Syria’s peace dividends

Mired in economic woe, Syrians see economic benefits to pursuing peace with Israel, The New York Times reports:

Mr. Zayat, a 35-year-old television cinematographer, says he views a peace deal with Israel as necessary and inevitable — not just for political reasons, but because Syria’s vulnerable economy needs all the help it can get.

“We are tired, the country is suffocating,” he said, as he played backgammon with a friend at a cafe here, the sweet smell of apple-flavored tobacco drifting around him. “We have suffered a long time from the political boycott and the sanctions.”

That sentiment is echoed by many others. Prices soared here after the Syrian government cut fuel subsidies in May, deepening the gulf between rich and poor in this nominally socialist state. It had little choice. The oil reserves Syria has relied on for so long are rapidly disappearing. The hefty budget surpluses of a decade ago have turned into multibillion-dollar deficits. A country that could once afford to be serenely indifferent to Western sanctions is now being forced to liberalize and open its economy.

None of this has changed Syria’s conviction that any peace agreement must include the return of the Golan Heights, the area captured by Israel in 1967. But a profoundly uncertain economic future has created additional incentives for peace, which could help lure foreign investment by ending Syria’s pariah status in the West.

A settlement with Israel “would lift a huge weight from our shoulders,” said Ghimar Deeb, a Syrian lawyer and economist who works with the United Nations here. It would lead to the lifting of sanctions, which would give Syria access to new investment, high-tech supplies and training opportunities, he said.

“Poverty is increasing, inequality is increasing, and I believe the street is frustrated,” Mr. Deeb said. “They need peace with all our neighbors.”

Meanwhile, senior Israeli officials told Ha’aretz that Syria is taking its talks with Israel seriously:

Senior officials in Jerusalem confirmed Monday that Syria has carried out a number of measures in recent weeks that reflect that it is taking talks with Israel seriously.

The sources refused to say whether they were referring to such measures as lowering the alert levels of the Syrian army or stemming the flow of arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon through its territory, but they did say that the effects of the measures were “tangible.”

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