Gabriel Kolko’s work as a historian casts a giant shadow, but his recent account of “Israel, Iran and the Bush Administration” (CounterPunch, February 10/11) is open to challenge. The Israeli peace talks with Syria, which Kolko finds of “enormous significance,” are a thrice-told tale which has not yet come true, least of all because of the United States, as Kolko claims.
Syria is the historic heartland of Arab nationalism, and Syria’s late president Hafez al-Asad, who ruled from 1970 until his death in 2000, held steadfastly to his ideal of justice for the Syrian and Arab cause in the conflict with Israel. His abiding concern for Syria was securing Israel’s total withdrawal from territory it conquered in the 1967 war, the Golan Heights. This he defined as withdrawal to the pre-war, June 4, 1967 line, rather than the 1923 border under the League of Nations Mandates, which he always viewed as a line drawn by imperialists. The 1923 line was the border of the Jewish state with Syria in the 1947 UN partition resolution. The June 4 line was the 1949 armistice line, plus and minus demilitarized zones which Israel and Syria had absorbed, and had served as a border until the war.
After the 1973 war, Asad accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and offered a non-belligerency agreement, with peace treaty to follow, if Israel were to withdraw to the June 4 line, in a general Arab-Israeli settlement. He repeated these terms at intervals, in worsening circumstances for Syria’s interests. The Egypt-Israel treaty deprived Syria of its most important ally; the Lebanese civil war and Israeli invasion of 1982 were great political, economic and social strains; Syria’s chief patron, the USSR, reduced its support and urged a political solution, under Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s regime. By the late 1980s Asad thus sought more actively a settlement with his principal adversary.
Entire article (PDF with notes) is at Thrice-told Tales
on CounterPunch, March 17-8, 2007 at Thrice-told Tales