Recently, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said that
This is the time to push for peace with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. If we know how to do that, other Arab countries, which are yet to acknowledge us in public, will soon follow. — YNet
Here is his answer, at least from Syria. Here is what Israel can expect to get from negotiating with Bashar Assad:
Amid speculation over the status of indirect negotiations between Damascus and Jerusalem, Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Tuesday that he does not intend to cut his country’s ties to Iran, Channel 10 reported.
“Syria will stand with Iran on all the major strategic issues,” Assad said during an interview with a local television station which was aired on Channel 10.
“Only one situation would distance Syria from Iran, and that is if Teheran sided with Israel, and if America sided with the Arabs,” he said, laughing…
Commenting on negotiations with Israel, the Syrian president said that classifying the talks as “negotiations” was too strong a term.
“What’s happening today is not negotiation, but they are called ‘negotiations’ in the media,” Assad told the interviewer. — Jerusalem Post
As Barry Rubin has pointed out (see, for example, “Self-evident — and wrong!“), while Assad would certainly take the Golan if he had to give nothing in return, a real peace agreement is not in his interest. And his relationship with Iran is much more valuable than what Israel or the US could give him for abandoning it.
Meanwhile, Assad has made use of the negotiations that are not negotiations to reestablish his legitimacy with the West. As Caroline Glick wrote,
Since the early 1990s, Syria has recognized that intermittent, fruitless discussions with Israel about the Golan Heights are the best means of maintaining or reestablishing its acceptability in the West. After Assad ordered the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, he immediately turned to Israel to pull his fat from the fire by offering to renew negotiations regarding a surrender of the Golan Heights. Israel held out for two and a half years and during those years, Assad wasted away in international isolation. With even the UN breathing down his neck, Assad and his regime were hanging on for dear life.
But then suddenly, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to the rescue.
As a result, says Glick, the murder of Hariri and Syria’s attempt to build a clandestine nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea seem to have been forgotten, as Syria signs a billion-dollar contract with the French oil company Total. And now Assad is telling Israel to go to hell.
It’s unclear what Olmert thought would be gained from talking to Syria, but it illustrates a point to which US politicians as well should pay attention:
Sometimes not talking is a much better strategy than talking.