Gideon Levy on Liquidations

In his article, entitled “Liquidation Sale”, published today in Haaretz, Gideon Levy writes that “It was like an especially wild orgy: First the great intoxication of the senses, then the bitter sobering up the next morning. Within a few hours, Israel went from celebrating the assassination of Imad Mughniyah to the fear of what would follow. The ‘great feat of intelligence’, the ‘perfect execution’, the ‘humiliation of Bashar Assad’ were replaced in the blink of an eye with a spate of fear-inducing ‘travel advisories’ by the Counterterrorism Office – don’t travel, don’t identify yourself, don’t congregate, be careful, take every precaution – and with states of high alert on the northern border, and at all of Israel’s embassies and consulates, and Jewish community centers worldwide. If these are the dangers that lie in wait for us, one has to ask: What did we need this assassination for?

“Whoever killed Mughniyah was once again playing with the most dangerous fire of all: He undermined Israel’s security. If it was Israel, one has to ask whether there was any shred of sense in this move. If it was not Israel, our famed intelligence agencies would do well to prove this quickly, before the next disaster. Was the security of Israel’s citizens improved? Was terror dealt a permanent blow? History, with its multitude of previous assassinations, teaches that the answer is no. The chain of ‘terrorist chieftains’ liquidated by Israel, from Ali Salameh and Abu Jihad through Abbas Mussawi and Yihyeh Ayash to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi – all “operations” that we celebrated with great pomp and circumstance for one sweet and intoxicating moment – have thus far brought only harsh and painful revenge attacks against Israel and Jews throughout the world, as well as infinite replacements no less effective than their predecessors, and sometimes more so. From assassination to assassination, terror has only increased and become more sophisticated.

“We have never really demanded an accounting from those responsible for these liquidations; we have merely been excited by their ‘achievements’. How we enjoy wallowing in these childish tales of heroism! …

“First, the partying: It is depressing to see the pseudo-victory celebrations. What, for heaven’s sake, is there to celebrate, other than the oldest and most primitive feeling of all – revenge? The parade of generals and pundits who were interviewed in every possible platform, putting their heads together and dispensing cunning smiles, inflated with their own self-importance, along with the generations of terror victims who were called on to express the joy of their personal revenge, and the deciphering of hints – here is Ehud Olmert smiling in the Knesset and Ehud Barak standing tall in Ankara – all of these painted a picture of unparalleled grimness. Even devoted fans of the genre need to think about the morning after. Even for them, vengeance for the sake of vengeance, an eye for an eye, in the best spirit of our biblical values, cannot be the be-all and end-all. Moreover, a society that rejoices and takes pride in its media victory after every assassination is a society in bad shape, while a war on terror that only encourages ever more vicious reprisals is a lost war…”

Uri Avnery on Liquidations

This week’s article by Uri Avnery denounces its “targetted assassinations”:

“If a person in the street were asked to name the area of enterprise in which we Israelis excel, his answer would probably be: Hi-Tech. And indeed, in this area we have recorded some impressive achievements. It seems as if hardly a day passes without an Israeli start-up company that was born in a garage being sold for hundreds of millions. Little Israel is one of the major hi-tech powers in the world.

But the profession in which Israel is not only one of the biggest, but the unchallenged Numero Uno is: liquidations.

This week this was proven once again. The Hebrew verb ‘lekhassel’ – liquidate – in all its grammatical forms, currently dominates our public discourse. Respected professors debate with academic solemnity when to ‘liquidate’ and whom. Used generals discuss with professional zeal the technicalities of ‘liquidation’, its rules and methods. Shrewd politicians compete with each other about the number and status of the candidates for ‘liquidation’.

INDEED, FOR a long time now there has not been such an orgy of jubilation and self-congratulation in the Israeli media as there was this week. Every reporter, every commentator, every political hack, every transient celeb interviewed on TV, on the radio and in the newspapers, was radiant with pride. We have done it! We have succeeded! We have ‘liquidated’ Imad Mughniyeh!

He was a ‘terrorist’. And not just a terrorist, a master terrorist! An arch-terrorist! The very king of terrorists! From hour to hour his stature grew, reaching gigantic proportions. Compared to him, Osama Bin-Laden is a mere beginner. The list of his exploits grew from news report to news report, from headline to headline.

