21 Tishrei 5760 October 1, 1999 Issue number 239
Fourteen Palestinian Farms Approved in Gush Etzion
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Sha'ul Goldstein was informed this week, during his meeting with Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, that the Civil Administration has approved twelve Palestinian farms throughout Gush Etzion. All except one are in territory under total Israeli control - Area C. The left-wing Gush Shalom organization announced its intentions to support Palestinian efforts to construct the farms. Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that a well-known senior officer in the Civil Administration, "known for his great sympathy with Palestinian interests, simply circumvented the IDF Central Command in granting the approvals to the farms. In addition, he simply ignored the withdrawal maps, in allowing the farms to be constructed smack in the middle of Israeli-controlled territory." Many of the officer's colleagues objected to the decision. The 13 Area C farms take up a total of 2998 dunams (almost 750 acres). Deputy Minister Sneh promised Goldstein that the works would be stopped for two weeks in order to carefully check who owns the lands. Huberman reports, "A certain amount of the territory is in the early stages of being declared state land, but even the farms on private Arab-owned lands are only allowed to be run privately and not by the PA, as is the case. The PA has signs on the properties, attesting to the fact that it is behind the works. In addition, no structures are allowed to be built there." Goldstein said that if government representatives were involved in the approvals - which is not certain - "this means that the entire policy of 'Jewish settlement blocs' in Yesha has collapsed." Dina Yeshurun, secretary of the Samaria community of Shavei Shomron, told Arutz-7 that she was recently surprised to find Palestinian farm works underway in her town's vicinity near Mt. Eval. "The farm goes from the eastern gate of an important army base, all the way up to Yehoshua Bin-Nun's altar - altogether a couple of hundred dunams," she said. (Arutz 7 Sep 29)
Palestinian Senior Threatens Violence
Palestinian Parliament Chairman Abu Ala threatens the renewal of warfare against Israel. Abu Ala, visiting in China, said today that if an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem is not reached, "the Palestinians will return to armed struggle against Israel, in all its forms." He also said that the Palestinians will insist on the implementation of the right of return from all Arabs who left Israel during the War of Independence. (Arutz 7 Sep 24)
SLA Soldier Killed by Hizbullah Fire
A soldier of the Southern Lebanese Army was killed, and two others were wounded, in a battle with Hizbullah terrorists this morning. Israel Air Force planes bombed yet again Hizbullah terrorist targets in southern Lebanon today. The IDF spokesman reports that the planes returned safely to base. (Arutz 7 Sep 29)
Police Report: Ras El Amoud Is Safe
A police report concludes that the Jewish construction in Ma'aleh HaZeitim (Ras el-Amoud) does not present a security risk. The report, authorized by Police Commissioner Yehuda Wilk, comes at an inconvenient time for the Prime Minister's Office. Prime Minister Barak is anxious to stop the construction in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood, and Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein ruled several weeks ago that the only acceptable excuse to do so would be that of security. (Arutz 7 Sep 29)
Touring the Golan
Hundreds of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union toured the Golan Heights Wednesday. The tours were arranged by the Golan Residents Committee and the Yisrael Beiteinu and Yisrael B'Aliyah parties. Golan leaders feel that the Russian immigrant population will play a key role in the planned referendum on the region. MK Yuri Stern (Yisrael Beiteinu) told Arutz-7 that many of the new immigrants accompanying him today have never seen the Golan, and "although the general public objects to a withdrawal from the Golan, and the new immigrants even more so, it is better for them to see with their own eyes how strategically critical the Golan is for Israel. We have just come from Mitzpeh Gadot, where we saw how the Golan completely overlooks the entire Sea of Galilee and many Jewish moshavim and communities." Some 50 members of Professors for a Strong Israel also toured the Golan Wednesday. Prof. of Psychology Elchanan Meir, speaking from Mitzpeh HaGolan, said, "It's important for all of us to see with our own eyes the security issues, the water sources, the people who live here - otherwise we don't know what the true story is." He said that various psychological ruses are being used to accustom the public to the idea of a withdrawal from the Golan: "The very use of the term 'to return' the Golan - you can't return something that is yours to begin with. By saying 'return,' it is implied that the Golan is not ours. In addition, the term 'sacrifices for peace' and counting the number of killed in Lebanon as a basis for deciding whether to leave the Golan - why shouldn't we similarly count the number of motorcycle-accident victims and decide accordingly whether we should 'cede' our right to ride motorcycles? Obviously this is not done, so why should it be done with the Golan?" The Ariel Center for Policy Research, in an act of solidarity with the Golan, held a day-long conference in Katzrin Tuesday, dealing with the importance of the Golan Heights even during peace time. Meretz MK Anat Maor was scheduled to speak there, but canceled at the last minute for technical reasons. (Arutz 7 Sep 29)
