Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prominent Syrian Oppositionist Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani Promotes Public Initiative For Cooperation And Peace With Israel

by Ofir Winter


In recent months, Syrian liberal and prominent oppositionist Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani has been promoting a public initiative calling on Israel to provide military and diplomatic assistance to the Syrian opposition in its struggle against the Assad regime, as a preparatory move for peace and normalization with the future Syrian regime. According to a report in the London daily Al-Arab, the initiative was prepared together with Arab and regional elements, and in cooperation with elements in the U.S. Congress, and has received the blessing of senior officers and commanders in the Free Syrian Army (FSA).[1] As part of his efforts to promote the initiative, Al-Labwani attended several secret meetings in Germany on the matter, and has even expressed his willingness to visit Israel "if doing so would serve the Syrian people, peace, and the peoples of the region."[2]

In response to the initiative, presented over the past few months by Al-Labwani in a series of articles and print and TV interviews with Arab, Israeli, and Western media, the Syrian regime accused him of encouraging "the Israeli enemy" to occupy Syrian lands, and of treason against the homeland.[3] Positive comments about the initiative by Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog[4] were presented by the official Syrian news agency SANA as proof of Israel's support of the "terrorists" operating in Syria and of the scope of "the cooperation, coordination, conspiracy, and explicit plotting between the so-called 'Syrian opposition' and the Zionist entity, with the hopes of wearing down the Syrian state's forces and bringing about its destruction."[5]

Al-Labwani (b. 1957), a practicing physician, has been one of Syria's leading liberal human rights activists for over two decades. He was imprisoned from 2001 to 2004, for promoting democratic reforms in Syria as part of the Damascus Spring,[6] and again from 2005 to 2011, for "damaging national security" by visiting Washington, D.C., meeting with U.S. administration officials, and discussing democratization in Syria with them.[7] During his second spell in prison, he was released early from a 12-year sentence as part of the regime's attempts to mollify domestic public opinion in the face of increasing protests. Following his release, Al-Labwani attended nonviolent protests in Syria calling for regime change; shortly thereafter, fearing arrest or worse, he fled to Jordan, and from there applied for and was granted Swedish political asylum.

Since then, Al-Labwani worked mostly in Turkey as part of the Syrian National Council, and, after it was dismantled, as a member of the general secretariat and founding committee of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Oppositionist Forces. In early 2014, he withdrew from the national coalition, accusing it of administrative and financial corruption and of imitating the Assad regime's culture of tyranny. Since then, he has been operating independently.[8]

The following report will review the details of Al-Labwani's initiative, his attempts to market it to intra-Syrian public opinion, and some of the reactions – both supporting and hostile – that it sparked among Syrian oppositionist circles.

Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani (image:

Al-Labwani's Plan: An Israel-Enforced No-Fly Zone In Southern Syria

In recent months, in a series of articles and print and TV interviews with Arab, Israeli, and Western media, Al-Labwani presented his initiative for cooperation between the Syrian opposition and Israel, which would lead – after the civil war ends and the current regime is removed – to a warm peace and normalization between the two countries.

According to Al-Labwani, the initiative is a response to the impasse in the Syrian civil war, which is the result of the military status quo on the ground and the failure of the U.S.-, Russia-, and U.N.-sponsored Geneva talks. He says that cooperating with Israel, which possesses military might and international political influence, particularly in the U.S., could help the Syrian opposition tip the military and diplomatic balance of power in its favor, stop the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, and ultimately vanquish the Assad regime.[9] Therefore, he says, the Syrian opposition's can at this time choose "between either long-term anarchy and the ongoing suffering and torture [of the Syrian people], or a plan that the West accepts, and which could create a counterbalance to the allies of the [Assad regime], defeat their project in Syria, and rehabilitate the region in a manner befitting its residents." A plan that includes peace with Israel, he added, will be positively received in the West.[10]

The main military role that Al-Labwani intended for Israel as part of the proposed cooperation is the creation of a no-fly zone in southern Syria, which Israel would enforce without violating Syrian airspace. Under his plan, Israel would shoot down any Syrian jet within 60 seconds of takeoff with its anti-aircraft systems, which cover an area of over 100 kilometers from the Golan Heights to Damascus. This area encompasses Al-Suwayda, Daraa, the southern Rif Dimashq governorate and the Syria-Lebanon border. NATO, for its part, would be charged with attacking the Assad regime's air bases.[11] As for Israel's diplomatic role, it would be tasked, Al-Labwani says, with removing its objection to ousting the Syrian regime and consenting to its Western allies' provision of arms to the opposition forces.[12]

