Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Alon Ben Meir Speaks at Middle East Institute

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Alon Ben Meir Speaks at Middle East Institute

Article excerpt

ALON BEN MEIR SPEAKS AT MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE

Dr. Alon Ben Meir, who teaches at the New School for Social Research in New York City is Middle East project director for the World Policy Institute, spoke Jan. 12 at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC. He provided Israeli perspectives on negotiations with Syria. Interestingly, when asked whether he believed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak really was prepared to withdraw Israeli forces to the June 4, 1967 border with Syria, the sine qua non of the Syrian position, Ben Meir said probably not.

Yet, according to the Israeli press, it was Barak's assurance to President Bill Clinton that he was willing to withdraw Israeli forces to that line, which Clinton then passed on to Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, that elicited Syrian agreement to resume the talks, broken off after the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In postponing further talks in January, Syria cited as the reason Barak's unwillingness to state publicly what he allegedly promised Clinton privately.

Ben Meir said the Israeli dilemma is how to reconcile the problem of territorial withdrawals with the problem of security. The Israeli public has been conditioned to believe that "Golan is critically important to Israeli national security," he said. But, "if Syria is willing to offer a `real peace' the argument no longer has a strong basis." He continued, "the Israelis want a peace of reconciliation between the Israeli people and the Syrian people."

Ben Meir said the Syrians "have long since come to the conclusion that there is only one major player -- the United States. Therefore Syria must open channels to the United States and normalize relations." He noted also that "the Syrians have adhered to every detail in the agreement negotiated in 1974" (Sinai II).

Ben Meir said the difference between the 1967 border upon which the Syrians insist, and the 1923 border which the Israelis prefer, is between 7 and 11 square miles. …

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