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WHAT IF INSANE LEFTISTS PREVAILED: What If Israel Had Given Up the Golan Heights?

As Syria continues to be ravaged with no signs that the end of its crisis will produce a unified and stable (let alone pro-Western) Arab state, I wonder from time to time what would have happened had U.S. efforts succeeded in negotiating an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement in the 1990s.


For me, this is more than a remote thought experiment. For almost two decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations, I was part of a U.S. negotiating team that tried to reach such a deal. But had we succeeded, the results might have been catastrophic for Israel and for the U.S.

Interest in an Israeli-Syrian peace deal was bipartisan: U.S. presidents including Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush expressed varying degrees of interest. So did Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Several U.S. presidents and Israeli leaders were fascinated with longtime Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and considered him a strategic thinker with whom one might do business. The collapse of the Soviet Union generated some interest from Mr. Assad in looking to the U.S. as a possible partner.t that an Israeli-Syrian accord might be at risk if instability in Syria led to a change in regime. This concern was prevalent generally as Israelis did peace deals with other Arab leaders. But fear of instability in the Arab world didn’t stop Menachem Begin from returning Sinai to Egypt; it didn’t stop Mr. Rabin from concluding a peace deal with Jordan’s King Hussein; nor  did it prevent the Oslo accords with the Palestinians. And with Hafez Assad there was an assumption–warranted at the time–that his brutality in suppressing dissent and his track record–governing longer than all of Syria’s previous leaders combined since independence in 1946–would somehow guarantee stability. Rarely has a political judgment been more wrongheaded.

What we failed to realize was that of all of Israel’s peace efforts, with the possible exception of the Palestinian accords, any deal to return the Golan Heights occupied by the Israelis in 1967 was likely to be the most fraught precisely because Mr. Assad was so cruel in his policies and that his regime consisted of an Alawite minority


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