Wednesday, April 23, 2008

AP Reports Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks, and Gets It Wrong, As Usual

The Associated Press, under the byline of a staff writer named Sam F. Ghattas, quotes a Syrian cabinet minister as saying that Israel has sent a message to Syria, stating that it is ready to agree to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty. This is not news--Israel has continuously indicated its willingness to entirely withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for a peace treaty with Syria, most recently in early 2000, in an initiative launched by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. I may view that policy as foolhardy, but that has been Israeli policy nonetheless.

However, the Associated Press incorrectly reports why Barak's peace feeler to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, father to present President Bashar al-Assad (photo above left), faltered. According to Mr. Ghattas:

Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations broke down in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which was seized from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Syria demands a full return of the territory, but Israel wanted to keep a small strip along the Sea of Galilee to ensure its control of its vital water supplies.

The truth is the "small strip along the Sea of Galilee" demanded by Syria was not Syrian territory under the 1949 ceasefire lines. In 1949, the Sea of Galilee (or the Kineret, as it is called in Israel) lay wholly in Israel, with the Syrian border 10 meters from the eastern coast. [Wolf, Aaron T., Hydropolitics Along the Jordan River, United Nations University Press (1995)] The 2000 peace negotiations broke down precisely because Syria demanded that its permanent border run to the east coast of the Sea of Galilee, including the 10 meter strip that had never been Syrian territory.

So how is it that the Associated Press got the story wrong? Well, reporters frequently make mistakes. But why is it that AP, Reuters and the other wire services, to say nothing of CNN and the rest of the Mainstream Media, so regularly make their mistakes in a way that makes Israel look bad. In this case, the AP story misinforms its readers that it was those nasty Israelis who torpedoed the 2000 peace negotiations with Syria, by not agreeing to "a full return" of all of Syria's territory, when the truth is that the talks fell apart because of Syria's additional territorial demands.


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