NRP and Yisrael B'aliyah Turn down Sharon's Offer
The National Religious Party and Yisrael B'Aliyah have rejected opposition leader Ariel Sharon's offer to join his "nationalist parties forum." NRP leader Rabbi Yitzchak Levy explained that it would be improper for a coalition party to take part in an opposition-led forum. (Arutz 7 Sep 29)
Clinton and Levy Still Hoping for Wye Funds
Foreign Minister David Levy said that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told him that "President Clinton himself"is involved in taking care of arranging the payment of the promised Wye Agreement aid to Israel. The Congress passed a foreign aid bill this week that did not include this money. Albright, speaking before American Jewish organizations Tuesday, said, "At the moment, and this is really hard to believe, we are facing a foreign appropriations bill that is two billion dollars short of what the President had asked, and well below what is needed to maintain U.S. leadership. At these levels, we would have no flexibility to deal with emerging threats or crises. Therefore, I along with other advisors, have recommended that the President veto the bill..." Former Israeli liaison to Congress Yoram Ettinger told Arutz-7 that the predicament reflects the real financial limitations Congress faces.
"Despite the reported flowering of the U.S. economy, Congress is short $30 billion for vital education and health programs," Ettinger explained. "For Americans, these issues are of a higher priority than the Wye agreement. AIPAC and other Jewish lobby groups well understand this, and have accordingly hesitated to exert strong pressure in the congressional corridors." The problem highlights a broader set of mistaken assumptions of Israeli diplomacy, as well, Ettinger emphasized. "For some reason, Israeli officials believe that if the President promised money at Wye, then it's already in their pockets. This represents a serious misunderstanding of the American system: The White House does not hold the purse strings - Capitol Hill does!" This Israeli short-sightedness has crucial implications for negotiations with Syria, Ettinger said. "It's not that well-known yet, but during Barak's recent visit to Washington, President Clinton reportedly promised him a package of at least $20 billion to fund an Israeli pull-out from the Golan Heights. Clinton did not discuss the pledge with Congress, to whom it would be quite unacceptable. Despite this, Israel is hoping for a deal with Syria under the mistaken impression of a guarantee of U.S. financial and military support." Foreign Minister Levy addressed the United Nations Tuesday. His speech ended with the sentence, "United Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty will ever remain the eternal capital of Israel." (Arutz 7 Sep 29)
Syrian Track Stalled
Foreign Minister David Levy complained Tuesday that the Syrians have taken too hard of a line in their opening position, making it difficult to find a formula that will enable the beginning of negotiations with Israel. In this connection, President Ezer Weizman said Monday, "I'm beginning to think that we don't have to run after [Syrian President] Assad so much. At some point, there's a limit. If he wants, he'll come [and speak to us], and if doesn't want, he won't come." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has denied reports that she said that Israel's control over the Golan Heights threatens Middle East stability. (Arutz 7 Sep 28)
U.S. Aid Hurts Israeli Factories
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Tuesday that additional factories that produce goods for the Defense Ministry are expected to be closed in the near future. It was learned this week that workers in a shoe-factory in Kiryat Malachi will be laid off, because the Defense Ministry receives shoes from the U.S. Sneh explained that the U.S. defense aid and accompanying stipulations that much of it must be spent in the U.S, is the reason that Israel does not need and cannot afford made-in-Israel goods. An official Defense Ministry spokesman, however, said that all attempts will be made to buy Israel-made products. (Arutz 7 Sep 28)
Two Arabs Hijack Taxi
A taxi driver was beaten and his cab commandeered by two Arab passengers Monday night. The attackers, residents of eastern Jerusalem, alighted near the Arab village of Kfar Kana, in the Galilee. On their way south, near Rosh Ha'Ayin, they beat, tied up, and threw the driver from his car, and drove off with the cab to Ramallah. The taxi driver was hospitalized, but his car was later found, and the attackers were arrested. (Arutz 7 Sep 28)
PA Upset With Israeli Growth