There is and never has been anyone like him. For years he has kept out of sight. But our good boys – many, many good boys – have not neglected him for a moment. They worked day and night, weeks and months, years and decades, in order to trace him. They ‘knew him better than his friends, better than he knew himself’ (verbatim quote from a respected Haaretz commentator, gloating like all his colleagues) … Mughniyeh-the-person has disappeared, and Mughniyeh-the-legend has taken his place, a world-embracing mythological terrorist, who has long been marked as ‘a Son of Death’ (i.e. a person to be killed) as declared on TV by another out-of-use general. His ‘liquidation’ was a huge, almost supra-natural, achievement, much more important than Lebanon War II, in which we were not so very successful. The ‘liquidation’ equals at least the glorious Entebbe exploit, if not more.

True, the Holy Book enjoins us: ‘Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth / Lest the Lord see it and it displeases him’. (Proverbs 24:17) But this was not just any enemy, it was a super-super-enemy, and therefore the Lord will certainly excuse us for dancing with joy from talk-show to talk-show, from issue to issue, from speech to speech, as long as we do not distribute candies in the street – even if the Israeli government denies feebly that we were the ones who ‘liquidated’ the man. AS CHANCE would have it, the ‘liquidation’ was carried out only a few days after I wrote an article about the inability of occupying powers to understand the inner logic of resistance organizations. Mughniyeh’s ‘liquidation’ is an outstanding example of this. (Of course, Israel gave up its occupation of South Lebanon some years ago, but the relationship between the parties has remained as it was.)

In the eyes of the Israeli leadership, the ‘liquidation’ was a huge success. We have ‘cut off the head of the serpent’ (another headline from Haaretz). We have inflicted on Hizbullah immense damage, so much that it cannot be repaired. ‘This is not revenge but prevention’, as another of the guided reporters (Haaretz again) declared. This is such an important achievement, that it outweighs the inevitable revenge, whatever the number of victims-to-be.

In the eyes of Hizbullah, thing look quite different. The organization has acquired another precious asset: a national hero, whose name fills the air from Iran to Morocco. The ‘liquidated’ Mughniyeh is worth more than the live Mughniyeh, irrespective of what his real status may have been at the end of his life.

Enough to remember what happened here in 1942, when the British ‘liquidated’ Abraham Stern (a.k.a. Ya’ir): from his blood the Lehi organization (a.k.a. Stern Gang) was born and became perhaps the most efficient terrorist organization of the 20th century.

Therefore, Hizbullah has no interest at all in belittling the status of the liquidatee. On the contrary, Hassan Nasrallah, exactly like Ehud Olmert, has every interest in blowing up his stature to huge proportions.

And the main thing: the anger about the murder and the pride in the martyr will inspire another generation of youngsters, who will be ready to die for Allah and Nasrallah. The more Israeli propaganda enlarges the proportions of Mughniyeh, the more young Shiites will be inspired to follow his example.

Everybody knows that there will be revenge. Nasrallah has promised this, adding that it could take place anywhere in the world. For a long time already, people in Israel believe Nasrallah much more than Olmert.

Israeli security organs are issuing dire warnings for people going abroad – to be on guard at every moment, not to be conspicuous, not to congregate with other Israelis, not to accept unusual invitations, etc. The media have magnified these warnings to the point of hysteria. In the Israeli embassies, security has been tightened. On the Northern border, too, an alert has been sounded – just a few days after Olmert boasted in the Knesset that, as a result of the war, the Northern border is now quieter than ever before.

Such worries are far from baseless. All the past ‘liquidations’ of this kind have brought with them dire consequences:

– The classic example is, of course, the ‘liquidation’ of Nasrallah’s predecessor, Abbas Mussawi. He was killed in South Lebanon in 1992 by Apache gunships. All of Israel rejoiced. Then, too, the Champagne was flowing. In revenge, Hizbullah blew up the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, as well as the Jewish community center there. The planner was, it is now alleged, Imad Mughniyeh. More than a hundred people perished. The main result: instead of the rather grey Mussawi, the sophisticated, masterly Nasrallah took over.

– Before that, Golda Meir ordered a series of ‘liquidations’ to revenge the tragedy of the Israeli athletes in Munich (most of whom were actually killed by the inept German police trying to prevent their being flown to Algeria as hostages). Not one of the ‘liquidated’ had anything to do with the outrage itself. They were PLO diplomatic representatives, sitting ducks in their offices. The matter is described at length in Stephen Spielberg’s kitschy film ‘Munich’. The result: the PLO became stronger and turned into a state-in-the-making, Yasser Arafat eventually returned to Palestine.

