Speculation that an Israel-Syria peace treaty could cost up to $65 billion was brushed aside by Sen. Arlen Specter following a trip to Israel, but the Pennsylvania Republican said a way would be found to come up with the necessary funding from a host of nations.
Discussing what the United States might be asked to contribute to a financial settlement, Specter said: “There have been enormous figures floated that are counterproductive and premature. We don’t know what the contours of an agreement might be and [speculation about the cost] could badly prejudice the willingness of the United States to make a contribution.”
Specter was among five senators from the Appropriations Committee who toured the Golan Heights last week and met with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who stressed the need to fund the peace. Specter said Barak “expressed confidence that there would be an agreement.”
Barak’s comments came before Israel-Syria talks, scheduled to resume this week in Shepherdstown, W.Va., were put on hold after Syria insisted on assurances that Israel would withdraw from the entire Golan in return for peace.
Specter, in a phone interview from Washington, said he knew of the importance of money in cementing a peace treaty, but he said: “I don’t think anyone is expecting the United States to write a blank check.
“I think we’ll find a way with Saudi Arabia, Japan and the oil rich Gulf states to find the financing. Money is important but there are other more important elements that could break this deal.”
Among the key areas to be resolved are the new borders once Israel, as expected, withdraws from the Golan, water rights, normalization of ties and security arrangements.
“[Hafez] Assad wants everything back and a rapid time line for doing it,” said William Brown, a career diplomat who served three tours of duty in Israel, most recently as chief of mission at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv in 1993-94.
“He wants to get off the U.S. terrorist and [drug trafficking] lists, and he also wants to get aid and de facto Israeli recognition that Syria dominates Lebanon. He wants to get as much as he can for as little as he can.”
Brown, board chairman of the Harry S Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Assad has many reasons for wanting a peace treaty. At the age of 68, Assad is in failing health and is concerned about the stability of his regime — internally and from Syria’s neighbors.
He said Syria is an enemy not only of Israel but two other neighbors, Iraq and Turkey. If Assad, can “extract a deal whereby he gets the Golan back, gets his fingers on some of the water flowing into the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee], gets an Israeli pullout from Lebanon so he can maintain his dominance there, he would be in better shape vis-a-vis Turkey and Iraq,” Brown said.
On the other hand, the working paper prepared by the United States of Israeli and Syrian positions that was leaked by the Israeli daily Haaretz said Syria is willing to allow Israel to maintain “monitoring stations on Mount Hermon and elsewhere,” Brown noted.
Such stations could detect any Syrian troop movements and help provide the security Israel requires, he said.
Israel would like to have its own troops at those stations, but if Syria refuses, it wants American troops there. Brown said the Syrians would “put up with” that arrangement.
Ultimately, he said, while there are “111 reasons why the talks are not going to go anyplace,” Brown believes they will progress.
Daniel Pipes, founder and director of the Middle East Forum, was more pessimistic.
“There will be no agreement because it is not in the interests of the Syrian government,” he said. “That government is interested in only one thing — control of the government. A peace treaty with Israel has many ramifications, some of which would challenge the control of the regime.”
Pipes, whose nonprofit organization is devoted to defining and promoting American interests in the Middle East, said even if there were a peace treaty, “it would not be useful from Israel’s point of view. Israel would be giving over this valuable territory in return for a piece of paper. Even if [Assad] did sign it, he would not live up to it.”
But Moshe Maoz, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he believed the talks would resume shortly and a deal reached ahead of one with the Palestinians.
“The gaps are not too huge,” he said.
Discussing the Golan withdrawal, Maoz said he believed Israel might trade land to ensure that Syria does not get any part of the Galilee, as it is demanding. The Israeli public would never stand for such a giveback, he said, “for emotional as well as strategic reasons.”