Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

The United States convened peace talks between Syria and Israel in 1991 in Madrid as part of a broader peace process initiated after the Gulf War. Israel broke off the talks in 1996 but returned to the bargaining table in late 1999.

Yet while the U.S. tries to place itself in the center of the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations, the Clinton administration continues to shower Israel with billions of dollars annually in economic and military aid, in part to challenge Syria and its demand for the restoration of its conquered territory. Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton continues to call for the end of Syria's economic boycott of Israel and the normalization of relations while failing to insist upon a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan or even an end to its human rights abuses and the withdrawal of its illegal settlements.

Unlike in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the vast majority of the Arab population in the Golan region was expelled following the Israeli conquest, thus relieving Israel of many of the burdens of occupation. The Syrians expelled from the Golan in 1967 (counting descendants) now number as many as 300,000 and remain refugees in their own country. Only five villages remain, consisting of members of the Druze minority, who engaged in Gandhian-style nonviolent resistance against the occupation in the early 1980s, only to be brutally suppressed by Israeli forces without any apparent U.S. objections.

The Druze community overwhelmingly desires a return to Syrian governance, yet its right to self-determination has never been on the U.S. agenda. Washington did not even object when the Israelis systematically razed the provincial capital of Quneitra following a U.S.-brokered disengagement agreement between Israeli and Syrian forces in 1974.

Few Americans recognize that Syrians are at least as scared of Israel as Israelis are of Syria. The Israelis have on several occasions bombed Damascus, though the Syrians have never successfully attacked Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Indeed, Damascus currently remains within range of Israeli artillery. The Israelis, meanwhile, insist that if they withdraw their forces from the Golan, demilitarization must occur exclusively on the Syrian side.

Virtually all official U.S. statements on security issues have focused exclusively on Israeli security concerns, often reiterating that between 1948 and 1967, Syrian gunners would periodically lob shells from the Golan Heights into civilian areas within Israel. However, according to UN peacekeeping forces stationed along the border during that period, Israel engaged in far more cease-fire violations and inflicted far greater civilian casualties than did Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged in his diaries in 1967 that there was no clear strategic rationale for seizing the territories, and he later admitted to an Israeli reporter that the Golan was seized out of greed for its waters and fertile farmland. Many contemporary Israeli strategic analysts agree.

Without Soviet support, Syrian military power has fallen dramatically while Israel's has been further strengthened, in large measure with U.S. assistance. Indeed, in this era of medium-range missiles, controlling high ground such as the Golan would not yield Syria a significant military advantage. …

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