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Turkey’s new role sets up new negotiation heights

Golan Heights
They will see us waving from such great heights…(via Mockstar, Flickr)

The road for peace in the Middle East leads through a lot of cities and governments: Damascus is one of them. Not only its influence on Lebanon, but also the ongoing conflict with Israel about the Golan Heights are a permanent source of diplomatic trouble.

Now it seems that the Turkish government has stepped up efforts to end the latter conflict, at least temporarily. As Ankara holds tight diplomatic relations to both sides, it appears to be the ideal broker for a peace deal. In the last days, indirect negotiations between Tel Aviv and Damascus have been going on. The fact that the U.S. has stopped its opposition against the talks shows that some hopes can be drawn.

The goals are clear, or, as a senior Israeli official told the Jewish chronicle: “Negotiating with Syria,” the minister said, “is not like haggling in the marketplace. It’s like going into a boutique. You know exactly what you want, and just how much you’re going to have to pay for it.” In this case, Syria demands getting back the Golan Heights while Israel would like to establish diplomatic relations to curb Iran’s influence in the region, put a permanent peace deal on a solid basis and further diminish the Hamas support base.

With Turkey having control over dams in the Euphrates river and therefore over Syria’s water resources and being able to pose as a strong trade-partner to Damascus, it may have the tools to bring new life into the situation. After all, Syria has been isolated in the Arab world lately and does not have left any friends in France, either. Right now, diplomats are inofficially negotiating about a withdrawal and part-lease of the Golan Heights, though Israel wants it to last 99, Syria only 25 years.

But even if there is agreement on this subject, nothing will happen until next year: The current U.S. government will not support a contract openly, as Syria is still on the “axis of evil”. At the same time, Israel might want to see some symbolism like the expulsion of Hamas leaders. And then there is also the dilemma that Syria will be seen as a traitor of it agrees to a deal with Israel while there is no clear road to a solution for the Palestine territories. A deal that does not lead into negotiations about the She`eba Farms would also mean Damascus may lose its influence on Hezbollah completely to Iran, and therefore risk to soften its grip on Lebanon.

So are there perspectives for a serious peace agreement or is it just another fruitless negotiation that will be soon forgotten if the frustrated Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decides to step down and the whole negotiations about the occupied territories are up in limbo again? Like always, anything can happen in the Middle East – but at least Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can already consider himself a winner: Turkey’s current role as a mediator between the Arab world and the West could, if proven substantive, hand him a vital argument in his case for joining the European Union.

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