Rebel fighters in Aleppo
Rebel fighters in AleppoReuters

A member of the Syrian opposition recently said that “it is in our interest today to engage in a peace process” with Israel.

The comments were made by opposition activist Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani, who spoke in a March 19, 2014 interview with the Syrian Orient News TV channel. The interview was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

“Israel is a state that was established under certain historical circumstances, as a result of World War II,” said Al-Labwani. “It wants to survive. It is a vulnerable country, with a security problem that puts its very existence in jeopardy. It is surrounded by an ocean of Arab enmity. It fears for its future, so it has become a militarized state. It dreams of peace and stability.”

Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, he claimed, “was Israel's means for oppressing the Syrian people. This was based on people's belief that if Syria's dictatorship was lifted, the Syrian people would storm Jerusalem with swords. Today, after forty years of failure and repeated defeats, we say to Israel: Okay, we are willing to give up the military option against you, and to normalize our relations, in exchange for the Golan Heights.”

According to Al-Labwani, “The Syrian people is saying: We are just like the Palestinians, the Jordanians, or the Egyptians. We have relinquished the option of war, just like all the peoples that made peace with Israel. We say that we give up the option of war, and the only thing we want from Israel is for it to stop covering for the Assad regime, and end the ban on weapons supply to the opposition. Israel can do that. A couple of words with the U.S., and the revolution will continue. This is from the political aspect.”

“From the cultural and moral prospective, we must establish a different cultural system, one that is based not on enmity, but on cooperation and on seeking common ground – not only with the other nationalities, but also with the sectarian elements in the region. We must undergo a change in mentality,” he said.

“Today, it is our huge Syrian Arab army that is attacking us. Hezbollah is attacking us, while Israel treats the wounded. The equation has changed today. Who is our friend, and who is our foe? The things that have happened have completely changed the notions,” added Al-Labwani.

“Who is our enemy? Is our enemy the Lebanese who is fighting us, or the Israeli who live in Jerusalem? I'm just asking. Our Iraqi ‘brother’ who has come to slaughter us in Yabroud – is he our friend or foe? Is he really a brother to us? There are many new questions. Dogmatic thinking is pointless,” he said.

He also noted, in his push for peace, that “Israel has genuine fears about its security. If we realize that and allow Israel to feel secure in its Sunni surroundings – after all, it is Arab Sunni land that Israel has taken – and if we make Israel feel more welcome, it may yet give up its hostile mentality which is the cause for the destruction.”

When the interviewer told Al-Labwani that “Israel has expansionist goals” he replied, “Not true. The people of Israel fled persecution in the Nazi Holocaust, and they want to live in peace.”

The statements are not the first time that Syrian opposition members have reached out to Israel.

In February, the Syrian opposition thanked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for visiting an IDF field hospital where wounded Syrians are being treated.

Leaders of the opposition who spoke to Kol Yisrael radio said that Netanyahu's public support for wounded Syrians sends an important message to the Syrian people, particularly after the failure of recent talks in Geneva between the opposition and the regime in Damascus.

One of the leaders of the Syrian opposition said as far back as 2012 that if the Assad regime falls, the Syrian people will seek regional peace, including with Israel.

In September, one of the rebel leaders in northern Syria expressed his appreciation for Housing Minister Uri Ariel’s comments regarding the chemical attack near Damascus last August. Ariel had said that, as Jews who suffered during the Holocaust, Israelis could not be silent over what was going on in Syria.

“Allow me to send a message of thanks and appreciation to Housing Minister Uri Ariel for his humane and valuable statements and for his beautiful expression of emotion toward the children killed in Syria and toward the women being killed in Syria,” the Syrian rebel leader told Channel One News at the time.

Israel has clarified that it is not a part of the civil war in Syria and does not take sides in the fighting, but Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has claimed that Israel is assisting the rebels fighting to topple his regime.

A commander in the Syrian opposition at one point claimed the exact opposite, that Israel was collaborating with Iran and Hezbollah to keep Assad in power.