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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hours after President Shimon Peres asked Syrian leader Bashar Assad to give Israel a clear sign that he is interested in peace, a senior analyst of Syria told a French Israeli forum at Tel Aviv University on Sunday that such a signal was unlikely to materialize.
Prof. Eyal Zisser, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told a conference organized jointly with the French Embassy that Assad would not engage in the type of public diplomacy Peres had requested.
"Some think that in order to make peace in the Middle East, the Arabs should smile at the Israelis and the Israelis will then give back lands captured in 1967. This was the formula with the Egyptians and the Jordanians. [But the Syrians will engage in] no public gestures or public diplomacy," Zisser said. "I do believe there is a readiness [on Assad's part] to explore a settlement with Israel. I can't see a hunger for peace in Syria or any decisiveness," he added.
Zisser said some observers had "a tendency to think Assad is [former Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat," but stressed that the two figures have little in common.
"The important thing for Assad is to survive... and the survival of the Allawite minority ruling sect," he said.
In 1979, Egypt's Sadat wanted peace with Israel to help institute dramatic reforms within Egypt, whereas today, Syria's Assad "is interested in settling the conflict with Israel to maintain the status quo," Zisser argued. "This is not Sadat, who first made a decision to make peace with Israel, and then came to Israel to take care of the details. Assad first wants to examine the details," he added.
Earlier, the meeting turned stormy after Palestinian academic Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi was heckled by the audience when he talked about "my nakba [disaster]," referring to the Palestinian mourning of the creation of Israel in 1948.
"You are in the Middle East. You can put Israel on the moon if you don't want to hear this," Hadi told the hecklers. He rejected proposals made by Dayan Center Senior Research Fellow Asher Susser, who called for temporary measures to be taken between Israel and the Palestinian Authority until a two-state solution could be realized, saying that steps should be taken immediately to resolve the conflict along the two-state model.
"I can't undo you," he said, referring to Israel. "The culture of hate and denial should stop. Acknowledge that there is another," Hadi added.
Referring to settlements, Hadi said, "End the colonization, because Zionism is supposed to be a national liberation movement and not for colonizing the other."
"You tried to kill me in 1948 and in 1967, but I am still here," Hadi said.
He argued that the cause of Jerusalem was being hijacked by Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists in an effort to move the conflict away from a national issue and towards a religious war.
The conference was also addressed by French Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa, and by special adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy, Henri Guanio, both of whom expressed hope that peace could be achieved in the region in the near future.