Israeli, Arab Israeli Politicians React to Assad’s Passing

Published June 11th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

In a Haaretz report Sunday, Israeli and Arab Israeli political reacted differently to the death of Syrian president Hafez Assad, who died Saturday noon of a heart attack. 1948 Palestinians said they hoped they receive invitation to attend the late leader’s funeral, with all being hopeful the peace process would not die with the death of Assad. Following are full comments as quoted by the Israeli daily:  


Minister for regional Cooperation Shimon Peres (One Israel) said Saturday that the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad was the death of a leader who represented an era that had died in any event. "People who ruled at the same time as he did, such as [Jordan's King] Hussein and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, managed to make peace. In terms of the Middle East, he is a man who was hard to conduct negotiations with, even though he honored what had been agreed and what was desired had not yet been achieved." 


Justice Minister Yossi Beilin (One Israel) said, "President Assad was tied to his history and anyone who replaces him can allow himself to have greater maneuvering space in the peace negotiations with Israel." 


Industry and Trade Minister Ran Cohen (Meretz) said that together with the fact that Assad was a cruel leader, it is important to remember that he opened the window for peace with Israel, even if it came too late. "There is no doubt that Israel faces a new era that could develop in the direction of peace or, God forbid, of confrontation." 


The chair of the Likud, MK Ariel Sharon, said in response to news of Assad's death, "It teaches that Israel, in its efforts to achieve peace in general and with Syria as well, must act carefully with regard to the unstable regimes in our region." 


Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded from the United States to news of Assad's death by saying, "The uncertainty created by the death of the president once more reinforces the need for a cautious and responsible policy on the part of Israel in achieving peace and security with its neighbors. It must be hoped that a leadership will be established in Israel that will recognize that a lasting peace with Israel can be achieved only through mutual and reasonable compromise between the two peoples, meaning that Syria must give up its demand for a withdrawal from the Golan and a return to the 1967 borders." 


Heads of the Arab community in Israel reacted with shock, but not surprise, to news of Assad's death. Arab Knesset members said last night that they would accept invitations to Damascus either for the funeral or for consolation calls. 


The chair of Balad (National Democratic Alliance), MK Azmi Bishara, who has met with Assad and his son Bashar within the last two years, said that the absence of Hafez Assad after 30 years of rule would create a great vacuum. Bishara noted that members of the Syrian political establishment, including Assad himself, were aware of his approaching departure but avoided talking about it. However, all of the changes that have taken place in Syria over the past year were carried out under the initiative and guidance of the president. 


Bishara thus believes that Syria is unlikely to enter a period of chaos following Assad's death. The government, the leadership of the ruling Baath party, the army, the security forces and the country's businessmen have all cooperated in the reform processes, which will continue. Assad's son Bashar has the greatest chances of replacing him. Bishara judges that despite the fact that Syria's positions regarding the peace process with Israel will not change, it is obvious that the talks between the two countries will not be renewed in the near future. 


The Secretary General of Maki (the Israeli Communist Party), former MK Mohammed Nafa, said that Maki and Hadash (of which Maki is the dominant faction) join in the great mourning of the Syrian people over the death of its president, who was one of the most prominent Arab leaders of the generation. 


MK Tawfiq Khatib (United Arab List) pointed out that "after the death of Anwar Sadat in Egypt and that of King Hussein in Jordan, some people believed their deaths marked the end of the peace process, but they turned out to be wrong. In my opinion, after the death of President Assad as well, Syria will continue its policy regarding the future of the Golan and the peace process with Israel." 


MK Salah Tarif (One Israel) said that as someone who knows what is happening in Syria, he has no doubt that Bashar Assad is the person who will be chosen to inherit the presidency from his father. He also believes that the peace process with Israel will be frozen until Assad's successor and the country's new leadership are settled in.  


The mayor of Rahat, Sheikh Juma'ah el Qasasi of the Islamic Movement, expressed hope that a representative of Israel's Arab citizens would be able to represent them at President Assad's funeral. He expressed his hope that the Syrian government would choose the best man for the position of president and that the new leader would bring peace to the region. 


The chair of Ta'al (Arab Movement for Renewal), MK Ahmed Tibi, expressed his hope that a leader would be chosen who would improve the welfare of his people and act to improve relations with the leadership of the Palestinian people and achieve a just peace with Israel – 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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