Two days ago, when French President Jacques Chirac was visiting Syria, a senior Syrian official gave a briefing in which he said that Syria will go to war if Israel continues to refuse to withdraw from the Golan Heights. French officials then told reporters that from Chirac's discussions with Syrian President Hafez Assad, it is clear that Syria is committed to the peace process.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continued the doublethink, saying the French president had conveyed a "positive" message from Assad. Only in the Middle East could an open threat of aggression be construed as an expression of one's commitment to peace. And in what other country in the world would the prime minister describe a threat of war from a powerful neighbor as "positive"?
The US has also jumped on the bandwagon: US Secretary of State Warren Christopher apparently promised Assad that if President Bill Clinton is re-elected, he will put heavy pressure on Netanyahu to comply with all of Syria's demands. But only in the world of Big Brother is pressuring one country to give vital strategic territory to another that threatens it with war called making peace. Under normal circumstances, it is called appeasement.
Outside the Middle East, it is generally acknowledged that a willingness to refrain from going to war as long as the other party will give you whatever you want anyway is not a commitment to peace. It is simply the most cost-effective form of aggression. By threatening war, you save yourself the trouble of actually waging it. And since peace is a means rather than an end, it does not impose any barrier to waging a war next time you want something from the other side.
Real peace, however, means a commitment to refrain from war even if you do not get everything you want. It means an honest effort to resolve differences via negotiations.
What makes the scenario even more Orwellian is that the entire set of Syrian demands appears to be based on a massive fiction. Assad is insisting that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin promised him a withdrawal from the entire Golan, and this is the only point from which he is willing to start the talks. In fact, he said, Israelis and Syrians even reached a detailed agreement on deadlines for the withdrawal and security arrangements during the Wye Plantation talks.
If this is the case, one wonders why no paper documenting this agreement has ever been produced by any of the parties involved: Syria, Israel or the US. While a general promise could have been given orally, detailed agreements usually involve pen and paper at some point. Even if such a draft did exist, however, international agreements are only binding once they are signed. Only in the Middle East is an unsigned document by a previous government considered by the rest of the world to be binding on that government's successor.
But this point is trivial compared to the really big lie Assad continues to get away with: The claim that the Golan Heights are undisputed Syrian territory. Syria's claim to the Golan rests on the fact that it controlled the Heights between 1943 -- the year it became independent of France -- and 1967. At various other times in the past 2,000 years, the Golan has been controlled by the French, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks and several other peoples. Prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, the Golan was also controlled by Israel. Extensive archaeological remains have been found of the Jewish communities that once existed there.
Given that both Syria and Israel have some basis for a claim to the region, it seems that if Syria were really interested in peace, it would sit down and try to negotiate a compromise. This is especially true given that Syria lost the Golan in a war it started against Israel. Syria, however, is not interested in peace; it merely wants the Golan. This is why it calls any statement of Israel's own claims to the Golan a "provocation." But only in the Middle East are the territorial demands of an aggressor who lost a war considered legitimate, while for the victim, who won the war, to raise its own claims at the negotiating table is considered a "provocation."
It is clear that the international community is not going to suddenly stop living by Big Brother's rules, however much this might contribute to genuine peace in the region. Israel, however, can still put a stop to the Orwellian nonsense. It must insist that it will not negotiate with any country -- especially regarding the cession of vital strategic territory -- that is not genuinely interested in peace. And it must make it clear that a country which negotiates by threatening war if its demands are not met does not fill the bill.
In short, Israel must play the role of the child in the fairy tale who declared that the emperor was naked: It must proclaim the shocking truth that war is not peace.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1996