– The ‘liquidation’ of Yahyah Ayyash in Gaza in 1996 resembles the Mughniyeh affair. It was carried out by means of a booby-trapped cellular telephone. Ayyash’s dimensions, too, were blown up to giant proportions, so that he had become a legend already in his own lifetime. The nickname ‘the engineer’ was attached to him because he prepared the explosive devices used by Hamas. Shimon Peres, who had succeeded to the Prime Ministership after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, believed that the ‘liquidation’ would lend him huge popularity and get him re-elected. The opposite happened: Hamas reacted with a series of sensational suicide-bombings and brought Binyamin Netanyahu to power.

– Fathi Shikaki, head of Islamic Jihad, was ‘liquidated’ in 1995 by a bicyclist who shot him down in a Malta street. The small organization was not eradicated, but on the contrary grew through its revenge actions. Today it is the group which is launching the Qassams at Sderot.

– Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al was actually being ‘liquidated’ in a street in Amman by the injection of poison. The act was exposed and its perpetrators identified and a furious King Hussein compelled Israel to provide the antidote that saved his life. The ‘liquidators’ were allowed to go home in return for the release of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin from Israeli prison. As a result, Mash’al was promoted and is now the senior political leader of Hamas.

– Sheik Yassin himself, a paraplegic, was ‘liquidated’ by attack helicopters while leaving a mosque after prayer. A previous attempt by bombing his home had failed. The sheik became a martyr in the eyes of the entire Arab world, and has served since as an inspiration for hundreds of Hamas attacks.

The decision to carry out a ‘liquidation’ resembles the decision that was taken to start the Second Lebanon War: not one of the deciders gives a damn for the suffering of the civilian population that inevitably falls victim to the revenge.

Why, then, are the ‘liquidations’ carried out?

The response of one of the generals who was asked this question: ‘There is no unequivocal answer to this’.

These words are dripping with Chutzpa: how can one decide on such an action when there is no unequivocal answer to the question of its being worth the price?

I suspect that the real reason is both political and psychological. Political, because it is always popular. After every ‘liquidation’, there is much jubilation. When the revenge arrives, the public (and the media) do not see the connection between the ‘liquidation’ and the response. Each is seen separately. Few people have the time and the inclination to think about it, when everybody is burning with fury about the latest murderous attack.

In the present situation, there is an additional political motivation: the army has no answer to the Qassams, nor has it any desire to get enmeshed in the re-occupation of the Gaza Strip, with all the expected casualties. A sensational ‘liquidation’ is a simple alternative.

… When the ‘liquidation’ ends in success, the executioners can raise glasses of champagne. A mixture of blood, champagne and folly is an intoxicating but toxic cocktail”.

Uri Avnery’s weekly article was received by email.

Syria accepts invitation to Annapolis Conference

Haaretz has just reported “Government sources in Damascus said Sunday that the Syrian government will send its deputy foreign minister [Faysal Mekdad] to the Annapolis peace conference this week”. The Haaretz report is here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “in recent days the Annapolis conference has also turned into a meeting that is to a large degree about Syria”. The JPost article added that “While there is no love lost in Washington for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Syria’s presence at the meeting is something that in a matter of months has gone from something that the US indicated it would tolerate, to something that the US now wants badly. And not only the US. Jordan’s King Abdullah II made a rare trip to Damascus Sunday to try and get Assad on board. As odd as it may sound, Syria is the prize. The US wants to see Syria at Annapolis because its presence there will be proof that it may very well be possible to peel Syria out of Iran’s orbit and into the warm embrace of the ‘normative’ Arab world … Washington is so keen on seeing some kind of Syrian presence at Annapolis that it has apparently given assurances that “Syrian issues” will be addressed there in some fashion. And Syrian issues in this context means only one thing: the Golan Heights. Syria has made it clear that it would not show up in Maryland unless the Golan was on the agenda … Assad has a price for his attendance and for moving away from Iran, a price that – sooner or later – Israel will be asked to pay”.  The JPost commentary on Syria’s just-confirmed participation in the Annapolis event is here.

The Associated Press is reporting that “On the plane carrying [Israeli FM Tzipi] Livni and [Israeli PM Ehud] Olmert to the U.S., Livni suggested that a lack of Arab backing contributed to the failure of the last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which broke down in bloodshed in early 2001. The Arab world, she said, ‘should stop sitting on the fence’. ‘There isn’t a single Palestinian who can reach an agreement without Arab support’, she said. ‘That’s one of the lessons we learned seven years ago’.”  The AP report is here.

