Golan Heights, January 2007 (Photo: N)
By now, the denunciations of the report in Ha'aretz that Israelis and Syrians engaged in secret talks on a peace agreement from September 2004 until August 2006, well into the war between Israel and Hizbullah, have hit the news tickers. Unnamed cabinet ministers and a former aide to Sharon have called the news "nonsense." Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, who sometimes talks sense and more often goes crazy, referred to the news as "sleight of hand."
I have previously been skeptical of Syrian overtures, and I don't know what it means that this report is coming out now, but if the draft framework for negotiations published in Ha'aretz is accurate, I am willing to lift all objections. Frankly speaking, this agreement is too good to be true for Israel. The draft includes
- an end to hostilities and the commencement of bilateral relations
- the establishment of demilitarized zones on the areas of the Golan evacuated by Israel
- "Zones of reduced military forces ... in Israel west of the international border with Syria and in Syria east of the Golan Heights" whose depths will be in a 1:4 ratio in favor of Israel
- cooperation in "fighting terrorism of all kinds"
- "the solution of regional problems related to the Palestinians, Lebanese, and Iran"
- a settlement on water sources under which Syria promises not to "interrupt or obstruct natural flow of water in either quality or quantity in the Upper Jordan River, its tributaries, and Lake Tiberias"
- the establishment of a Syrian-administered "Peace Park" east of the border that will be open to Israeli tourists without an entry visa
Anyone who rejects such a plan does not have the long-term interests of the State of Israel in mind. If a peace deal along the lines of this draft is still possible, the government of Israel must pursue it.