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Issam Al Jamal,
Vice President of the Syrian Parliament

18-sep-03, 11:50 am

We visit the Syrian parliament building and are greeted by several members of parliament, two Muslim and one Roman Catholic. One of them is an old school chum of Bashar's. We go to a meeting room and are served the customary tea. Then, Issam Al Jamal, Vice President of the Parliament, arrives and everyone stands to shake hands with him. He has been assigned the task of forming a new government, in which he will be President of the Parliament.

Al Jamal says that Americans have strange ideas about Syria. He notes in passing that Syria has no violent crime. He also feels that America and Syria differ on definitions of terrorism: state terrorism versus the self-defense that is, he argues, defended by international law.

We go right to the Palestine issue. Syrians regard Israel as an occupying state. Al Jamal emphasizes the Madrid conference, where "America guaranteed peace". He believes that Israel doesn't intend peace, particularly citing home demolition and targeted assassinations. (These two actions were cited over and over again during our trip; they seem to particularly infuriate Arab peoples.) Syria, he says, has never been the aggressor, but Israel was. Like everyone else that we talked to, he accepts the existence of Israel as a given. Pressed for details on an equitable resolution, he supports pre-'67 borders (the "Green Line") and right of return. He also brings up the [untenable] idea of a Jewish-Arab state and criticizes Israel's refusal.

He would like to see the entire Middle East free of WMD, including Israel. It is unfair, he says, for the U.S. to attempt suppression of WMD in only the Arab states.

Al Jamal notes the religious pluralism of Syria, pointing to the diversity of the parliamentarians sitting next to him. Christians and Muslims often go together to mosques and churches on holy days, and some Christians fast at Ramadan.

The Syrian Parliament has 250 members, and there are 6 in the office of the President. Al Jamal has been assigned the task of forming a new government. This reorganization is taking place this very day, so many of the figures that we talk to will have different titles tomorrow.

Syria has no organized effort to communicate with America. We tell him about Saudi Arabia's highly visible public relations efforts in the U.S.

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