Syria edges closer to treaty with Israel
Hopes of a Middle East peace deal have never been higher, writes Michael Sheridan
The implications of a deal would be enormous. It would end the state of war that has lasted since 1947, pave the way for a final treaty with Lebanon, Syria's client state, and provide Israel with peace on all its frontiers for the first time.
It is for these reasons that Syria's President, Hafez al-Assad, has negotiated so tenaciously for his land and Israel's Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, has played his own hand with such caution. To radical Arab nationalists and Jewish settlers alike, a compromise would constitute the ultimate betrayal. Intransigence on the part of the Israeli or Syrian leaderships could still make it impossible.
But there is evidence that the possibility of peace is real. It comes from the secretive Syrian leader himself. President Assad may not yet have crossed the River Jordan, but he certainly seems to have crossed the Rubicon.
An analysis of President Assad's rare public pronouncements reveals how far Syria has moved from the days when Israel was referred to as an illegal "entity", and great victories were declared to be imminent.
For some months, Syria's obedient media has talked of "full withdrawal in return for full peace", preparing the public for peace with the enemy in exchange for the recovery of the Golan Heights, which were lost to Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, when President Assad was defence minister.
On 1 June, President Assad laid to rest on television official Syrian mythology. He said that Syria was committed to regaining its border before 1967 and on this there would be no room for compromise. But he referred to "Israel" by name and he told Syrian viewers how high was the status of the negotiations.
"There is a US mediator who comes to us and meets me. He then goes to the other party and meets the head of the other side. Neither we nor they has a level higher than this," Mr Assad said.
This signified that he was taking personal responsibility for the talks, which had been hitherto left to lower-ranking officials.
Most extraordinary of all to an Arab audience was President Assad's public abandonment of his demand for a unified Arab position and his acknowledgement that Syria could no longer condemn Arab countries who made the vilified "separate peace" with the Zionist enemy.
"We earlier pledged that we would not advance a single step until others advanced as well," the President told his people. "But what can we do, since the others have left us and gone forward? They say they have made it ahead of us. We do not want anyone to go backward."
Israeli analysts have long believed that President Assad has made a "strategic decision" for peace. Now he seems to have moved faster in public than many expected, and the response from Israel has been swift.
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said on 5 June that "the Golan Heights were never historically part of Israel". It was "a historical fact" that they belonged to Syria.
Yesterday, Israel's President, Ezer Weizmann, confirmed for the first time that the Israeli government was considering "a withdrawal to the international border".
Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
That's some guestlist! Stunning images show huge dynastic wedding between Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families which attracted 25,000 guests
Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
Exclusive: Suspect was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam
- 1 Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
- 2 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 3 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 4 Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.