Syrian opposition activist calls for peace with Israel

Kamal al-Labwani says the two countries share common enemies, appeals for alliance with Jerusalem to oust Assad

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

In this Friday, Jan. 6, 2012 photo, Kamal al-Labwani, 54, speaks to a crowd during an anti-Assad rally in Amman, Jordan (photo credit: AP/Mohammad Hannon)
In this Friday, Jan. 6, 2012 photo, Kamal al-Labwani, 54, speaks to a crowd during an anti-Assad rally in Amman, Jordan (photo credit: AP/Mohammad Hannon)

A senior Syrian opposition member has appealed for collaboration with Israel to topple the Assad regime, claiming that “the revolution created a historic opportunity for peace between the nations.”

Kamal al-Labwani, a physician and former decade-long political prisoner, told the Walla news portal over the weekend that he believes “we have shared interests with Israel.”

“Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda are the joint enemies of Israel and the Syrian people. We must collaborate against them,” the influential activist said.

The sudden consideration of Israel as a potential political ally, he explained, comes in light of the evolving political landscape in the Middle East.

“The reality in the Middle East has changed,” he said. “The concepts we were raised with have changed. The friend becomes the enemy and vice versa. Many Syrians are willing to weigh new solutions.”

In addition, an alliance with Syria would serve Israel’s interests, he continued. The opposition leader attributed the instability in the region to Iran, and said, “Wherever there is violence, you can find Iranian involvement.”

“Israel, on the other hand, is a state that can blend in with the region,” he said, with the stipulation that it reach an agreement with the Palestinians in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative.

While Israel maintains diplomatic relations with Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, “the potential is much greater,” he added. “The key is changing the situation with Syria — weakening the Iranian representation, defeating the extremists, and strengthening those parties interested in stability and in peace.”

“The world failed with Syria, but perhaps Israel will reveal itself as the state that is willing to take responsibility and do the right thing,” Lawani, a founder of the Liberal Democratic Union opposition party, said.

Labwani’s remarks drew fierce criticism from officials on behalf of President Bashar Assad.

Bouthaina Shaaban, a political and media adviser, said his statements were “not surprising.”

“It’s known that what is happening in Syria is planned and coordinated with agents that work for Israel,” she said.

Shaaban said the opposition leader was “serving the Zionists,” and that both he and his supporters were “betraying their country.”

Labwani responded to the accusations, retorting that “those who blow up innocent civilians with explosives and chemical weapons would do well not to preach morality.”

In an interview with London-based daily Al-Arab in March, Labwani said Syrian rebels would forsake claims to the Golan Heights in exchange for a no-fly zone over southern Syria that would be enforced using its air defense systems and Patriot missiles.

“As long as we Syrians continue to believe in annihilating Israel and Israelis, it is only natural for Israel to continue supporting Assad who has not lifted a finger against it,” Labwani told the paper. “We will sign peace with the Israelis at the end. Why deny it?”

“Why should we not sell the Golan issue through negotiations rather than lose it to Assad and lose Syria along with it?” he added.

He proposed that the Americans turn the Golan Heights into “an international peace park” and open its tourist sites to the entire world.

“The settlers who want to remain can remain, those who want to return to Israel or elsewhere can go. As for the original [Arab] inhabitants of the Golan, they will have to choose between returning to their land and being compensated,” he said.

Speaking to the Israeli news outlet on Friday, Labawani said there was no reason Jews and Arabs could not coexist in the region.

Recalling his first encounter with Jews, at a meeting with White House officials during a 2005 visit to Washington, Labwani said: “It didn’t bother me. In Syria, there is a long history of Jewish presence. Until 1948, Jews and Arabs lived side by side throughout the Middle East. There is no reason it cannot return to be that way.”

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

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