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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 1999 /4 Teves, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Clinton lurches
for peace talks --
PRESIDENT CLINTON, desperate to edit his historical biography so that something edges out Monica Lewinsky and impeachment in the first paragraph, has been pushing Israel and Syria very hard to resume negotiations. After months of telephone calls and ministerial visits, the two nations have finally agreed. They will meet in Washington this week.

The Clinton approach to foreign policy has always been solipsistic. During the debate over Kosovo, President Clinton reportedly told aides that his legacy would be determined by how well he managed that "crisis." But now, months later, Kosovo is forgotten by all but the irate Greeks in Athens, who booed the president angrily during his visit.

(The Greeks sympathize with the Serbs.)

Though it loomed very large for a few months, it is inconceivable that Kosovo will figure at all prominently in historical evaluations of the Clinton presidency.

That is why the elusive Middle East "peace process" beckons. When things are going poorly and there are no pharmaceutical plants to blow away, we can always lean on Israel to make concessions to its enemies.

It's possible, of course, that Hafez Assad has had a true change of heart and now wants what the Israelis want -- to live in peace as normal neighbors. But if he has undergone such a change, there is not yet any evidence of it.

Instead, what we know about Syria is not the kind of thing that engenders optimism. In 1976, Syria signed a treaty promising not to send more than one brigade of soldiers, nor any aircraft or missiles, into Lebanon. This promise was immediately violated -- and Syria maintains more than 40,000 troops in Lebanon to this day. As Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America has pointed out, in the Riyadh-Cairo accords of 1982, the Fez Declaration of 1982, and the Ta'if Accord of 1989, Syria promised to remove its forces from Lebanon. It has not done so.

In 1987 and 1992, Syria signed agreements with Turkey promising to shut down facilities in Syria that were being used by anti-Turkish terrorists. Syria never complied with these agreements.

Syria remains on the State Department's list of nations that support terrorism -- and for good reason. Syria has offered haven to terrorist groups ranging from the notorious Abu Nidal, mastermind of the bloodbaths at the Rome and Vienna airports, the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the Kurdistan Workers Party and even the Japanese Red Army. As this list indicates, Syria's hostility is not aimed exclusively at Israel, though Israel does elicit the most passionate hatred of its northern neighbor.

Official propaganda presents Israel in the most vile manner imaginable, frequently favoring Nazi allusions. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other anti-Semitic propaganda is given wide distribution. Schoolchildren are instructed in Jew- and Israel-hatred from the youngest grades, and terrorists who lose their lives killing or attempting to kill Israeli civilians are worshipped as martyrs.

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing zealot, Jordan's King Hussein attended the funeral and even Yasser Arafat sent condolences. Syria's President Assad refused to offer any words of sympathy.

Syria spends an estimated 50 percent of its gross domestic product for its military, though the nation is among the world's poorest and life expectancy is 10 years shorter than Israel's average. Syria is buying missiles from North Korea and Iran, fighter planes from Russia, and nuclear reactors from China. Assad has also undertaken a program to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.

What Assad has always indicated he wants from negotiations with Israel is the complete withdrawal, by Israel, from the Golan Heights, captured in 1967 after Syria attacked Israel. Syria has never used the Golan Heights for anything except to shoot down on the Israelis living in the Galilee below.

Why the Israelis would even consider returning the Golan Heights is an open question, though in 1993 Rabin did offer to withdraw from most of the Golan if Assad would agree to full recognition and peace with Israel. Assad rejected the offer.

When the Syrian foreign minister arrives this week, Clinton administration officials and some Israelis will wax eloquent about "peace." It's a safe bet though that the Syrians will talk only of territory.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate