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Damascus Gate

Who told honcho Malcolm Hoenlein to go to Syria?

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Malcolm Hoenlein, a man some refer to not entirely jokingly as “King of the Jews,” quietly visited Damascus over the holidays, Israel’s Channel 10 reported yesterday, to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—the man who, not incidentally, may hold the key to striking an Israeli-Arab peace. (Though Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith is skeptical of U.S.-Syrian outreach.)

It’s no secret that the administration is making overtures to the Syrians—last week, President Obama named the first U.S. ambassador to the country since 2005—and, over the weekend, a report surfaced in the Kuwaiti press that the Syrians have told Obama adviser Dennis Ross (who is heading to the region now) that they’re ready to play footsie back, in the form of opening dialogue with the Israelis. (The story was subsequently refuted by Syria’s state-run news agency.) What’s less clear is how Prime Minister Netanyahu feels about all this. Which is why the big news of the Channel 10 story was the claim that Hoenlein, whom I profiled last May, went to Damascus to courier a message to Assad from Bibi.

Hoenlein has vociferously denied this aspect of the report. “I was invited in a personal capacity and was not sent by Netanyahu,” he wrote me yesterday. He told Politico’s Laura Rozen that he went to discuss “humanitarian issues” (perhaps Gilad Schalit, Rozen mused on Twitter), but refused to elaborate, on the grounds that his credibility depends on his ability to keep his mouth shut about private conversations.

Fair enough. But it is undeniably true that Hoenlein, whose main responsibility as the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is to interface with the White House on behalf of a coalition of groups, also maintains an active sideline in informal diplomacy with everyone from the Armenians to the Ukrainians. (Alan Solow, currently chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, declined to comment on Hoenlein’s excursion, which piggybacked on an official trip to Israel for a forum with Netanyahu on delegitimization.)

And it is also the case that Hoenlein is closely allied not just with Netanyahu but with American tycoon Ronald Lauder—who, as Ross detailed in his 2005 book The Missing Peace, acted as a go-between for Netanyahu and Assad’s father in 1998. That effort came to nothing—in part because, as Ross delicately put it, Lauder suffered from an excess of sincere optimism and was, as a result, “not precise” about the specifics of what the Syrians were prepared to put on the table. “But it was a moment when Netanyahu was relying on unofficial channels to sound out what was possible,” William Quandt, a professor of international relations at the University of Virginia who is working on a study of American efforts to promote Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations in the 1990s, told me yesterday. “I wouldn’t rule that out.”

But another person who has been involved in outreach efforts with Damascus offered another possibility: That, this time, it’s Assad who, not wanting to rock his own political boat by opening direct lines to Jerusalem, decided to enlist Hoenlein as a way of reaching out to Netanyahu; or perhaps, a cynic might add, to be seen as reaching out to Netanyahu, knowing that Washington is paying very close attention.

Report: U.S. Jewish Leader Met Assad with Message from Netanyahu [Haaretz]
U.S. Jewish Leader Meets Syria’s Assad [Laura Rozen]
Related: King Without a Crown [Tablet Magazine]
Shadow Play [Tablet Magazine]

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Dorothy Wachsstock says:

Can Jews trust any of the Middle East leaders? Until when? Until they shoot more rockets or nuke weapons to destroy Israel?

How long has it been when the release of the soldier Shallit was promised to be realeased if…..and then when it was release.

Guns given to the Palestinians under Arafat to police for their own government decided to turn them on Israelis…trust the Syrians only since they want the Golan Heights to shoot down again on Jews praying at the Western Wall, that is not the Jews anymore, say the Palestinians? They now deny there ever was a Temple there.

There will never be peace between the leaders of the Jews and the Arabs..maybe between individual families as they live together..but never an official peace.

Look what Hamas did to the Gaza when they could have conducted a great economy other than guns and rockets. These people hate us and just as the Muslims in this country waited from 1993 till 2001 to attack will the Middle eastern countrys say Yes..Peace..then push the Israelis into the sea as is their desire or destroy them in one way or another.

They say you can take a horse to water but you cannot make him drink it…something like that. The middle eastern Araba hate the west except for the money they get for their oil and our leaders do not allow us to use our own resources as they are paid off by the Saudis to keep them in Paris.

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Damascus Gate

Who told honcho Malcolm Hoenlein to go to Syria?

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