Al-Labwani pointed to a number of important strategic assets for Israel that his initiative would include that would make it a joint interest for both sides: On the security level, it would thwart Hizbullah's plan to establish outposts in Syria similar to the ones it holds in South Lebanon, outposts from which extremist Sunni groups could attack Israel on a daily basis on Hizbullah's behalf without this organization having to do dirty its own hands. On the domestic Syrian level, the move would prevent Syria from continuing to slide into extremism, zealotry, and anarchy – all of which endanger Israel as well. On the political level, the Syrian opposition would take the option of military action against Israel off the table, and, following the establishment of a legitimate government in Syria, work towards a peace agreement with Israel, provided that an arrangement can be made regarding the Golan Heights. On the cultural level, the agreement would result in warm, peaceful Israel-Syria relation, and could open the door to normalization of the Jewish presence in the Middle East.[13]

As for the fate of the Golan Heights under a future agreement between the sides, Al-Labwani remained somewhat vague on what the exact details would be. In an interview with Al-Arab, he implied that the Syrian opposition would be better off relinquishing the Golan Heights in return for Israeli cooperation in toppling the regime, or even "selling" it to Israel, than losing all of Syria – including the Golan Heights, which it doesn't control anyway – in the event that the civil war lasts for many more years and leads either to the country's collapse or to Assad's victory.[14] However, in another interview a few days later, on Orient News TV, which is affiliated with the Syrian opposition, he backtracked, stating that any potential future peace agreement between Syria and Israel would be conditional upon the Golan Heights' return to Syria in accordance with U.N. Resolution 242.[15] In any case, Al-Labwani said, Israelis living in the Golan Heights would be able to remain there as part of a future agreement: "The Golan will be a platform to solve all regional problems at once. We wish the Golan to become an international paradise of peace, and that its tourist attractions will open up to the entire world. Those among the [Israeli] settlers who want to stay [there] can do so, and those who want to leave for Israel or elsewhere can do so as well."[16]

To view a MEMRI TV clip of the interview with Al-Labwani, click on the arrow below:

Justification For The Initiative: Pragmatism And Paradigm Shift
Al-Labwani explained that he decided to place his initiative "on the table" publicly, openly, and transparently, so as to spark public discourse on a crucial issue once "forbidden to even think about" – that is, changing the dogmatic rejection of relations with Israel.[17] Using several arguments, Al-Labwani attempted to combat the immediate doubts raised by the initiative, recruit widespread public support for it, and respond to criticism by its opponents.

Solving The Crisis Requires Thinking Realistically And "Outside The Box"

Al-Labwani acknowledged that he himself had initially had some difficulty overcoming "the psychological barrier" related to his proposed plan: "I do not want to condemn anyone. I myself worked hard to rid myself of the prevailing dogma that is passed down from generation to generation, and is elevated to the level of sanctity and taboo – a dogma that calls to perpetuate conflicts, as opposed to burying them. I only relinquished this [way of thinking] because of the circumstances. I am not claiming to be courageous – just realistic, which is not always honorable or bold. We now must propose some solution for the suffering, groaning people.

"As politicians, we must search for a way to save [the Syrian people] from the slaughter it is carrying out with its own two hands. This can only be achieved by thinking outside the box and outside this dogma that we inherited [from previous generations]...

"This is my wakeup call. You are welcome to suggest alternatives that do not include swearing fealty to [Al-Qaeda leader] Ayman Al-Zawahiri or following [Hizbullah leader] Hassan Nasrallah, but please remain within the confines of reality."[18]

Peace With Israel Is A Precondition For Widespread Cultural Change

Al-Labwani described peace with Israel as part of a widespread move that was necessary in order for Syria to revive as a democratic, free, and progressive country. In an article titled "Israel – Our Historic Enemy?!", Al-Labwani argued that breaking free of the culture rooted in the conflict with Israel is a precondition for promoting liberalization in the Arab world. He wrote:

"Should the Arab world, as nationalists suggest, sacrifice its development, culture, democracy, and future generations, and become mired in crises and extremism for the sake of the Palestinian problem? Should we continue to use the Palestinian problem to cover up the corruption, tyranny, and backwardness suffered by Arab regimes? Should we, like Iran and the terrorist organizations, plot an all-out war against the Jewish state with nuclear and chemical weapons, so that no one will ever again be able to live in the 'Promised Land?'...