But, a commentator in Haaretz said, “Saud al-Faisal and his colleagues should treat Olmert like Sadat treated Begin in 1977 – not like Farouk al-Shara treated Ehud Barak in Shepherdstown in 2000”.  The then-Syrian Foreign Minister refused to shake hands with the then-Israeli Prime Minister. The commentator added that “the Arab guests at the summit must break their psychological barriers. If the stances taken (or orchestrated) at the summit succeed in shaking the lack of confidence the Israeli public has in the intentions of the Palestinians and the Arab states, its opinion may change. In this respect, it is disappointing to hear the announcement of the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia that he is traveling to the U.S., but does not intend to take part “in this theatrical gesture of shaking hands.” The behavior of the Arab foreign ministers toward the Israeli delegation to Annapolis will press a sensitive point among Israelis – their fear that they may be seen as suckers”.  The commentary in Haaretz is published here.

The political crisis in Lebanon is another a very important reason that everyone, in the end, desperately wanted Syria to attend [See our earlier posts, here, and here].

And, the Lebanese acting foreign minister [Tarek Mitri] has also just arrived in the U.S. to attend the Annapolis conference (though Hizbollah has protested this.)

Is Syria going to Annapolis? cont'd (1)

Haaretz newspaper is reporting today that Israel’s air strike on Syria in September has made it possible for the U.S. to invite Syria to Annapolis (!)

Haaretz says that “The Bush administration decided to invite Syria to the Annapolis conference due to Israel’s September air strike on what foreign media have termed a Syrian nuclear facility, American officials said. ‘Syria lost an important card in the air force strike, and that moved even members of the administration’s conservative camp to reconsider the position on Damascus‘, one said. The officials added that inviting Syria would reduce the likelihood of its encouraging Hezbollah and Hamas to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that Annapolis is supposed to launch.  Israeli and American officials held talks over the weekend on a formula for referring to the Syrian track that would suffice to bring Syria to the conference without undermining Israel’s interests. In the end, Washington decided to change the topic of the third session from ‘the Arab states’ involvement in the process’ to ‘the effort to achieve a comprehensive regional peace’ – language that implies peace deals with Syria and Lebanon as well as the Palestinians“. The Haaretz report on Syria’s presence being encouraged in Annapolis is here.

The Haaretz article also reported that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak all left for Annapolis Saturday night. Speaking on board his plane as he was about to leave for Washington, Olmert said Israel would ‘view positively’ Syria’s participation in the conference. ‘We have said constantly that we are interested in Syria participating’, Olmert said.

Is Syria going to Annapolis?

Yes/No. Yes/No.

Well, after the Arab League Ministerial Meeting in Cairo on Friday, maybe.

Our guess: Yes/But.

Whatever happens, Syria will not want to be left out.

Here is a fascinating analysis of the possibility that was just published in the Wall Street Journal: “…[T]here are growing signs the White House may be moving to do something it’s uniformly dismissed in the past: facilitate direct negotiations between Israel and Syria over the disputed Golan Heights. In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials have said the U.S. wouldn’t object to Syria’s raising Golan at Annapolis. Meanwhile, Israel has pursued a peace dialogue with Damascus, eager to calm tensions on its northeastern border and quash strong Syrian support for Palestinian extremist groups. Mr. Olmert has used Turkish intermediaries to explore options with the Syrians, according to Israeli officials. Retired Israeli diplomats also have held unofficial talks with a confidante of Mr. Assad’s over the past few years in an effort to find a formula to solve the Golan dispute. Many Israeli officials say Washington and Jerusalem should seek to wean Syria away from its growing alliance with Iran. They see the U.S.’s punitive actions against Damascus as driving President Assad further into the Iranian camp. ‘Maybe it’s time to employ the carrot to remove [Syria] from the axis of evil’, the deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, said in Washington last month. This will ‘prevent the Iranian influence’, he said. [n.b. there was a golden opportunity at the end of the Cold War, when Syria’s former main benefactor, the Soviet Union, collapsed. But no — the U.S. want to continue to indicate its displeasure with Syria. So, enter Iran …]

