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Why the Road to Peace May Run Through Damascus

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
December 18, 2009
The National


Is peace possible between Syria and Israel? That question has taken on new urgency after the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to negotiate with the Syrian president Bashar Assad "anytime, anywhere"--and Mr Assad rebuffed the approach.

He is correct in assuming that a meeting with Mr Netanyahu at the moment would be nothing more than a photo-op. But that should not discourage the administration of the US president Barack Obama from pushing for renewed Syrian-Israeli negotiations. Instead of a direct meeting with the Israeli leader, Mr Assad has suggested that the two sides continue indirect negotiations through Turkey (Israeli and Syrian officials held a series of meetings last year through Turkish intermediaries, but Mr Assad broke off the talks after the Israeli invasion of Gaza).

The Syrian-Israeli track can move faster than Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in which 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 need to negotiate mainly over the return of the Golan Heights (strategic terrain that Israel has occupied since the 1967 war) and related security guarantees and water access issues.



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