On her visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a significant overture to Syria for the first time since the U.S. broke off relations with Damascus in 2005, saying the U.S. would send two representatives to Syria.
Amjad Atallah, the co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, joins Daljit Dhaliwal to discuss the future of relations with Syria and other issues examined during Clinton’s visit.
Joshua Landis at the “Syria Comment” blog writes what the announcement may mean for the future of U.S.-Syria relations:
Clinton’s deliberate handshake with Syria’s Foreign Minister at the Gaza donor Conference promises a thaw in Syria-U.S. relations. […]
All the same, some things seem not to be changing. The US is still seeking to “flip” Syria away from Iran, which Hillary doubts can be pursuaded to fall in with America’s regional security designs. (More promising would be an effort to engage both, rather than trying to split them). Hillary has set out strict preconditions for U.S. support for Israeli-Syrian dialogue. Syria must cut relations with its allies, Hizbullah and Hamas. The demand that Syria abandon its supporters and friends before entering into full dialogue with the US is no more likely to work under Obama than it did under Bush. Why? Because Syria fears that the US will again fail to deliver Israel, as it did under Bill Clinton in 2000. Netanyahu will decline to return the Golan, as he promised during his campaign, and Syria will be left without a deal and with with no friends or regional leverage. Syria suspects this is, in fact, Washington’s desired outcome – to weaken Syria.
Clinton also said the movement toward the creation of a Palestinian state is, as she put it, “inescapable.” She met with Israel’s Prime Minister-designate, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who said they found “common ground,” even though Netanyahu opposes a two-state solution.
The “Jerusalem Watchman” blog describes the fine line that Netanyahu must walk with the U.S. in terms of the two state question:
Netanyahu, who is being urged by many to withstand these pressures, is trying to walk a fine line. […] Naturally enough, he does not want to embark on his second term in office already at loggerheads with the new most powerful man in the world. He has been there before. He knows, too, the value of the American Alliance Asset that Israel values and has long sought to protect.
Times have moved on since Clinton’s husband occupied the White House. The new president is an entirely different kettle of fish. And he has a whole administration, together with a well-weighted Capitol Hill, to back his engagement in the Middle East.
As Hillary comes barreling in, Bibi is likely hoping for all the prayers he can get.
Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state and a former ambassador to Israel, describes his interactions with Netanyahu at the “Mideast Peace Pulse” blog:
The Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who I worked with while I was our Ambassador to Israel, was certainly conservative in his viewpoint, and he was tough when it came to military action. But, at the same time, he was pragmatic when it came to the interests of Israel and to his own political interests and that of his party. […]
With Israel’s best interests in mind, Netanyahu has to consider the impact of his policies on his relationship with the new American administration and President. As a pragmatist, Bibi has no need to rule out negotiations with the Palestinians or a two state solution. So long as the Palestinians are divided politically, no two state solution is possible – and that will not be Israel’s or Bibi’s fault.
Blogger Daoud Kuttab attended Clinton’s press conference in Israel and describes asking her a question about the conflict in Gaza:
The Gaza Reconstruction conference was a busy affair. Speakers gave talks governments and foundations made pledges and politicians debated all day. In the end it was left to the key players to tell the press about the results of the all day event.
While the question and answer period was over, I was called on to meet privately with the Secretary. […] I asked her about the blockade on Gaza. My question focused on her interest in children and I asked her what is the fault of a Palestinian child to be taken hostage by politicians. Despite her earlier emotional plea for the children of Palestine, this question failed to move her and she began an often repeated routine of faulting the rockets for the Israeli attacks. Hamas actually provokes Israel to respond was the gist of what she was saying. I was unhappy with the answer but was aware that my time was out.