Soon, everyone in Washington will be able to breathe a breath of fresh air once Benjamin Netanyahu has gone. But it won’t be long before we’re graced with the presence of the illustrious Hosni Mubarak and the honorable Mahmoud Abbas. These three apes will be Obama’s partners in ‘peace’ for the foreseeable future, but some parties crucial to any comprehensive resolution remain absent from US-mediated negotiations that are supposedly regional in their approach.
There is no reason to believe that Khaled Meshaal or Ismail Haniyeh will be invited to the White House, but some people were starting to hope that Syria could soon become part of the process. It would make sense. The Golan Heights remain occupied and Damascus continues to support Hamas and Hezbollah. US officials also accuse Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. Breaking from the policies of the previous administration, senior diplomats have made numerous trips to Syria in recent months and relations appeared to be improving.
Reality struck when president Obama decided to renew sanctions on Syria. Needless to say, this was not well received in Damascus. The White House explained its decision, saying Syria poses “a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States” because it is “supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction” and not helping to advance the US agenda in Iraq. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is planning on making his way over to Damascus to discuss this “national emergency” but his trip is unlikely to bear many fruits.
Unless the administration begins to do something more than talk, there is little reason for optimism when it comes to US-Syrian relations. As long as members of the US government (and the masses) continue to view Syria through the same prism as Iran there is no hope for change. Currently, most Americans cannot think of Syria without recalling Iran, and vice versa.
That’s a shame only because it’s so far from the truth. The most glaring difference between them is that Syria has a secular government while Iran is a theocracy. The Hama massacre was the most grotesque example of the lengths to which Damascus has gone to prevent anything resembling the revolution that swept through Iran. The greatest tie that binds the two nations is resistance to Israel. That similarity is the main reason why some people find it so hard to differentiate between them.
Of course, Israeli officials have gone to great lengths to portray Syria and Iran as one in the same, even if the spotlight has recently been on the latter. Despite the close proximity of Israel and Syria, Iran presents a greater military threat whose nuclear ‘capabilities’ cannot be taken down so easily. (It also serves as a smokescreen to shield attention away from the question of Palestine.)
Bibi spent 95% of his time in Washington talking about Iran. There are no indications of any substantive discussions having taken place on Capitol Hill about peace in the Middle East. Everyone was too busy talking about Iran, or sucking up to their master. Since the Iran-obsessed Israeli agenda dominated the proceedings, Syria must have been a more prominent talking point than anything resembling a two-state solution.
Washington’s efforts notwithstanding, there is little hope of any settlement between Israel and Syria for the time being. Netanyahu has adamantly refused to release the Golan Heights. The diplomatic dance between Washington and Damascus is fun to watch, but very little will come out of it so long as US policy is rooted in Israeli interests. Still, Obama continues to talk… If meaningful diplomatic relations were to be established, that would be a good thing. It would be a start, even if it has no immediate consequences. But even that seems like a lofty goal when one takes into account the recent renewal of US sanctions on Syria and Tuesday’s buttlicking contest on Capitol Hill.
Wouldn’t it be be nice if Obama sent an ambassador to Damascus and lifted sanctions on Syria? Maybe then, he could try to convince Netanyahu to let go of the Golan Heights and invite Bashar Assad over for matzo-ball soup. The Obamas and Assads could start hanging out, and Israelis could become friends with Syrians just like they are with Egyptians and Jordanians!
We are not living in a fantasy world so we should expect nothing from Israel, but there is no reason for an outside observer not to expect that US-Syrian relations can improve. They should if there is to be any hope of a comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.