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Peace Possibilities

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
December 27, 2009
Washington Times

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The Obama administration has an opportunity to break the current logjam in the Middle East by pushing for renewed Syrian-Israeli negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently offered to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad "anytime, anywhere," but without preconditions - and Mr. Assad rebuffed the idea. But Mr. Assad's regime has signaled that it is willing to resume indirect negotiations through Turkey, or possibly even the United States.

The Syrian-Israeli track can move faster than Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, where the two sides are still far apart on the central issues: Israeli settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the final status of Jerusalem. By contrast, the Syrians and Israelis mainly need to negotiate over the return of the Golan Heights - a strategic terrain that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war - and related security guarantees and water access issues.

Unlike the weak Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Assad can actually deliver on a peace deal. Such an agreement is possible during Barack Obama's presidency, but it will not happen without the deep involvement of his administration.

The United States has much to gain strategically from renewed Syrian-Israeli dialogue: Damascus could be pressed to play a more constructive role in the region, instead of being a spoiler. To achieve peace, Washington must be willing to dispatch U.S. personnel as monitors of any final agreement.

 

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