The Palestinian Authority claims that Israel's continued construction in the Yesha settlements is a violation of the recently-signed Sharm a-Sheikh agreement. The PA plans to submit a complaint to the international community on the matter. PA Chairman Yasser Arafat was quoted last week to the effect that Israel is complying most satisfactorily with the Sharm a-Sheikh agreement. (Arutz 7 Sep 28)
Former GSS Chief Pushes For Raviv Pardon
Arutz-7 has learned that former General Security Services Chief Yaakov Perry and several of his former associates are exerting heavy pressure on the State Attorney's office to issue a pardon to GSS agent-provocateur Avishai Raviv. The Raviv trial, which has been postponed several times, is scheduled to begin on Sunday. A senior source in the GSS told correspondent Yehoshua Me'iri that recent revelations of the organization's activities during Perry's term have prompted certain seniors in the GSS to call for a thorough internal investigation of the organization's mode of functioning during the Perry era. The source added that such an investigation would "shed led light on many troubling chapters involving the GSS over the past decade." (Arutz 7 Sep 27)
Barak: Negev over Shomron
Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced today that the government will prefer developing industrial zones in the Negev Desert over the expansion of the Barkan industrial zone in the Shomron. Barak made the comments to Negev residents who visited his sukkah. The Yesha Council called upon Barak to retract the statement, and to instead "simultaneously solve the unemployment problem in the Negev and expand the successful Barkan industrial park. Mr. Barak should stand by his pledge to be the Prime Minister of the entire nation." (Arutz 7 Sep 27)
More PLO Territorial Demands
The PLO's Feisal Husseini says that the Palestinians will insist on discussing the status of western Jerusalem in final-status talks between the two sides. Husseini told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that 70% of western Jerusalem is owned by Arabs. The Palestinian Authority would like to receive jurisdiction over the Sebastia train station in Samaria in order to "renovate it and carry out historical studies of the site." Chairman of the PA committee on renovating archeological sites Muhammad Shetiya says that though Sebastia is located within official Israeli territory, it has been neglected over the past several decades. The PA proposes to refurbish the site as part of a $15 million dollar program to improve archeological sites under its auspices. The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority noted that Israel has already channeled nearly half a million shekels to the Sebastia station for renovations. Sebastia is of special interest in Yesha circles, as it was the site of the first settlement effort in Samaria, around 1972. Local Jewish interests plan to build a museum there, depicting the story of the contemporary Yesha settlement enterprise. Avraham Shvut of the Shomron Regional Council told Arutz-7 Sunday that there is no historical significance to the site, other than its Yesha-settlement history and the fact that the Turks built a train station there. (Arutz 7 Sep 26)
Jordanian Journalists Censored for Visiting Israel
Three Jordanian journalists who visited in Israel face disciplinary proceedings. A Jordanian Press Council official said that the three will likely be barred from their profession, as "the policy of Jordanian journalism is not to conduct any contacts with Israel." (Arutz 7 Sep 26)
Housing Ministry Prepares For New Units in Yesha
Housing Minister Rabbi Yitzchak Levy (National Religious Party) said Sunday that the tenders for the construction of 2,600 apartments issued by his ministry in Judea and Samaria do not stand in opposition to the government guidelines. He said that the housing units in question are necessary for natural growth, and that they are mainly in areas not far from Jerusalem such as Ma'aleh Adumim and Beitar. Rabbi Levy and Likud leader Ariel Sharon were guests at a ceremony Sunday dedicating the new Beit Midrash at the Har Hevron community of Otniel. (Arutz 7 Sep 26)
[Following up on last week's article by Ari Shavit, here is yet another article by a left-wing commentator... Is this the start of a trend? -ed.]
Gush Emunim's Success By David Newman
There is nothing like moving one's office (or house) to discover long lost treasures. Some of these often remind one of past life events, professional occupations and, as happened to me this week, research projects which continue to touch upon the very heart of Israel's political life.
Spending this Succot vacation moving my office to the new Politics Department at Ben Gurion University, I am delighted at the chance to finally dispose of materials and papers which have accumulated over the past decade. At the back of the cupboards and shelves I come across documents which served me in my research of the early and mid-1980's. At the time I was interested in the changing patterns of settlement in Israel, in general, and the impact of the West Bank settlements on social and political life in particular.
