary
*This article was published in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper
on January 20/2000