It is instructive to remember the basic points of discord in the past between the Labor and Likud concerning the peace process.
1) The Misconception:
Peres persistently maintained that there is no alternative to an international peace conference with the participation of the United Nations, United States of America, Russia, France, United Kingdom and others. No Arab nation, he said, would ever agree to sit around a peace table face to face with Israel alone.
Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the majority of the Arab nations, agreed to participate in the Madrid Conference, where the participation of the United States and Soviet Union was limited to greetings in the opening session, and all other European nations were excluded. In subsequent sessions the delegations of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon met separately, face to face, with the Israeli delegation.
2) The Trickery:
Peres affirmed that since it would be a "non-compelling" international conference, Israel has nothing to be afraid of.
Certainly, according to international law there is no such thing as "compelling" international conferences. A nation is sovereign and, therefore, bound only by those decisions of an international conference that it ratifies. But the other participant nations are able to apply public or veiled sanctions on any nation whose policy affects their interests. It is of the nature of the internal dynamics of international conferences to lead to compulsive measures.
The Mideast policy of the European nations has always shown a manifest tendency in favor of the Arab side. It is enough to remember the arms embargo by France when Israel was fighting for her survival in the Six Day War, and the collective refusal of nearly all the Western nations, including the United States (1), to sell arms to Israel in the first dramatic days of its independence. In light of the above, it would have been a grave error on the part of Israel to accept such a "non-compelling" conference.
3) The Fallacy:
It was affirmed that there is no alternative partner other than Arafat for a peace solution with the Palestinians.
Shamir and Hussein agreed that Palestinians be included in Jordan's delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference. They would constitute a subcommittee entrusted with dealing with Palestinian autonomy. Moderate, influential inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, who identified with the PLO but were not implicated in either terrorist actions or in extremist ideological declarations, agreed to participate. They did it with Arafat's consent, but Israel would sign the Palestinian Autonomy agreement with the Jordanian Government, with Hussein and not Arafat.
Hussein granted Israel the right of veto over the Palestinian members of Jordan's delegation. It was perhaps without precedent in history that a sovereign nation, not in state of total defeat and submission, gives another nation the right of veto over the members of its delegation. The reason has to be found in the affinity of interests between Israel and Jordan. A Palestinian state constitutes a real menace to the Hashemite Dynasty, as it does for Israel. And Jordan as well as Israel and Lebanon are seen by Syria as parts of its territory, which were severed from it by English and French imperialism. It was much better for Hussein that Shamir would refuse to allow to Arafat to participate in the Jordan delegation, and Shamir was willing to oblige.
There has been strategic collaboration between Israel and Jordan since the early seventies. Israel assisted Hussein against Syrian aggression, and Hussein alerted Israel to Syrian intentions on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. Israel and Jordan cooperated when dealing with the shared danger represented by the personality and ideology of Arafat. In the light of common interests, the personality of Hussein, and his demonstrated capacity to govern, he is Israel's only reliable partner. By switching partners, from Hussein to Arafat, in the Oslo Agreement, Peres et al. got us into a situation from which it will be very hard to get out. Worst of all, the Oslo agreement cut out a peace process capable of leading to a satisfactory resolution of the Palestinian issue.
4) The Deceit
Peres has repeatedly maintained that returning Sinai to Egypt constitutes an antecedent for the peace with Syria, which prevents any agreement without returning all the Golan.
An event in the past may serve as an antecedent for a similar event in the present, but not for a totally different one. The differences between the peace process with Egypt and that with Syria are so numerous, substantial, and obvious, that enormous cynicism is necessary to make so deceitful an affirmation.
a) Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace and sign a peace treaty with Israel. By doing this it broke with decades of unified Arab policy, exposing itself to boycott and isolation from the Arab world. Syria would be one of the last Arab nations to make peace with Israel. Without peace with Israel, it is exposing itself to isolation from the rest of the Arab world.
b) With his conclusive declaration of "No more war," and his memorable visit to Jerusalem, Sadat created, before the beginning of the formal peace talks, a de facto peace and reciprocal confidence. Assad, on the other hand, has repeatedly declared that he has chosen the "peace path" as a "strategic option," but constantly reminds Israel, by means of the Hizbullah and other terrorist groups, that war is his other "strategic option."
c) Sadat reclaimed Sinai at the international boundary. Neither one inch less, nor one more. His attitude granted the "international boundary" a degree of sacredness, which bodes well for the stability of peace. Assad claims territory conquered by Syria in 1948, which is beyond the international boundary.
To understand Asad's posture we have to take into account that the Israeli- Syrian conflict is of a totally different nature than the conflict between Israel and all other Arab nations. From Syria's point of view all of Israel along with Jordan and Lebanon, are part of Syrian territory. Therefore, in the eyes of Syria, the international boundary established by the imperialistic powers, is spurious and cannot serve as a basis for any agreement with Israel. Therefore, in contrast with Sinai, the Golan is a minor part of Syria's irredenta, and its return would not eliminate the territorial basis of the conflict.
The nature of the Israeli-Syrian conflict makes the achievement of a formal peace treaty entailing the establishment of a definitively accepted international boundary, very difficult. If such a treaty were achieved, it would be less trustworthy than a treaty signed with any other Arab nation. Nevertheless, Syria urgently needs some kind of accord with Israel to get off the black list of terror supporters and gain access to American aid. It also needs to avoid becoming isolated from the Arab world, which is moving toward acceptance of Israel's presence.
Consequently, what we presently can and must do, is seek a total suspension of direct and indirect hostilities. This would be a kind of de facto peace that would serve the interests of both parties. Such a peace would not resolve the core of the conflict: The existence of Israel in what Syrians feel as part of their motherland. But the return of the Golan would not resolve this issue either, and history is full of cases of peoples living in peace and amity for centuries with unresolved conflicts between them: The Anglo-Spanish conflict over Gibraltar, and the Anglo-Argentine Falkland/Malvinas Islands conflict, are two conspicuous examples. There is no alternative for a real peace with Syria, than a hope that time will bring a solution similar to that of the unresolved territorial conflicts between Germany and nearly all its neighbors, which seem to have finally achieved a state of stability.
(1) From this collective attitude of the Western nations, France must be excluded. It provided the arms that were sunk off the coast of Tel Aviv by Ben Gurion's order in the sad episode of the Altalena. In addition to the arms, some hundreds of passengers were in the ship. Most were holocaust survivors and young Jewish volunteers from all over the world coming to fight for Israel's independence. As welcome to their old-new motherland, sixteen of them were murdered by Israeli forces commanded by Brigadier Isaac Rabin. Obeying Menahem Begin order, the National Military Organization restrained from answering the aggression, in this way preventing a civil war. It only was by chance that my brother, Ephraim Luz (Nissensohn), was not among the volunteers coming from abroad in this ship.