'Don't make peace with despotic Syria'

Syrian reform party leader says Assad's regime is too weak to attack.

farid Ghadry 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
farid Ghadry 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Entering into peace negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad would mean condoning dictatorships across the Middle East, Farid Ghadry, the exiled leader of Syria's opposition Reform Party, said Sunday. "Peace with Syria is important, but peace with Assad would be a disaster," said Ghadry during a conference at the Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University. "Don't make peace with a dictator, or you will send a message to 19 million Syrians that you don't care about their freedom and their liberties." Israel should "be patient and wait for Syria to become democratic" before beginning peace negotiations, said Ghadry. "Syria will become democratic, have patience… how it will become democratic is the million dollar question," said Ghadry. He said that he envisioned Syria emerging as a pluralistic democracy through pressure from the US-led international community and pressure from within by the "Internet generation" - Syrian youths who use the Internet to expand their horizons beyond the state-controlled media. Some 800,000 Syrians are on the Internet, representing less than five percent of the population, said Ghadry. "Israel needs to ask itself: What happens when Internet penetration in Syria reaches 20% or 30%? What happens when those cynical young people are finding their own answers?" said Ghadry. "Peace with a non-democratic Syria ignores this force. This is perilous and short-sighted." 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." On his second visit to Israel this week, he plans to warn Israeli officials not to be tempted by the recent calls for peace sounded by Syria. On Monday, Ghadry will become the second Syrian expatriate to address the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Last month, the committee met with Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim Suleiman on a proposed Israel-Syria peace agreement. Like Suleiman, Ghadry will tell the committee that Syria views the Golan Heights as Syrian territory. Ghadry said, however, that he did not believe Assad would attack Israel because it would be a "fatal mistake" that would end Assad's rule. On Tuesday, Ghadry will tour the Golan Heights with MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), the hawkish former Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head.