"Our problem in Syria, and that of Arabs in general, is not people like Bashar or Al-Qadhafi, but rather the [patterns] of culture, logic, and political wisdom that birthed these regimes and leaders, which include rejection of the other, fanaticism, lack of freedom, totalitarianism, fascism, idolatry, and a herd mentality, as well as personality cults, tyranny, corruption, barbarism, and crime... Without changing these cultural patterns, and without external assistance, [the Syrian people] will remain embroiled in pointless conflicts for a long time.

"It is this that spurred me to present a new vision based on a different logic, while searching for regional and international leverage to promote it. This will help us rebuild our societies and countries in a way that is different than the one we rebelled against. Since everyone in the Middle East defines themselves with regards to their position in the Arab-Israeli conflict, let us first define this conflict; the proposed solution for this complex problem will naturally reflect on the other historic topics and conflicts...

"I read an article by Yassin Sweiha on the Al-Gumhouriyya website; in it, he reviews my initiative to change the political thought process and search for a culture of peace. He concludes that this is a dangerous initiative that could change our historic identity. Since we are the enemies of Israel, [he says,] if we reconcile with it, what will happen? We will lose our identity!... This reminds me of the American movie in which the two protagonists, criminals, imagine that they are pursued by the secret police. They escape in a car and attempt to evade it. They only discover that they are imagining this when their car drives off the Brooklyn Bridge, as they float in the air before plunging into the waters."[19]

The Syrian People Cannot Continue To Bear The Brunt Of Arab Nationalism

Al-Labwani also stressed that striving for peace with Israel is no longer taboo in the Middle East, after Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinians, and the Kurds have chosen to do so. The Syrians, he said, could also strive for peace if it helps them resolve their crisis: "Everyone has withdrawn from the Palestinian problem – 'the central problem of Arabs' – which the Syrian people carried on its shoulders for so many years. Sadat was the first to rebel against these principles, by signing the Camp David Accords; he was followed by Yasser Arafat himself, then by Jordan, and by many Arab and Islamic countries. Why should the poor, destitute Syrian citizens, who lost their families in Assad's explosive barrel attacks, whose homes and cities were destroyed, and who have been banished to the four corners of the Earth – [why should they] bear an additional brunt beyond what they already bear? After Homs, Aleppo, Deir Al-Zor, and Idlib have burned, should the Syrian people continue to bear the brunt of Arab nationalism? It pains me to ask: Why, when Bashar Al-Assad bombed us with chemical weapons, were there no protests condemning this despicable crime in a single Arab capital?"[20]

In a TV interview, Al-Labwani mentioned that peace with Israel was an "internal matter" for Syria, and that others should not interfere in it. This, he said, was because Syria is one of the last remaining countries that is not at peace with Israel, and it makes no sense to demand that the Syrian people – whose children have not gone to school for three years, and which is struggling to deal with the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees – should continue to fly the banner of the struggle against Israel all on its own.[21]

Peace Would Promote Arab Goals More Than Hizbullah's Missiles Do

Al-Labwani accused the "resistance" forces of hypocrisy, saying that they tout their slogans of struggle against Israel in the name of Arab nationalism and the Palestinian problem, but at the same time turn their weapons against their own peoples. He stated that therefore peace with Israel "would benefit the Arabs, Arabism, and Palestine more than all nationalist doctrines and all of Hassan Nasrallah's missiles," which he pointed out had ultimately been aimed "exclusively against the Syrian people."[22]

He added: "We have seen that those who call for strategic balance with the enemy and for resistance to 'the Great Satan' have turned all of their weapons stockpiles against their own people in a way that disgusted [even] the [Israeli] enemy with its ugliness."[23]

There Is No Comparing Israel's Intervention In Lebanon And Its Intervention In Syria

Al-Labwani rejected analogies between the Israeli-Syrian cooperation that he seeks and the Israeli-Maronite cooperation in Lebanon in the 1980s, and between the no-fly zone he wants Israel to establish in southern Syria and the South Lebanon security belt: "There are differences between the Israeli intervention in South Lebanon and in Syria: It intervened in South Lebanon as an occupying force, while in the [Syria] war it would intervene as a liberating force. In South Lebanon it supported a minority, while in Syria it would be defending the majority; in South Lebanon it triggered hostility, while in Syria it would provide aid and create friendship."[24]