Some of the documents are, indeed, quite unique, and will be kept if only because of their rarity and collectors' value. They include the original "master plan" drawn up by the fledgling Gush Emunim movement in the mid-1970's, with their stated intention of settling the West Bank with two million Jewish residents by the year 2000. It was more of an ideological statement than a concrete plan of action, although this document did contain the first printed version of a new settlement form, the yishuv kehillati which, as it has turned out some twenty or so years later, became the prototype for virtually all settlement activity and change - both beyond and within the Green Line - in Israel over this period.
Another document is the settlement plan drawn up by the World Zionist Organization in 1983. This blueprint, spearheaded by the then right-wing head of the Settlement Agency Matityahu Drobless, was slightly more realistic in its approach, promoting the settlement of 100,000 Jewish settlers by the end of the decade. At the time, even this was seen as being no more than a dream, far too large to implement given the slow process of settlement expansion in those (not so far off) days.
They may have missed the deadline of 1990, but not by much. By the mid-1990s, the West Bank counted approximately 140,000 settlers (not including east Jerusalem), many of them in large dormitory and commuter settlements of a nature unheard of in an Israel of some twenty or so years ago.
Gush Emunim and their pro-settlement allies started their active campaign exactly one year after the Yom Kippur War - during the Succot festival of 1974, precisely 25 years ago this week. With the government of the time refusing to authorize their requests for new settlements in areas which, then as now, were seen as being part of a future Palestinian entity (then an "autonomous" zone, now an independent state), the diehard religious nationalists used the Succot festival (or more precisely the night after Simchat Torah) to coin a new term in the Israeli political lexicon - hitnachalut.
Taken from the Joshuan conquests of ancient Israel following the exodus from Egypt, the religious nationalists of today perceived themselves as the groups who would "reconquer" and "reliberate" the land on behalf of the Jewish people.
THE political sequel is well known to all. Despite opposition by some governments, and support by others (notably the Begin, Shamir and Netanyahu governments), Gush Emunim created an impressive settlement fortress throughout the West Bank, one which has come to haunt all those involved in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which have taken place in recent years.
Even a government which would, in principle, agree to the evacuation of all settlements as part of a final agreement with the Palestinians, knows that it will be unable to implement a blanket, even a partial, settlement evacuation. It will be met with violent opposition on the part of those for whom such an act is akin to a betrayal of their very raison d'etre, for whom ultra-nationalism and territorial irredentism has become their own narrative of what Zionism is all about.
Depending on the way you look at it, it is indeed the settlements which have become the major obstacle on the path to a full peace agreement, or the last fortification in the way of a Palestinian state. But there are probably very few who were involved in the first hitnachalut at the Sebastia train station in Succot 1974, or those who helped write the first Gush Emunim settlement "master plan" who probably ever dreamed that they would achieve as much as they did. Right now, they may be fighting a back-to-the-wall battle, intent on preserving as many of the settlements as possible in the full knowledge that a Palestinian state is now an inevitability, painfully aware that their dream of a "Greater Israel" has been rejected by the vast majority of Israelis and that they will have to make do with a smaller, but more secure, country in the future. But one cannot take away from them the political force that they became, precisely because instead of demonstrating in Kikar Rabin, they went out and established settlements.
These documents are collectors' items, as well as important insights into a period of time, and a group of people, who had a profound effect, for good or bad, on Israeli society during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
The writer chairs the department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev (Jerusalem Post Sep 29)
What do American Jews think about Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians? A late September survey of 800 self-identified Jewish voters from around the United States, carried out by John McLaughlin and Associates, produced interesting results with important implications.
By an almost 3-to-1 margin (60 to 22 percent, with an accuracy of ± 3.5% at a 95% confidence interval), American Jews say that Israel should not sign a treaty with the Palestinians if this requires an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Then, given a choice - whether the Arab world sincerely accepts Israel's right to exist, or whether it seeks the eventual destruction of Israel - the respondents by a similar 3-to-1 margin (60 to 19%) find that the Arabs still want to eliminate Israel. After a quarter-century of Israel turning land over to the Arabs, this is a very significant number, one resulting from a deep-seated Arab reluctance to accept Israel's permanence.
By an overwhelming 6-to-1 margin (76 to 13%), American Jews say that President Clinton's promise of $900 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over five years should be paid only if the PA removes all antisemitic and anti-Israel statements from its school books. An even larger 8-to-1 margin (78 to 10%) wants to hold back on the money until Yasser Arafat fulfills his Oslo obligations to outlaw and disarm terrorist groups and to extradite terrorists to Israel.
