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Putting Syria At The Center

And how possible Palestinian self-sovereignty could prompt progress

Marc Tracy
February 03, 2010
Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) talks to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, last December.(AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) talks to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, last December.(AFP/Getty Images)

Does the road to Ramallah lead through Damascus?

That’s the contention columnist Yossi Alpher makes in today’s International Herald Tribune. (Though he doesn’t mention the Conference, Alper surely hopes the eminences gathered in Herzliya will take stock of his ideas.) Alpher’s case:

Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, declares himself ready to deal. A Syrian-Israeli process has a better chance of getting underway than a Palestinian-Israeli process. A successful Syrian-Israeli effort offers the United States, Israel and the moderate Arab states immediate benefits by reducing Iran’s penetration of the Levant, weakening its regional proxies and allies.

(Alpher does not mention Turkey, which, against Israel’s wishes, has sought a role in mediating Israel-Syria talks.)

Alpher’s second proposal is more controversial: he asserts that Israel should not rule out direct talks with Hamas, particularly related to practical issues like a cease-fire and trade.

Finally, Alpher mentions what others have called ‘the White Intifada’: the notion that if Fatah develops enough of a semblance of a state in the West Bank, it could unilaterally declare independence and wait for the world to recognize it—which, one imagines, at least a fair chunk of it would. (Incidentally, should this all happen, wouldn’t it cast Israel’s precedent-setting unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in a new, less kind light?)

The fate of the White Intifada, according to Alpher, is in the hands of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whom Israeli President Shimon Peres praised yesterday. The whole thing could go like this, according to Alpher:

Fayyad promises to take this effort to a point where, in the absence of an agreed solution, a Palestine that functions like a state asks unilaterally for international recognition. This dynamic poses both dangers for stability and opportunities for progress. [U.S. envoy George] Mitchell might consider refocusing his efforts toward developing an integrated policy for stabilizing and pacifying Gaza [and] shepherding West Bank state-building toward an agreed new interim status even without direct talks.

The White Intifada’s real utility could be in its threat: the specter of Palestinian independence without Israeli input might be just the thing to poke Israel toward ensuring that, with Israeli input, Palestinian independence does come to pass.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.