Israel Is No Longer The Chief Enemy Of Syria And Arab Countries

In his TV interview, Al-Labwani noted that the Syrian civil war had fundamentally shaken the traditional image of Israel as an enemy, and had spurred him to distance himself from old, ossified patterns and formulate an Israel policy in keeping with dynamic interests: "Today, the 'grand' Syrian Arab army and the 'resistance' [meaning Hizbullah] attack us, while Israel treats our wounded. There have been changes in the equation of 'who is an enemy' and 'who is a friend.' The events [of recent years] have upended the terminology. Who is our enemy? Is it the Lebanese who fights us or the Israeli who lives in Jerusalem? .. Today there are many new questions, and dogmatic thinking can no longer provide answers for them."[25]

He added that, even when viewed in an historical context, most massacres against the Arabs were not carried out by Israel, but by their fellow Arabs – who share their identity and religion – or, even worse, by their own regimes, that should have been protecting and defending them. He noted that when Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon in the 1990s, he was given a handful of earth from the site of the 1996 "Israeli massacre" in Qana. Referring to an article by a French journalist that stated that the Qana incident was the only one of the dozens, even hundreds of massacres in Lebanon that had not been carried out by Lebanese, and that enumerated the 1975 'Ain Al-Rammaneh massacre (i.e. bus massacre in Beirut), the 1976 Tel Al-Zaatar massacre, the 1978 Ehden massacre, and the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, Al-Labwani said that what this journalist was implying was that the number of Lebanese murdered by Lebanese and the number of Syrian murdered by Syrians is far greater than the number of either people murdered by Israeli Jews.[26]

He further stated that the expansionist aspirations of Iran, "which casts its eyes on Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, and the rest of the Gulf," are far more troubling than Israel's.[27] Therefore, Al-Labwani said, "after the barbarism that they have witnessed carried out by the regime, by Iran, and by their gangs, and after the international community has abandoned them, most armed forces on the ground [in Syria] no longer [categorically] oppose any cooperation with Israel."[28]

Beyond the tangible changes that prove that Israel is no longer "the main enemy," Al-Labwani said, the widespread view of Israel as an aggressor country stems from misunderstanding and ignorance. The truth, he said, is that Israel is a militaristic country that lives in fear for its existence, and the Jewish people have escaped the Holocaust and persecution, and yearn for peace and security. The adoption of this empathetic perspective would show that the provision of warmth and security to Israel by its Sunni-Arab environment might trigger a change in Israel's aggressive nature, he said.[29]

The Jews Are Our Historic Partners

As part of his call to replace tired historical myths with a fresh pragmatic approach appropriate to the current dynamic reality, Al-Labwani attacked the common view of Jews as "historic enemies": "I am against this formulaic thought process that classifies the Shi'ite or the Jew as an historical enemy. We have lived side by side with the Jews, from Khaybar [in the early days of Islam] to the establishment of the State of Israel, and fought no wars [with them]."[30] He pointed out the religious and historic commonalities between Jews and Muslims, saying: "Have we forgotten that Abraham – the historic and cultural symbol of our nation – is the father of both Ishmael and Isaac, and the grandfather of Jacob Israel – the father of Hebrews? They are our historic partners on this land..."[31]

On the issue of Israel's historic rights to the land, Al-Labwani expressed his reservations regarding the term "historic right," since according to his religion Islamic perception, land belongs to God alone, and not to any particular people: "It is usual for states to rise and fall and to change their borders following wars, [invasions] or agreements. It is usual for sovereignty over the land to be held by these transient states... [According to Islamic tradition,] when Musaylimah [bin Habib, a false prophet from the time of Muhammad] sent a letter to the Prophet Muhammad asking him to divide the ownership of the Arabian Peninsula, [the Prophet], peace be upon Him, responded: 'From Muhammad, the Messenger of God, to Musaylimah the liar – the land belongs to God, and He gives it to His servants as He sees fit.' This is the philosophy of God's Messenger."[32]

By this reasoning, Al-Labwani said, the land of Israel has been conquered by many different peoples throughout history, but in the modern era it is under Israeli sovereignty and this is a fact. Even if the founders of Israel harmed the rights of the Palestinian locals who lived in Palestine at that time, he said, their children, born in Israel, must not be held responsible for this – just as modern day Sunnis must not be held responsible for the killing of Shi'ite Caliph Hussein bin 'Ali.[33]