In contrast to these decisive stands, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem has less backing. Asked whether they agree with the Congressional legislation to move the embassy (in recognition of Israel's claim that Jerusalem is its capital) or with President Clinton's opposition to the legislation (on the grounds that the city's status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians), the respondents by a nearly 2-to-1 margin (57 to 30%) agree with Congress. The sample also strongly endorses the prime ministry of Ehud Barak: asked if he is headed in the right direction or is off track, it approved of him by an 8-to-1 margin (63 to 8%).
Finally, the poll finds that American Jews are not much focused on Israel. In a question asking about the issues that most concern them, an overwhelming 87% pointed to domestic issues and only 5% to foreign policy
ones. This helps explain the not very high level of interest about Israel and the Middle East, with 34% saying they read a "great deal" on these subjects and 58% saying "only somewhat" about them.
This profusion of opinions has four major implications. First, it confirms polling done by the American Jewish Committee since 1993 that points to a toughening of attitudes on the question of the Palestinians. As Yale Zussman concluded in his Middle East Quarterly study of six years of AJC polling, "American Jewry is increasingly wary of a negotiation process that it worries may be a trap for Israel." Second, there is a seeming contradiction between the overwhelming support for Barak himself and for positions that he does not endorse (such as withholding money to the PA). This suggests that while American Jews have high regard for the Israeli prime minister, they are generally not aware of the steps he is taking quite contrary to their own views - a conclusion supported by the fact that only one third of them say they are well-informed about Israel. Third, these results raise questions about an Israel Policy Forum poll commissioned in July 1999 that found American Jews "supporting] the Israeli-Palestinian peace process" by a 11-to-1 margin (88 to 8%). Well, yes, they do strongly support in principle the idea of Israel finding a way to end Palestinian hostilities against it, but our survey shows they lso have strong ideas about how this should be done - and these ideas are much more skeptical than those promoted by the current Israeli leadership. Fourth, American Jews appear to be less engaged with Israel. Yes, a committed minority continues to follow the news intensely, travel to Israel, lobby Congress, and give money, but growing numbers of American Jews have other things on their minds.
For Israel, this has the utmost importance, given the vital role American Jews have had in the formulation of US policy toward the Middle East. This decline in interest has particular importance at a time when - as shown by the recent Burger King, Sprint, and Disney episodes - Arab and Moslem groups in the United States are finding their voice.(Jerusalem Post Sep 28)
The writer is director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.
Lebanon. Syrian troops have been in this country since 1976, and Asad makes little pretence to hide the high degree of control he maintains over his weaker neighbor. On three occasions, however, Syrian authorities have concurred with decisions made by others that Syrian troops should depart. First, as part of the 1976 Riyadh-Cairo accords, Damascus agreed to vacate Lebanon by October of that year. Second, in September 1982 Syria signed the Fez declaration committing itself to negotiations with the Lebanese government over "an end to the mission of the Arab deterrent forces"--i.e., Syrian troops. Third, to win Lebanese Christian support for a revision of the Lebanese government structure (the so-called Ta'if accord), Asad in October 1989 accepted a redeployment of Syrian troops from Beirut to the Bekaa valley within two years.
None of these promises was kept. To this day, some 30,000 uniformed Syrian soldiers remain in Lebanon. Their presence is not subtle; anyone arriving in Beirut by plane encounters them right in the airport.
The PKK. In 1987 and 1992, Damascus signed security protocols with Turkey, solemnly undertaking to shut installations on Syrian soil used by the PKK, the Kurdish terrorist group fighting the government of Turkey. In addition, the Syrian officials time and again assured Turks that the PKK would be kept in check. But, year after year, little if anything changed on the ground. A base would ostentatiously close down, only to reopen quietly somewhere else. The PKK would cross the border into Turkey to kill and destroy; the Turks would protest; the Syrians, denying all culpability, would vow that such acts would never occur again; things would quiet down for a few months; and then the whole cycle would begin afresh. According to one report, the Turkish prime minister's office concluded no fewer than 18 agreements with Asad on this issue, each one of them subsequently broken by the Syrian side.
