Syria-Israel Peace More Likely in Wake of Summit

MerkelGraffiti cc thierry ehrmann Flickr



Last week’s Paris Summit for the Mediterranean confirmed the likelihood of EU primacy over any future Mediterranean Union. More importantly however, the Summit was notable for the inclusion of Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, which marks a major thaw in Euro-Syrian relations. This thaw removes a major impediment to a Syrian-Israeli peace treaty.


The idea of a union between the Mediterranean’s littoral states dates back, most recently, to the 1995 ‘Barcelona Process’. Since then, the EU has poured approximately $12B into developing these states, but has not achieved much in the way of political or economic unity. What then to make of the attempt by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to reinvigorate a Mediterranean Union – aside from attributing it to his predilection towards pageantry?

As a matter of EU politics, the Summit reveals the longstanding though amicable competition between France and Germany for influence. The EU’s 2004 and 2007 eastern expansions have empowered Germany at the expense of French leadership. If Sarkozy were able to spearhead and lead a union of 40 or so Mediterranean states, France could command a western block to match Germany’s eastern one. This logic explains the vehement objections of Germany’s President, Angela Merkel, against Sarkozy’s original conception of a Mediterranean Union separate from the EU. Sarkozy, in fact, relented and the plan is to now have the new Union fall under the auspices of the EU, wherein any EU member can become a member of the Mediterranean Union as well.

Also of note is the Turkish position on Sarkozy’s proposal. Turkey, whose bid for EU membership has nearly ground to a standstill on account of both internal political strife and anti-Turkish sentiment from France, Germany and other EU members, protested bitterly. Turkey suspects that any independent Mediterranean Union would become a second-class club and a way for the EU to derail its accession bid.

These prickles aside, observers of the Summit had to have been impressed with the turnout. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak co-chaired the Summit with Sarkozy, and 43 high level representatives attended. The sole notable exception was Libya’s President, Muammar Qaddafi, who voiced concerns about the Summit’s neo-colonialist designs.

But the most interesting geopolitical designs related to the surprising inclusion of Syria in the proceedings.  France has had suspended diplomatic relations with Syria since 2005 in protest of the assassination of then Lebanese President Rafik Hariri, who was a friend of then French President Jacques Chirac. Moreover, France had hitherto taken a lead in bringing international pressure to displace Syria from Lebanon, and to force an UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination, which would certainly impugn Syria.

The logic of the French reversal and the invitation of Syria as an honored guest make sense in the context of Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. Remarkably, France has signaled that the international community is willing to ‘forget’ the Hariri assassination, and would be willing to accept a comprehensive peace treaty in which Syria retakes Lebanon as a suzerain. Additionally, Syria would gain nominal control over the Golan Heights, and in exchange, they would reign in Hezbollah, cut ties with Hamas, and normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

Israeli spokesmen confirm that they are amenable to such a deal, and so far the United States has decided not to scupper progress, despite the Bush administration’s aversion to al-Assad’s regime. Such a breakthrough would be a major coup for Sarkozy, who is desperate to improve his currently abysmal popularity, and establish his legacy.

On the whole, therefore, peace just became quite a bit more feasible between Israel and Syria. Nonetheless, what looks good today may be derailed by an Israeli or American strike on Iran, or Israeli retaliation to a strike by Hezbollah. It is also wise never to underestimate the difficulty in overcoming sixty years of animosity, which is the length of time Syria and Israel have been formally at war.

Ian Speigel is a contributor to

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