Ambivalent Responses From Syrian Opposition

The umbrella organizations of the Syrian opposition have thus far avoided taking a clear stand on Al-Labwani's initiative. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Oppositionist Forces, from which Al-Labwani withdrew in January 2014, expressed reservations about the suggestion to "sell" the Golan Heights to Israel in return for the latter enforcing a no-fly zone in southern Syria, but did not reject the idea of cooperation with Israel. Hadi Al-Bahra, a member of the national coalition's political committee, said in a communique that Al-Labwani was no longer a member of the coalition and that "the positions he expresses do not represent or reflect the coalition's political positions." He added that the national coalition is committed to the territorial integrity of Syrian lands and to U.N. resolutions 242 and 497 regarding the Golan Heights.[34] The FSA has not officially responded to Al-Labwani's initiative but FSA spokesman Thaer Al-Nashef said that the Syrian people would not oppose peace with Israel after the Assad regime was toppled, and that the government established in Syria after his ouster would seek to restore the Golan Heights via negotiations, as Egypt and Jordan had done previously.[35]

These vague responses indicate the disagreement that the initiative caused within the Syrian opposition: On one hand, its supporters expressed their willingness to back Al-Labwani's public call for peace with Israel for pragmatic reasons, assuming it would improve the image of the Syrian opposition in international public opinion and promote its struggle to topple the regime. They were positively inclined towards "warm peace" that would include normalization with Israel and bring economic prosperity to Syria. Some of them even contributed to formulating innovative narratives that include explicit recognition of the Jews' historic right to a country in the Middle East, and praised the positive legacy of past ties between Jews and Sunni Muslims in the region. On the other hand, Al-Labwani's opponents used Arab nationalist arguments that reject any cooperation with the Zionist entity until it withdraws from territory it conquered in 1967 and restores the Palestinians' legitimate rights. In addition, they questioned the pragmatic benefits of Al-Labwani's initiative and complained that it plays into the hands of the Syrian regime's propaganda mechanisms.

Supporters Of The Initiative

Son Of Former Syrian Defense Minister: I Do No Oppose Warm Peace With Israel

Firas Tlass, a Syrian businessman and the son of former Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, said that many leaders in the national coalition and the FSA have established direct and indirect ties with the Israeli leadership after understanding that victory in the Syrian civil war is in Israel's hands. Tlass, who defected to the opposition after anti-regime protests began in Syria, stated that he does not personally oppose "full and warm peace with Israel that would enable the total development of the region and open its [borders] for passage and work for all peoples of the region." However, he added that "such a decision needs the authorization of a legitimate element elected freely by the Syrian people."[36]

Jamal Karsli: A Peaceful Message Would Benefit The Revolution

Unexpected support for Al-Labwani's peace initiative came from Jamal Karsli, a former German MP of Syrian origin, who was forced to leave the Green Party in 2002 after making antisemitic comments. Karsli, who is among the organizers of the Cordoba Conference,[37] stated that Al-Labwani's peace initiative came at the proper timing, since the Syrian public was emotionally prepared for peace with Israel more than ever, if it would bring about Assad's ouster. In addition, he said "it would be beneficial if we signal [to the West] that the Syrian opposition is willing to make peace with Israel, because the West's demands speak of uniting the opposition, combating extremism, and ensuring Israel's safety and security." Moreover, he added that the Western world was prepared "to sacrifice all the Arabs" for Israel's survival, and that therefore, "if we send the Western world the message that those controlling Syria would be a democratic elite that is prepared for peace with Israel, it would benefit the revolution." Addressing Al-Labwani's call for warm peace with Israel, Karsli claimed that normalization is already a fact on the ground in today's world, in which multinational corporations operate and peoples intermingle in the economic and media arenas.[38]

Letter To AIPAC: The Idea Of A War Against Israel Is Gone From The Syrian People's Lexicon

Shortly after Al-Labwani's initiative was announced, the National Syrian Group, which includes prominent Syrian oppositionists who are working in concert with Al-Labwani, sent a letter to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) expressing their yearning for peaceful coexistence between the two peoples, recognition of the Jewish people's rights in Israel, and their hope for Sunni-Israeli cooperation against the Iranian-Shi'ite axis.

