(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
Arab Knesset members were outraged by the visit of exiled Syrian opposition leader Farid Ghadry to the Knesset Monday.
Ghadry, who was appearing before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC), was accosted in the hallway outside the committee room by a number of Arab MKs.
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You come here as a cheap tool in the hands of Netanyahu and ask the committee not to cede the Golan, your homeland, when more than half of Israelis want to withdraw," said MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List).
On Sunday, Ghadry clearly stated that the Golan Heights belonged to Syria and he planned to make a point of it during the FADC meeting.
"The Golan Heights is Syrian land, every inch of it and we want it back," said Ghadry. "We want to get it through dialogue and peace. We have a dream for that land, a dream that would make people live side by side in a better future for both of us."
Ghadry stressed that point on Monday at the FADC, and added that Israel should wait for Syria to become democratic before pursuing a peace agreement.
"Ghadry is nothing more than a mercenary for the Americans. He came as a representative of the extreme right-wing warmongering agenda," said MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash). "Filth is bad, but the aforementioned American filth is the worst kind."
MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Danny Yatom (Labor) also criticized Ghadry's visit, saying that Israel should begin direct negotiations with Assad. They sided with Arab MKs in opposing Ghadry's visit.
"The proposal made by the Syrian exile visiting the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is a virtual offer. We have nothing to wait for and must hold immediate negotiations with Assad," said Yatom.
Alon Liel, a former top Israeli diplomat who has taken part in discreet contacts with Syrians for some years, also slammed Ghadry's visit, calling it a provocation of Syria.
"I think that Ghadry's whole visit is a mistake, the whole visit is a provocation of the Syrians at a sensitive time," said Liel. "Ghadry is the product of the American right-wing, who want to raise Arab leaders in the US and export them to the Middle East. We don't have the time for Ghadry to replace Assad, if this is the American plan. We don't want to fight wars with Syria until the day that Ghadry is their leader." Liel said that he trusted the Syrian's seriousness to engage in the peace process, and that he believed Israel should begin negotiations with Assad rather than wait for the leadership to change hands. If the United States were to take an active role in the peace talks an agreement could be reached very quickly, Liel said.
Ghadry founded the Syrian Reform Party while in the US in 2003 with the aim of bringing down Assad's regime. The 51-year-old left Syria in 1971 and became a US citizen in 1982. Though he last visited Syria in 1996, he said that he keeps in touch with the Syrian public through a network of contacts. He estimates that his party has "several hundred members, but is representative of much more."
Ghadry's appearance before the FADC was the second time that a Syrian expatriate addressed the committee this session. Last month, the committee met with Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim Suleiman on a proposed Israel-Syria peace agreement.