A Commentary By Tony Sayegh
I don't like what I am reading and hearing. Several events which took place in succession in the past few days must be related. The net effect appears to be that Hamas in particular and the Palestinians in general are walking into a well-laid trap.
Let us start at the beginning. That wily old politico James Baker knew how to get the ball rolling and in the process rescue that hapless George W. Bush, one more time. From long dealings with the Arab regimes, Baker knows how to play them like a fiddle. With these regimes, the U.S. can often get a lot by merely suggesting a change in direction, not an actual one. On the heels of the mid-term elections Baker and company are out to create the illusion of a change in course in Iraq. People are assuming that Baker is preparing for a withdrawal when in reality an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is taking place for a supposed "one final push." So, what is new here? What is new is that Baker knows how to enlist the Arab regimes to help him in Iraq. One of the things Baker called for is to engage Syria. One needs to remember that when Bush the father was preparing to attack Iraq in 1990, he put together a large coalition which included most Arab regimes, including Syria. Indeed Syrian pilots took part, side by side with the attacking Americans, in bombing Iraqi forces. So, why not enlist Syrian forces to subdue that pesky Iraqi "insurgency" now?
Syria got the message loud and clear and jumped into action. Before you knew it, the Syrian foreign minister was wining and dining in the middle of the Green Zone and appearing with his new fat buddy, the Iraqi foreign minister, both of them smiling and announcing that after 24 years, Syria is restoring diplomatic relations with the most sectarian government so far in Iraq. The Syrian further sent the clear signal that Syria wants to play a role in providing security for "brotherly Iraq." That was the reply Baker was waiting for. At a time when that Maliki government is teetering on the edge and is clearly controlled by the most blood-thirsty militias and the violence is at unprecedented level, why was the rush by Syria to recognize such government? It is ironic that this recognition came a few days before Harith Al-Dhari asked most Arab government to do the opposite and withdraw recognition since the Maliki government has proved to be the most sectarian government so far.
Of course you ask what is the incentive for Syria? The incentives are many and the old fox Baker knows how to use them. I can name many. First there is the international court looking into the Hariri assassination. This could easily become the vehicle to impose all kinds of sanctions on the Syrian regime, which it can ill afford. To increase the pressure on the regime a repeat assassination, that of Pierre Gemayel, was executed at the same time that the puppet Siniora government is accepting the international court that will prosecute the Hariri assassination. Syria is being framed for the Gemayel assassination as well. The second pressure point to apply on Syria is the threat of attack by Usrael. John Bolton is busy hinting openly of what needs to be done with this “terrorist” regime. We know that during last summer’s Israeli attacks on Lebanon many of the neocons were urging Israel to expand the fight and to attack Syria. So, the threat of this attack is a card which Baker is using.
From the viewpoint of the Syrian dictator, such new cooperation by Syria in Iraq and improved relations with Washington could lead to negotiations to recover the Golan Heights. Assad has been saying that he is dying to start negotiations with Israel and has hinted that he would accept many of Israel’s possible conditions such as demilitarizing the Golan and not recovering the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was Israel that firmly rejected any negotiations with the Syrian regime until, “the regime stopped its support for the Hamas and Hizbullah terrorists.” Again Baker is using this card with Syria by hinting that if Syria improves its behavior, then the U.S. would pressure Israel on the Golan. This is an illusion, and Arab regimes always fall for illusions propagated by the U.S. The reality is that Israel is the one to decide, not the U.S. and Israel has no intention of ever giving up the Golan. However, the Syrian regime is ready to offer all assistance to Usrael to prove its “peaceful” credentials.
One of the requirements of Israel to even begin to consider talking to the Syrian regime is controlling Hamas. Many delegations went to Damascus in the past few weeks to talk to the regime and to the Hamas leadership there. One of those was headed by the former Palestinian PM Qure’i. On the surface, the talks were about the Palestinian unity government. But more importantly, these were probes to see the willingness of Syria to pressure Hamas and to subdue it to Abbas’ will. Again, it appears that Syria has delivered on that count.
The head of Hamas’ political department, after delaying and refusing to come to Cairo, all of a sudden appeared with a high level delegation in the Egyptian capital. In a press conference yesterday, Masha’al gave a laughable warning: he warned the world that it had only six months to “solve” the Palestinian problem, complete with the return of Jerusalem and the return of refugees! Wow, that was breathtaking! Of course, we have learned the hard way that when Arab leaders talk really big, they must be preparing for a major concession.
Sure enough, just as night follows day, the concession came in a few hours. With a lot of huff and puff, Hamas and all other Palestinian groups announced a ceasefire to start this morning. I guess the “liberation” will have to wait for a while. Obviously, the Egyptian client regime with that CIA asset Suleiman who heads the Egyptian Intelligence, have been working on a grand scheme to outwit Hamas and neutralize it. Now Syria is helping in that direction as well. It will be sold as a great Palestinian accomplishment: a Palestinian national unity government. However, it will be nothing of the sort; it is a white coup by Abbas and Usrael behind him
Hamas is being given a graceful way out and Usrael is getting everything it wanted. No more attacks from Gaza (liberation would have to wait for another day). Masha’al in his press conference openly spoke of accepting UN Resolution 242, which clearly recognizes Israel. This morning Abbas issued orders to deploy 13,000 (!) of his forces to the borders of Gaza to prevent any firing on Israel. Where were these forces when the Palestinians were being slaughtered by Israel in Beit Hanoun? Ah, you see defending the Palestinians is not their job; DEFENDING ISRAEL IS.
Add to this news that Saudi Arabia has cut any contacts with Hamas at about the same time that Cheney was visiting the Kingdom during a trip that only included KSA and for just a few hours. You get the distinct impression that a grand bargain, involving KSA, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and now Syria is in the making. As usual, the Palestinians pay the price.