The letter states: "Before the beginning of the Syrian people revolution against the most barbaric and murderous regime in March 2011; the Assad regime was encouraging hatred against the Israeli nation and hostility between the Israeli and Syrian people. The regime ignored the historical and geographical rights of the Jewish people in their historical land where all the prophets were born, the Promised Land...

"The Syrian Opposition started even before the revolution to call for peace with Israel through the media platform that was available to us. We the opposition clarified to the Syrian people the importance of living in real peace with Israel which is a must for the future of Syria...

"Peace with Israel has become a matter of fact and fully accepted by all the Syrian people and especially by the Sunni majority... The Sunni people of Syria have realized that living in peace with Israel is the only solution to move forward in the Middle East that we are living in...

"Israel signed a peace treaty with Arab countries among which are Egypt, and Jordan and it enjoys good relationships with Islamic countries such as Turkey and Pakistan, a relationship which was not always at its best, and we hope that the relationship between the Syrian and Israeli people will be built on strong basis to reach real, logical and lasting peace between the two countries and the two people that share the same history and geography. Golan Heights that was a commodity for the Assad regime to bargain with over 40 years will be a prosperous home that houses the two people in peace and security.

"Today we as Syrian people in general and Sunni majority in particular that are fighting a battle of freedom hand in hand with the other sects in Syria to extend a hand for peace with Israel and Israeli people and to work hand in hand to stop the bleeding that the Syrian people are suffering for the last three years as a result of the murders of the Assad regime and its alliance; the Iranian, death militias and Shiite extremists from all over the world who proved their hostility to the Israeli people...

"The hostility that the regime planted in the hearts of the Syrian people towards the Israeli and Jewish people over the years of his rule has vanished and especially among the Sunni majority. Thanks to the Syrian revolution that was the awakening call that raised awareness among the Syrian people and was a catalyst for them to seek peace and security and good future living next their neighbors. The word war has vanished from the dictionary of the Syrian people and especially the Sunni majority who they only think of real peace with the Israeli and Jewish people around the world.

"Our hand is extended to you for real peace and partnership."[39]

Opponents Of The Initiative

Burhan Ghalioun: Al-Labwani's Initiative – A Betrayal Of Syria And A Crime Against The Syrian Opposition

Syrian liberal Burhan Ghalioun, who was head of the Syrian National Council in 2010-2011, claimed that Al-Labwani's initiative was deluded, for the following reasons: "First, Israel is not an enemy of the Syrian regime who will act to topple this regime for the sake of the opposition; rather, it is an enemy of the Syrian people. Due to this hostility, and due to the interests which guide it, which are contrary [to those of the Syrian people], Israel defended the Syrian regime and cooperated with it, and it continues to do so today... Second, [should Israel decide that] the Syrian regime's [continued] existence is at odds with its interests, it will not need appeals or deals like those proposed by Al-Labwani to deliver a death-blow to this regime... Third, Israel does not need Al-Labwani to give it the Golan, for the Golan is effectively under its control, not under his control...

"[Al-Labwani's] delusions and superficial statements are meant to appeal to a small segment of the Syrian public that has lost faith in itself in the face of the humanitarian and national tragedy, and which mistakenly believes that the regime's perseverance is proof that Israel wants it to stay and that obtaining [Israeli support] is the only way to eliminate it... Al-Labwani's statements reflect that a certain destructive segment of the Syrian public is going from bad to worse, and rushing to surrender to an enemy that does not have, and cannot be expected to have, any compassion or pity for a people that once posed a threat to Israel...

"Israel is the last [country] that thinks to rescue the Syrians from their plight, the last [country] the Syrians can expect to rescue them from the violence and terror of the regime... Directing the gaze of the displaced and tortured Syrians towards [Israel], and cultivating false hopes [in their hearts] that it will help them in return for their relinquishing Syria's national truth, its principles and its spirit – that is more than just a political error. It is a betrayal of Syria and its history and a crime against the opposition. Al-Labwani won't stop hurling accusations at [the opposition], destroying its credibility and embroiling it in positions that serve no purpose other than to divide it and blacken its reputation."[40]

Syrian Opposition Activist: Cooperation With Israel Requires A Change In The Zionist Doctrine

