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Itamar Rabinovitch
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Is he dreaming?

by Rhonda Spivak, August 29, 2012.

Former Israeli Chief negotiator with Syria, Itamar Rabinovich, does not share the view that,  given the ongoing crisis in Syria, in retrospect it is a good thing that Israel did not cede the Golan Heights to Syria, which could have included access to the Kinneret.

In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review at Shimon Peres's Presidential Conference in Jerusalem at the end of June, 2012, Rabinovich, who negoatiated with Syria under Prime Minister Rabin in the mid 1990's says that if Assad had been willing to enter a peace agreement at the time that would have been worth giving back the Golan Heights. He added that "The reason that talks failed is because Syria did not want to become a more open society, and that is what a peace treaty would have meant."

[Note that Rabinovitch's view, which was surprising to this writer, does not accord with others who did promote a peace deal with Syria, but realize they were wrong to do so. For example, Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz who was a proponent of peace with Syria, wrote recently, "If we had given up on Katzrin and Snir, we would be having terror in Dan and Daphne. Various
and odd substances would be discharging into the sources of the Jordan. Frequent shooting incidents would be breaking out in Tel Katzir and Bhaon.The Syrian Heights would have turned into a black hole far more dangerous than the black hole of the Sinai desert. The idea of a peace, which was right for its time and correct in terms of method, would have
turned into a nightmarish reality that we would have found difficult to sustain. Sooner or later, Israel would have been forced to go back to Tel - Fahr and Nafah and continue into Quneitra. But this time, the climb up would
have cost the price of bursts of ballistic missiles on Tel Aviv. The peace in which I believed and I recommended would have become a major war in which thousands might have been possibly killed."]

Rabinovich who was  Israel's former Ambassador to the United States and former president of Tel-Aviv University (1999-2007), also did not see a problem with the assessment that prediction that in the future if Israel ceded the Golan Heights to Syria, it is likely that the Heights wouldn't remain barren but that Syria would populate it extensively. When asked if in a war situation, it would not be more problematic for the IDF to reconquer the Golan if it meant conquering a massively populated area, with potential for hand to hand combat, like in Gaza, Rabinovitch answered, "That is what the right-wing says to justify not giving up the Golan. It is possible that populating the Golan would give the Syrians an economic interest in keeping the peace." 
There have been reports over the last couple of years from Israeli intelligence analyst Guy Bechor that prior to the current crisis in Syria that it has had to uproot hundreds of thousands of citizens form their farms in Eastern Syria since the area has a severe water shortage since forced farming of water-hungry crops like cotton and wheat has resulted in a total drying up of wells and famine. Syria could therefore want to gain control of the Sea of Galilee to solve its water problems, and would populate the Golan Heights extensively in the future.
Rabinovich says that in his view the problem in any potential peace treaty with Israel isn't giving Syria access to the Sea of Galilee, "but ensuring that they don't pollute the water sources--That's another question a together."
When asked to make a prediction about what is happening in Syria, Rabinovich, who is currently is Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern History of Tel Aviv University, Distinguished Global Professor at NYU and a Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, replied, "I don't make predictions," but then he added, but I will say that Bashar Assad is doomed." He would not predict what the make-up of the regime who would replace him could be.
Former Canadian minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, who has also written extensively about the crimes of the Assad against his own people, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he has always been against Israel entering a peace treaty with Syria "due to its ongoing human rights violations--You can't make peace with dictators," he said.
Rabinovich has also suggested that the Obama administration is primarily responsibility for the international community’s failure to stop the killings in Syria.
As he recently told the Times of Israel, "it’s not Russia that’s preventing intervention. Russia is the pretext, the alibi” for the lack of substantive international action. “If someone wanted to ratchet up the pressure on Syria, they could,” he said.
Rabinivitch told Israeli Army Radio, that the real obstacle to intervention isn’t Syria it is the US government. “The Obama administration is not looking for another major Middle East crisis before November.”
Asked whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite her bitter rhetoric against Damascus, did not actually intend to take any action now, Rabinovich said, “Later, after November.”
[Note: The writer shares Cotler’s view]          
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.