Particularly galling to Turkey was the fact that the PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, lived openly in Damascus, giving interviews and being photographed, while the Syrian regime insouciantly denied his presence on its soil. Only in September 1998, after eleven years of lies, double-talk, and deception, did the Syrians finally expel Ocalan and shut down most PKK facilities, and then only after the Turks had finally made it clear that real trouble, possibly armed conflict, would follow if Asad continued to shelter the Kurdish terrorist.
Syrian Jews. The situation of this 4,000-member community was a long-festering human-rights issue between Damascus and Washington. For decades, Asad refused to let more than a few Syrian Jews emigrate. Then, in April 1992, in the course of a telephone conversation with President George Bush, he announced the wholesale release of the community--"an extraordinary development," in the words of Congressman Stephen Solarz, who had been preoccupied with the issue for years. And, indeed, by October 1992 three-quarters of the Syrian Jewish population had received passports and exit visas.
But they were not actually allowed to leave, and then the process stopped dead for more than a year; during which the remaining population was a political football. Only in December 1993, in the course of negotiations with the Clinton administration over another matter, did Asad open the doors for 200 Jews to leave the country, and then another thousand a month later. It took until October 1994--two-and-a-half years and many problems later--for the rest of the community to be permitted to go.
This brings us to the most central cases of keeping promises, those concerning Israel. Here once again the problem of Lebanon looms large, as it will in any prospective deal between Damascus and Jerusalem.
The "Red Line." In April 1976, the Israelis acquiesced in the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon in return for several reassurances. Dubbed "red lines," these unwritten agreements, brokered by King Husayn of Jordan and American officials, were designed to circumscribe the Syrian use of force in Lebanon. Asad reportedly agreed (among other things) not to deploy aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, or more than a single brigade of soldiers, or to place any soldiers in southern Lebanon, which abuts Israel.
Damascus eventually breached all four of these provisions. In 1981, it ferried troops by helicopter and deployed surface-to-air missiles in the Zahle area of Lebanon. (Israel knew full well of these offenses: Itamar Rabinovich, later Israel's ambassador to the United States, termed them, respectively, an "infringement" and an "unequivocal violation" of the 1976 agreement, with the missiles in particular amounting to "a serious threat.") Asad ignored the clear prohibition on aircraft a second time in October 1990 when his air force buzzed the Lebanese presidential palace at Ba'abda, and then, as the Israelis failed to respond, returned to bomb the palace and help Syrian forces conquer Beirut.
The sheer number of Syrian troops sent into Lebanon amounted to an even more profound infringement of the red-line agreement. Over the years, as we have seen, not one brigade but more like ten have regularly been stationed there, and some of them in the south. Worst of all, Asad has on occasion denied the very existence of the red-line agreements, as well as any future obligation to maintain them. To a Lebanese group he once said, "Do not concern yourselves with the 'red line,' which the Americans and the Israelis are talking about. It does not exist, [and] in any event I cannot see it."
Operation Accountability. After a rocket assault on Israel from southern Lebanon in July 1993, followed by a massive Israeli military response (Operation Accountability), Asad swore to prevent future such attacks. This agreement, struck with the aid of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, was then systematically violated: four times the rockets fell in 1994 and five times in the first half of 1995. Once again, Syrian sources denied the very existence of a deal with Israel.
At the time, Israeli leaders condemned Asad's actions in strong language, with Prime Minister Rabin charging a "total violation" of the 1993 agreement. (A few months later, though, Rabin publicly excused Asad, saying that the Syrians "don't always keep to [the agreement], we don't always keep to it.") The accord fell apart completely in April 1996 when rockets landed again in northern Israel and, in response, Prime Minister Shimon Peres launched Operation Grapes of Wrath, a wide-ranging assault on Lebanon's infrastructure. Yet in the same month, Peres still spoke of Asad as someone who "respects" his undertakings. A more accurate assessment was offered by Benjamin Netanyahu. "In Lebanon," the then-leader of the Likud party said in 1994, "the Syrians broke just about every agreement they signed."
Negotiations. In June 1995, Asad promised Warren Christopher that he would engage in two-stage talks with Israel: a meeting of the countries' military chiefs of staff in Washington, followed later by discussions at a somewhat lower level. So pleased was the Secretary of State that, abandoning his habitual reticence, he declared this "a tremendous opportunity to move now toward a goal of a comprehensive peace, perhaps a better opportunity than at any time during the two-and-a-half years that I have been in office."
