Haaretz (Editorial)
April 24, 2008 - 5:54pm

Peace with Syria is once again knocking at our door, and it even seems to be meeting with a less-frosty reception on the Israeli side. The time is ripe for negotiations with Syria, especially since U.S. President George W. Bush's reign is drawing to a close, and among his potential successors, whether Democrat or Republican, there is a willingness to negotiate with Bashar Assad instead of boycotting him.

John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all see a peace agreement between Israel and Syria as a recipe for relieving tension in the region. Removing Syria from the axis of evil might shuffle the Middle Eastern deck once again, breaking alliances and creating new interests. Israel can reap greater security from a new situation of that kind.

There seems to be a need to repeat, over and over, this basic fact: Nothing contributes to Israel's security more than a peace accord. Before the protests of solidarity with the Golan Heights begin, it should be emphasized that withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for peace is endorsed not only by bleeding hearts, but by distinctly security-minded figures. The supporters of the Golan are West Bank settlers, like Golan resident Effi Eitam, who see any withdrawal as a national catastrophe; parties that gain strength by sowing security-related fears, such as Israel Beiteinu; those with economic interests in the region, hikers, bird-watchers, wine connoisseurs and winemakers; and mainly the people of the past, who still consider the lookout point on Mount Hermon to be "Israel's eyes," even though those eyes did not prove a very effective source of warning in 1973. Today, neither advance warning nor deterrence rely on the "Alpinists" (the elite IDF unit trained for snow operations), and the missile war expected in the future is not affected by natural boundaries, whether of the flowing or the ascending kind.

Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu have all supported withdrawing from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace and security arrangements, and they all worked to obtain such an agreement. Whether or not the current government is capable of carrying out a historical move that entails territorial concessions is a question of leadership ability. Peace is not a commodity in high demand when the border is quiet, but peace with Syria might open up the possibility of regional peace by changing the balance of interests in the area.

If there is truth in recent reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent Assad, through the Turkish prime minister, a message concerning his willingness to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, it is clear that most of the negotiations will not involve the withdrawal itself, but rather the attendant security arrangements.

In an article in the newspaper al-Hayat, published in London, Dr. Fawzi Shoaibi, head of the Data and Strategic Studies Centre in Syria and a close consultant of Assad, writes, "The time has come to break through the Syrian-Israeli channel." Assad himself said in July 2007 that he was waiting for Israel to make an official and public announcement of its willingness to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights, so that the talks could focus only on the security arrangements.

The cost of peace with Syria has been known for years, and there is no reason to be alarmed by it. The security advantages of peace are greater than the strategic value of the Golan Heights. The problem is that even within Kadima, Olmert's party, it is hard to locate sufficient support for this welcome move by the prime minister.


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