"We see our brothers in Palestine being killed and tortured.… We see Israel attacking sacred Christian and Muslim places in Palestine.… They try to kill the principles of religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and tortured him, and in the same way they tried to betray and kill Prophet Muhammad."
Thus Syrian president Bashar Assad in a May 2001 meeting with Pope John Paul II in Damascus. This on top of repeated attacks on Israeli society as "more racist than Nazism" for electing the "killer" Ariel Sharon as prime minister.
A few days later Assad's defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, was even less inhibited. He said on Lebanese TV: "We live in a tradition of martyrdom. When I see a Jew before me, I kill him. If every Arab did this, it would be the end of the Jews."
Israeli-Syrian negotiations are in the air again, Assad having told the New York Times a few weeks ago that he favors resuming talks with Israel. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has already called for "pursuing all options" on the Syrian track and warns that Israel should not shun a hand stretched out in peace. A Ha'aretz editorial says Assad has made "a serious proposal" and that Jerusalem must respond to it with "utmost seriousness." According to reports, a Likud Member of Knesset has already been invited to Syria to test the waters.
Here we go again. Recent history is rich with examples of peace negotiations and peace deals between democratic leaders and, shall we say, undemocratic ones. Chamberlain and Deladier with Hitler and Mussolini in 1938. Roosevelt and Churchill with Stalin at Yalta in 1945. Nixon and Kissinger with North Vietnam in 1973. Rabin, Peres, and Beilin with Arafat in 1993. Carter with Kim Il-Sung in 1994. Clinton and Barak with Arafat in 2000.
The results, respectively: World War II and the Holocaust; the enslavement of Eastern Europe; the Cambodian Holocaust, the Vietnamese boat people, the Vietnamese "reeducation camps"; the creation of a terror-entity next to Israel and hundreds dead in terror attacks; the unimpeded building of one of the most menacing nuclear capabilities in the world; a further outbreak of anti-Israel terror reaching unprecedented levels of slaughter and mayhem.
Not too encouraging, is it?
Do we have to do it again?
What's the flaw? What goes wrong in these cases? It's that each time, the nature of the "undemocratic" partner to the negotiations is dismissed as irrelevant. By the weird calculus of Western appeasers, it makes no difference if the interlocutor is a mass murderer, torturer, terrorist, racist, cheater, liar; in negotiations all parties are equal and have equally valid and rational aims, and can be trusted.
To Silvan Shalom, to Ha'aretz, it makes no difference that Freedom House has rated Syria one of the eight most oppressive regimes in the world along with Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkmenistan (not even Iran makes that list; Syria does). It doesn't matter that President Bush said last November 7 that Syria has left its people "a legacy of torture, oppression, misery and ruin."
The suicide bombing of the Maxim cafe in Haifa last October 4, which killed 21 people including three children and a baby girl, and wounded 60, came to you courtesy of Damascus. It was perpetrated by Islamic Jihad, which Syria shelters, funds, and supports. Just last week the Israeli Shin Bet (General Security Service) cracked a major Hamas infrastructure in Ramallah. It had already killed ten Israelis and was planning a kidnapping operation against soldiers in which the soldiers would be decapitated before being stuffed into the getaway car; the terrorists had already acquired the decapitation tools. Again, courtesy of Damascus, which sponsors Hamas along with Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah and a slew of other terror groups.
Anti-Semitism? Assad and Tlas's expressions are just the tip of the iceberg. A new study by B'nai B'rith says that: "Hateful attitudes continue to find expression in Syria's national school curricula, despite public gestures … in support of a diplomatically negotiated end to the Arab-Israel conflict.… Syrian school materials … include numerous blatantly antisemitic and incendiary passages that underscore Syria's ongoing support and promotion of international terrorism."
In October and November, the Syrian-produced, 29-part Ramadan TV series, Al-Shatat, was aired by Lebanon's Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar channel. This series portrays the Jews as trying for centuries to control the world via a secret global Jewish government, which was responsible for: starting World War I; starting World War II; dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; helping Hitler annihilate the Jews of Europe -- etc., etc. Broadcast to millions throughout the Arab world, courtesy of Syria.
If terrorism, anti-Semitism, the occupation of Lebanon, and domestic oppression and backwardness aren't enough, there's also torture; Syria is one of the torture capitals of the world. Ask Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom the U.S. deported to Syria last year because of alleged links with Al-Qaeda. Released this October, Maher said he was severely beaten with electric cables during six days of interrogation and threatened with electric shocks and the "metal chair," a Syrian-invented torture device that stretches the spine. After that he was held in a tiny basement cell without light for over ten months, cats and rats urinating down on him through a small grate in the ceiling. He is one of thousands, including domestic dissidents and Israeli prisoners of war, who have been tortured by Syria.
That's the Hafez/Bashar Assad regime -- one of the most vicious and evil on earth.
Let's not negotiate "peace" with Syria. Let's skip it this time.
If -- and it's still highly speculative -- the U.S. can cow Syria into leaving Lebanon, disbanding the terror organizations, easing the internal oppression, scrapping its WMD, we can only applaud. For doing those things, Israel owes Syria precisely nothing. It does not have to hand back the strategically vital Golan Heights, raze the Israeli villages, farms, and factories there to the ground, as a "price" for Syria's compliance with the most minimal human norms -- any more than it owes Qaddafi anything for allowing U.S. and British inspectors to peek around his nuke plants. And if America has more ambitious plans for Syria involving regime change, Israel hardly needs to deal with a sinister regime that's on the way out.
It's time to get rid of the idea of quid pro quo with terrorists and killers. When Syria turns into a civilized country with a decent regime, dialogue will be worth something.
P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Jerusalem.
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