The Wall Street Journal continues: “A number of U.S. officials, particularly in the White House, have voiced reservations about engaging the Syrians. They particularly worry that any talks with Damascus could hurt Lebanon, which Syria occupied for more then 30 years before withdrawing in 2005 after the Hariri murder. The belief is that Syria will demand renewed political influence inside Lebanon in return for peace with Israel. U.S. officials particularly believe Damascus is playing a central role in the current political standoff in Beirut, where governing and opposition groups have been unable to elect a new president for weeks. Lebanon’s president Friday declared a state of emergency , arguing the additional security was needed to ward off a civil war. ‘We wouldn’t have the problems we see today in Lebanon if Syria were deciding to take a different role. Plain and simple’, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told a Senate hearing earlier this month. at the same time, U.S. officials, including Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus, have been praising Damascus for what they say has been its ‘robust’ effort recently to cut off the flow of foreign fighters crossing into Iraq. Some Syria analysts say there are indications that President Assad has taken steps to limit the movements of militant leaders based in Damascus, such as Hamas’s political head, Khaled Mashal. A Syrian diplomat said his government has significantly increased the policing of its borders into Iraq, including developing more watchtowers and border patrols. The Syrian government also allowed foreign diplomats, including a U.S. representative, to monitor its border operations during a tour earlier this month”. The WSJ piece can be read here.

The AP reported from Cairo on Friday that “The Arab League decision [to attend the Annapolis event], made after intense discussions late Thursday and Friday, meant that the members of a league committee tasked earlier this year with dealing with the peace process will attend Annapolis. Those countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Much of the day’s talks were focused on trying to persuade Syria that the conference would at least in some way address the Golan issue. The league gathering sent a joint letter to Washington demanding that the conference deal with relaunching negotiations between Israel and Syria, which wants the full return of the Golan in return for peace.

At Friday’s Arab League meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the inclusion of the Syrian track at Annapolis.

According to Arab diplomats, while Washington’s invitation did not specifically call for resumption of negotiations on the Golan, it referred to UN resolutions concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which calls for a return for Arab lands seized in 1967 in return for full peace with Israel. [n.b. Israel is adamant that any talks must be based on this UN Resolution 242.]

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there would be room at Annapolis to talk about the Golan.” [n.b., this would apparently be in the context of discussion of “national interests”.] The AP report from Cairo is here.

A U.S. State Department Spokesman, Karl Duckworth, reportedly told journalists Friday that “All attendees are entitled to express their views and national interests as they see them,” Duckworth said, reading a statement…” This AFP report can be seen here.

The dispute between Israel and Syria apparently comes down to a strip of Golan territory that comes down from the heights to the shore of the Sea of Galilee — or, as Israelis call it, Lake Kinneret. The Kinneret is the source of some one-third of Israel’s water, apparently. On a recent trip there with a group of journalists, our Israeli accompaniers and guides — several with a military background — said that Israel’s position is that Syria never had “its foot on the Kinneret” — and never will.

Well, it turns out that during the time of the Syria Mandate, run by France under the vague authority of the League of Nations, “Syria” (the state we know now did not exist then, this was a Mandatory province) did not have have its toes dipping into the Sea of Galilee. But, in the 1948 war that broke out after Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the modern state of Syria did indeed get itself to the water. Note to myself: check out the borders mentioned in the UN-negotiated armistice agreement between Israel and Syria.

There was also — very significantly — a swap in 1923 between Britain, which administered (by then, separately) “Palestine” and “Transjordan”, and France, which administered “Lebanon” and “Syria” (both formerly part of Greater Syria, as was part of “Palestine”). Britain gave up the Golan to the French. Keep your eyes on the mandate — Israel’s claims and ambitions seem to be to get everything that was included in the British Mandate of Palestine, possibly as later modified by UN Security Council Resolution 242 … Forget UN General Assembly Resolution 181 in this context, which partitioned British-ruled Palestine into two states — one Jewish and one Arab. Resolution 242 calls for a return to the lines of June 1967 — not to the lines drawn by UNGA Resolution 181. Resolution 181 was adopted in November 1947, but in May 1948 Israel acquired a lot of additional territory in the area of the Palestine Mandate — and Jordan and Egypt occupied the rest. The Green Line — the 1967 cease-fire lines — delineated the Palestinian land since occupied by Israel, and from which the UN asked Israel to withdraw.

When the Palestinians declared their own state in November 1988, they claimed the West Bank and Gaza Strip areas occupied in June 1967. At that moment, international law experts say, the Palestinians relinquished any claim on land that was assigned to the “Arab” state that was to be created on the basis of UNGA Resolution 181.

But, that still leaves the question of the Golan. And the Syrians want it addressed in Annapolis. And, they want it back, every inch — apparently according to the 1949 Armistice Lines [note to myself: check this delineation].

