The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has called upon Israel to cease its current secret talks with Damascus until Syria first moderates its policies, closes the many terrorist groups based in Syria, ends its incitement to hatred and murder against Israel and stops arming and backing Hizballah in Lebanon and assisting its creeping domination of the country. It has also called on the Bush Administration to adopt a similar policy, since talks with Syria strengthens the Assad regime, inclines it to be more extreme and undermines democratic, moderate forces in Lebanon, which the U.S. has pledged to support. The ZOA’s call follows reports of Israel and Syria having concluded no fewer than four rounds of secret talks, with a fifth due to follow on September 7 in Ankara. According to French sources quoted in the London-based Arabic paper, Asharq Al-Awsat, talks are currently focused on an Israeli withdrawal from the strategically vital Golan Heights and demarcating a future border between the two countries. The sources claimed that Israel and the US have reached an agreement and that France will take part in the mediation between the two parties as soon as the talks become direct (‘Israel-Syria talks to focus on borders,’ Jerusalem Post, September 3, 2008).
Recent Israeli polls showing public opposition to territorial concessions:
· A July 2008 Maagar Mohot Survey Institute poll shows that nearly three-quarters 73% of Jerusalem’s residents (including Israeli Arabs) oppose the division of the city with physical barriers, as opposed to only 27% who would be willing to support it (Israeli Arabs comprise roughly 30% of Jerusalem’s population).
· An October 2007 Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution of Tel Aviv University poll has shown that a clear majority of Jewish Israelis 59 percent to 33 percent oppose, even in return for a peace agreement, Israel handing over to the PA various Arab neighborhoods in the eastern half of Jerusalem.
· A May 2007 Dahaf Institute poll for the Knesset Channel found 68 percent of Israelis oppose withdrawing from the Golan Heights and that 53 percent oppose withdrawals from Judea and Samaria, in both cases, even in return for a ‘real peace.’
· A March 2007 INSS (previously Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies) poll showed that 72 percent of Israelis oppose uprooting Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It also showed only 28 percent of Israelis support the ‘land for peace’ formula, 58 percent oppose it.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “How is it possible that a democratic government comes to far-reaching understandings on major concessions with a third party without any of this being subject to normal parliamentary scrutiny or public discussion? All Israeli opinion polls in recent months show that the Israel public is overwhelmingly opposed to further territorial concessions to current Arab regimes, including to Syria on the Golan Heights. As with the Oslo Accords, the Israeli public is being presented with a fait accompli, with the difference that in 1993 they supported many of the moves made by the Rabin government whereas today they do not support the Olmert government and have very little confidence in it.
“It is astonishing too that these moves can be undertaken by a government that is supposed to be transitional, in which its leader is imminently standing down and at a time when new elections are likely to be held. On any calculation, such a government is simply not empowered to make these decisions, even if these decisions were wise ones, which they are not.
“Syria has not moderated. It has not closed down the offices of some dozen terrorist groups headquartered in Damascus. Although this has been a condition for years for further progress, Israel and the U.S. are now simply giving Syria a pass, another unmerited concession by talking to the Assad regime. Syria lied to James Baker about closing these offices and it lied again to Colin Powell on the same subject years later. There has been no progress. Why are we indulging this unreformed regime? Until Syria ceases comprehensively to support Hizballah, end incitement against Israel and cease support for terror groups attacking Israel, Israel should engage in no talks.
“If Syria has been unwilling to stop the war and incitement against Israel in the past, why will it do it after Israel makes irreversible concessions? This is the same mistake that Israel made dealing with Arafat, believing that, if it gave him everything he asked for, he would then fulfill his commitment under Oslo to stop terrorism and incitement to hatred and murder and lead Palestinians towards accepting Israel. As we know, the opposite happened.
“The ZOA opposes in the current geo-political situation any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, because such a withdrawal would remove Israel from the strategically vital highland of the Golan Heights and render her vulnerable to a surprise Syria attack from the Heights which the Syrians would come to control by virtue of such a withdrawal. One only needs to recall that Israel‘s possession of the Golan Heights probably saved Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Syrian forces launched a surprise attack that enabled it to take much of the Heights but Israeli forces were able to tie them down long enough to regroup and counter-attack. Where would Israel have been if Syria had launched such an attack from the Heights itself? In all likelihood, Syrian forces would have poured into the Galilee on the first day, Israel would have been cut in two and the country would have fallen. We urge Israel and the U.S. to stop proceeding on the disastrous track they have started to follow.”