The chiefs of staff did meet in late June, but then Asad backtracked, setting a precondition for further talks that Israel could not possible accept. Prime Minister Rabin put his finger on the core issue: "If the Syrians do not keep to what they agreed to with the Americans, who will guarantee that they will stick to the assurances they make to Israel?"
The Golan. In any deal to be reached between Damascus and Jerusalem, the disposition of this crucial high plateau, in Israel's hands since 1967, will take center stage. And it is precisely in relation to the Golan that Asad has most earned his reputation as a man of his word.
A wide consensus exists that, for 25 years, Asad has fulfilled the promises he gave in the May 1974 Separation of Forces agreement with Israel. Richard Murphy, a former American assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, attests that the pact has been "scrupulously observed."
Ze'ev Schiff, the dean of Israeli military correspondents, writes that "violations have been negligible," and even Benjamin Netanyahu declared in 1994 that "Syria has kept to both the letter and the spirit of its disengagement agreement."
It is indeed true that Asad has prevented violence across the Syrian-Israeli border, thereby making the Golan not just a quiet place but perhaps the safest in the Middle East. But this does not mean he fulfilled all the obligations of his 1974 agreement with Israel. For one thing, although he reassured Jerusalem of his non-belligerent intentions by promising that "Syrian civilians will return" to territory evacuated by Israeli forces, in fact civilians have not moved into such areas, which instead remain military zones. And for another, Damascus did allow some terrorist operations in the early years of the agreement, including an attack on the kibbutz [? DP: No idea, nor do I have reference books that answer this. I asked a friend in Israel to check] of Ramat Magshimim in 1975.
According to Jonathan Pollard, one of the more important documents that he turned over to the Israelis consisted of a "very detailed" CIA and DIA assessment of a "huge number" of Syrian infringements in the decade after the signing of the 1974 Syria-Israel disengagement agreement. It detailed
encroachments in the demilitarized zone (for example, by moving tank platoons under darkness); listening devices; and abductions and assassinations. Pollard recalls hearing from his Israeli handlers that the "vast majority of the findings" were unknown to Israel.
The same pattern was repeated in 1992, when the Syrians moved commandos into the town of Quneitra and heavy artillery elsewhere in the demilitarized zone. They also placed 21 surface-to-air missiles and 8 missile launchers within 25 kilometers of the border. Although these illegal actions were duly reported by the United Nations observer force, Prime Minister Rabin chose not to make them public--although in 1994 Rabin did finally disclose that Jerusalem had complained repeatedly about Syria's violations to the United Nations, "without any response from the Syrians."
This, then, is Asad's less-than-impressive record of fulfilling his promises. It is worth recalling that at least some observers have understood all along that he is not a man to be trusted. Michel Aoun, who as prime minister of Lebanon in 1988-90 challenged Asad and lost, is clear-eyed about the man who defeated him. The Syrians, Aoun has said, "don't respect their word. They scheme, they promise you one thing and do something else on the side. They promised in the past, but they never lived up to any agreement." In a more eloquent phrasing of the same sentiment, Egypt's president Anwar al-Sadat recounts in his memoirs that President Jimmy Carter found that "the word of the Syrians was in fact a thousand and one words, and that what they agreed to one day, they rejected the next, returning to it the day after."
But, starry-eyed about peace, Israeli and American governments these days tend to brush aside such inconvenient facts. When Ya'acov Ami-Dror, then Israel's head of research for military intelligence, said in 1994 that "Asad keeps an agreement only when it suits him," Prime Minister Rabin acidly retorted: "This is not the first time the intelligence branch has made mistakes in its assessments."
Rabin's reply points to an enduring fact of international politics. In the course of this century, as Douglas Feith (among others) has argued, the Western democracies have compiled a long history of fulfilling their side of bilateral agreements with dictatorships while ignoring or, worse, papering over the infractions of their adversaries. Such was the case between the British government and the Nazis in the late 1930's, and such was the case between the Nixon administration and the Soviets in the 1970's. So it is, too, between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority today, and so it has long been between Israel and Syria, a country whose despotic ruler keeps his word or breaks it as it suits him. Anyone who contemplates concluding further agreements with him would do well to keep this pattern in mind.
The writer is the director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and the author of three books on Syria. This article was excerpted from THE WORD OF HAFEZ AL-ASSAD by Daniel Pipes that appears in the October 1999 edition of Commentary and is presented courtesy of IMRA.