Attorney Edward Hashwa, a Christian Syrian oppositionist, published an article in which he rejected Al-Labwani's initiative as long as the Palestinian problem remains unresolved and as long as the Zionist movement continues seeking a Jewish state "from the Nile to the Euphrates." He wrote: "The call to cooperate with Israel embarrasses and harms the Syrian opposition, and provides the regime with another trump card in its war against the people... Transitioning from a culture of war with Israel to a culture of collaboration with it requires Israel [itself] to comply. In [Arab League] summits the Arabs proposed an initiative for establishing a Palestinian state. The Palestinians made a concession by agreeing to a state that would not exceed 28% of the West Bank territories occupied in 1967 [Hashwa means 28% of Mandatory Palestine], and which would be demilitarized. They consented to the presence of U.S. troops on the border and to the annexing of the large [Jewish] settlements to Israel. They were even willing to settle for a small part of East Jerusalem, and agreed to place their capital in a village adjacent to East Jerusalem, not in [the city itself]. Despite all this, and despite the American pressure, the Zionists refused. How can a culture of peace be established in the face of such extremism?...

"Zionism is a Jewish national movement whose goal is to establish a Jewish state stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, which will attract all the Jews of the world. In his book A Place under the Sun, which serves as his permanent election platform, [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu opposed the establishment of any kind of Palestinian state. The most he would agree to was [establishing] a 'municipal authority to handle the affairs of the Arab residents, only in areas densely populated [with Arabs], and under Israeli sovereignty.' How is it possible to establish a culture of cooperation with such a mindset? As long as we don't see a change in the Jewish political doctrine, peace and a culture of peace will remain out if reach.

"True, there is no doubt that the barbarity suffered by the [Arab] peoples at the hands of the regimes in all the Arab countries exceeds Israel's barbarity – and the war in Syria is an example of this. But does that mean that we must cooperate with a lesser form of barbarity? Or [does it mean that] we must oppose both [forms of barbarity]?... [In the 1980s], a group of Maronites cooperated with Israel, and the result was an Israeli occupation of South Lebanon that lasted 20 years. The Maronites did not achieve the decisive victory they hoped for; instead they were marginalized, divided into [those who allied themselves with] Israel versus [those who allied themselves with] the Syrian regime. Therefore, those who believe that cooperating with the Jews is the road to salvation are not thinking straight."[41]

Ofir Winter is a guest writer at MEMRI and a doctoral candidate at the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University. He is coauthor, with Uriya Shavit, of the book My Enemy, My Mentor: Arab Islamist and Liberal Discourses on the Zionist Movement and Israel (in Hebrew).


[1] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[2] Rai Al-Yawm (Jordan), April 25, 2014.
[3] SANA (Syria), March 9, 2014.
[4], April 11, 2014;, May 1, 2014.
[5] Sana (Syria), April 14, 2014.
[6] The Damascus Spring was the Syrian political awakening after Bashar Al-Assad's took office in June 2000; during it, a number of forums promoting democracy and civil society were established throughout Syria.
[7] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 361, "Syrian Oppositionists Call for International Action," June 7, 2007.
[8], January 6, 2014;, March 23, 2014.
[9] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014; Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[10], May 13, 2014.
[11] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[12] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[13] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014; Orient News TV, March 19, 2014;, May 13, 2014.
[14] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[15] Orient News TV (Syria), March 19, 2014.
[16] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[17] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[18], April 21, 2014.
[19], April 21, 2014.
[20] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[21] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[22] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[23], April 21, 2014.
[24] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[25] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[26], April 21, 2014.
[27] Al-Arab (London), March 14, 2014.
[28], March 7, 2014.
[29] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[30] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[31], April 21, 2014.
[32], April 21, 2014.
[33] Orient News TV, March 19, 2014.
[34], March 16, 2014.
[35] Al-Arab (London), March 7, 2014.
[36], March 13, 2014.
[37] A conference that took place in Cordoba, Spain, in January 2014, in which Syrian oppositionist leaders, including Al-Labwani, met to coordinate positions leading up to negotiations with the Syrian regime in Geneva.
[38], March 25, 2014.
[39] The letter was sent to AIPAC in May, 2014. A copy was provided to MEMRI by one of the authors.
[40], March 16, 2014. In a scathing article he wrote in response, Al-Labwani accused Ghalioun of taking nationalist stances that do not help the opposition but effectively serve Assad and Iran., March 18, 2014.
[41], May 13, 2014.

Ofir Winter


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