Israeli activists push for peace with Syria

As Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking from Paris on Monday, said that "Israel will pay directly for an attack on Iran," a group of nearly 200 people met in a Tel Aviv hotel to discuss the possibility of advancing peace negotiations with Assad, and signing a peace agreement with his country. Under the banner "Peace with Syria", members of the Israel-Syria Peace Society held a meeting at the Dan Panorama on Monday evening, only hours after the Syrian president made his remarks in France. "We need to change the image of Syria as an enemy to one of a neighbor," said Prof. Moshe Maoz, one of the event's keynote speakers. "This is an issue of interests on both sides, and it is in both of our interests to negotiate a peace agreement." Other speakers who took the stage included former MK Eti Livni and Sufi cleric Abdulsalam Manasrah, both of whom called for a peace agreement between Israel and her neighbor to the north. Speaking about what a peace agreement could mean for the Palestinian issue, former Fatah cabinet member Dr. Sufyan Abu Zaida also took the stage. "As a Palestinian, I would have preferred that the Arab League had mediated a peace agreement between all of the Arab countries and Israel," Abu Zaida said. "But because we don't have the smartest people on either side, that did not happen. Regardless, a separate agreement with Syria is also important, but I do not believe that Assad will accept even a centimeter less than the Golan Heights in its entirety." While the majority of speakers covered the general idea of a peace agreement with Syria, others spoke about the specifics of what such an agreement could mean. Maj.-General (res.) Danny Rothschild made it very clear that his expectations of a future agreement were rooted firmly in the realistic needs of both countries. "I don't believe in a 'true peace'," Rothschild said. "I believe in a peace built on interests, a peace that makes sense to both sides." Rothschild explained that both sides have interests that can be met, but that Syria's, first and foremost, was a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. "The first thing the Syrians want is the Golan," he said. "But they want other things too. They want the ability to boost trade and they need our assistance in combating Shi'ite extremists." Rothschild also outlined the Israeli interests that would be served by such an agreement. "I think the first thing would be no all-out warfare," he said. "The price of such a war, which there's no doubt in my mind we would win, is something I don't want to imagine. We would win, but we'd pay a heavy price." He also suggested the idea that an agreement with Syria would include the larger Arab world and not the Assad government alone. "I believe a bilateral agreement would be harder to sell to the general public than an agreement which included the entire Arab world as a whole," Rothschild said. "I think the Israeli public would accept such an agreement with ease." Following Rothschild and echoing his comments about a broader peace deal was Dr. Elon Liel, who has campaigned for a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement for the last four years. Liel emphasized the idea that a peace deal with Syria would open up a number of possibilities with other Arab states, thus pulling them away from Iranian influence and calming the winds of war currently blowing through the region. "A peace deal with Syria would have to include the Golan Heights," Liel said. "But we have to understand what we'd be getting in return. The Golan is not just for peace with Syria, the Golan Heights is the key to peace with the Lebanese and the Palestinians, and other Arab states that will take the Arab world away from Iran, and in effect, isolate Iran." "However," Liel continued, "if we don't make peace with Syria, they will fall deeper and deeper into their relationship with Iran, and with Hizbullah, and with Hamas." The crowd was responsive to all the speakers, and organizers said this was a positive sign. But their real test, one organizer told The Jerusalem Post, was to "get the message to people on the street, this is what we are truly hoping to do."