A small part of the area where Israel, Syria, and Lebanon intersect is the Shebaa Farms — which Syria and Lebanon have said is Lebanese, but which the UN has said, until now, is part of the Golan — and thus is occupied by Israel. The UN says that Syria must resolve this problem with Israel. But Syria cannot resolve anything with Israel — including the more important question of a slice of territory along the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret).

Oh, and did I mention that Israel may also want to keep some of the “heights” in the Golan? The military men who accompanied us said that this would be only fair — they now occupy three of the heights, and Syria still has the other three. They pointed them out in the distance. Sometimes, however, Israeli officials say that they are ready to give back “all” of the Golan for a peace deal with Syria. “All” but the strip of land along the water. “All” but the heights…? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the AP is also reporting from Lebanon that “President Emile Lahoud said Friday that Lebanon is in a ‘state of emergency’ and ordered the army to take over security powers, hours before he was stepping down without a successor and leaving a political vacuum in the divided country. The pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rejected the move …
The president cannot declare a state of emergency without approval from the government, but Lahoud’s spokesman said Saniora’s government is considered unconstitutional … The army command refused to comment on the developments. The military had already been on alert for several days, deploying hundreds of troops in tanks, armored personnel carriers and jeeps along intersections leading to Beirut and around the downtown area where the parliament building is located. The city was normal throughout the day, but traffic was lighter than usual, and most schools were closed. Lahoud was still expected to step down when his term ends at midnight Friday. Both sides had been counting on the military to ensure calm in the political chaos, and it was unclear if Lahoud’s announcement would give the military any powers beyond security measures. But his talk of a ‘state of emergency’ raised already high tempers as both sides enter a new phase of trying to find a new president for the country. Parliament made a final attempt Friday afternoon to convene to vote on a president before Lahoud leaves office. But the opposition, led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, boycotted the session, preventing it from reaching the necessary two-thirds quorum. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the opposition, scheduled another session for Nov. 30 to give the factions more time to try to find a compromise candidate — which they have failed to do in weeks of talks mediated by France’s foreign minister and other international officials … Much of what happens next in Lebanon … may depend in part on Tuesday’s U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference. Syria has not formally decided whether to go to Annapolis, Md., but it likely will. Government supporters have accused Syria of using its allies in Lebanon to block a deal on the presidency until it sees what it gets in the conference. Damascus wants Annapolis to address its demands for the return of the Israeli-held Golan Heights“. The AP report on the tense situation in Lebanon is

So, the Annapolis meeting may actually have a bigger immediate impact on the crisis in Lebanon than on the situation of the Palestinian people…

Will Syria attend the Annapolis event?

Will Syria attend or not?
Will Syria be invited as part of an Arab League or Arab Committee group, or individually?
Will Syria’s occupied territory (the Golan Heights) be on the agenda?
These are some of the questions still unanswered about the apparently-looming Annapolis event.

Joshua Landis wrote on Thursday on his Syria Comment blog that “Asad is sticking to his negotiating position on the Golan. He does not want his pockets picked going into Maryland. The Arab league is of similar mind. This suggests that Saudi Arabia and Syria have been putting their heads together to some extent – a least by means of Egyptian mediation. This is a good thing. Arab unity has been absent since the invasion of Iraq, leaving the region prostrate at the feet of the West and Iran. Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt must put their heads together going into talks with the Israelis or it will be all process and no peace – that is what the Israelis and some in the Bush administration want. It is the duty of the Arab governments to get a higher price for their participation. Their stock is already low enough as it is. The last thing they need is another round of fruitless negotiations that lead nowhere but to the loss of more land in the West Bank and a lower standard of living for the Palestinians”.
This post can be read in full here.

A temporal "buffer zone" — but no timeline

Haaretz today is reporting more details from the testimony given by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday.

The Haaretz story says that “Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to a new plan that skips over the first stage of the road map – eliminating terror and dismantling the settlements – according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Since the unveiling of the road map in 2002, Israel has been opposed to negotiations on a final-status agreement before the first stage of the road map was implemented. However last week the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams agreed that following the Annapolis summit scheduled for the end of the month, negotiations on a final-status arrangement would begin. The agreement states that if a final-status accord is reached, it would be subject to the implementation of the road map by the parties. Israel and the Palestinians entered an intensive stage of the negotiations on Monday in a bid to formulate a declaration to be presented at the Annapolis conference. The negotiating teams, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmad Qureia for the Palestinian Authority, met in Jerusalem and were to meet again Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice will decide based on the progress of the parties whether to come to the region again next week.
Continue reading A temporal "buffer zone" — but no timeline