23/05/2008

Israel-Syria: a new Annapolis

Two days ago, Israel and Syria simultaneously announced the resumption of peace negotiations between their two countries under Turkish mediation. Although it was sensed by many, the announcement has surprised more than one in Israel and internationally. The timing indeed poses many questions.

Last 27th of November Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas relaunched the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Annapolis. Six months later, only the Bush administration still seems to believe in it. The lack of legitimacy of the Israeli president seems to grow day by day following the corruption cases that affect them. The stability of his government depends on the small party Shass, what offers him little latitude to negotiate a peace.

Why did Israel choose this moment to launch negotiations with Syria? Especially since G.W. Bush has publicly disavowed this agreement during his last visit to Jerusalem two weeks ago. As in Annapolis, many believe that Ehud Olmert is attempting by this announcement to attract media attention elsewhere than on matters that concern him. A valid interpretation but wich does not take into account the two-thirds of the Israeli population who oppose the returning of the Golan to Syria.

For Israel, the Golan Heights is of major strategic importance not only from a military point of view but also for its water supply. This region actually overlooks the Jordan Valley which has its in it, making it the « water tower » of Israel which draws 35% of its water consumption from the region.

Returning the Golan to Syria is even more dangerous than Damascus appears to be near Iran and supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. Some therefore consider the attempt to Olmert as a strategic game that can be beneficial: the Golan in return for a break of alliances against Israel.

The negotiations ahead appears therefore long and arduous for an Israeli government already very weakened. A failure of this process would mean the end of the government ofEhud Olmert and its consequences on the process of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Many risks on the whole.

N.J.O.