Converting Syria

An Arab-Israeli peace requires a comprehensive approach, because the problems at stake are intertwined. Not only are key issues such as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees insoluble without an all-Arab consensus, but any country that is left out of the peace process is bound to persist in its role as a revolutionary power bent on regional destabilization.

Admittedly, Israeli governments have never liked the idea of negotiating peace with all enemies simultaneously, if only because the political costs of the required concessions would be unbearable. The Israeli strategy of peacemaking therefore oscillates between two visions: while the Israeli left gives priority to the Palestinian problem, the Israeli right prefers pursuing a settlement with the big Arab powers.

The current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the American veto on negotiations with Syria indicate that we have returned to the “Palestine first” concept. But the prospects of success are desperately dim. With the Americans still refraining from engaging in a Clinton-like level of committed mediation, the parties look to be incapable of meeting each other’s minimal requirements for a settlement.

Their failure would have dire consequences for the entire region. The Syria-Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah axis would be emboldened in its challenge to American leadership in the region, and, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas humbled and defeated, a third Intifada would be a likely scenario.