For international observers, however, Syria was an unrepentant opponent of ‘peace’ and state sponsor of terrorism, whose conduct openly defied the conventions, norms, and standards of acceptable state conduct. Syria was therefore regarded in much the same way as the PLO. Syria’s participation in peace negotiations in the mid-1970s and early 1990s effectively informally recognised Israel, in direct opposition to its formal position. The perception that Syria was a hardened and ideological opponent of U.S. power in the region therefore concealed the fact that it had shown a willingness to make concessions at different points in time.
The labels that have been ascribed to each of the key protagonists – ‘pro-peace’, ‘mediator’, and ‘rejectionist’ – therefore conceal as much as they reveal. On closer inspection, the positions of these actors are invariably more partial, unclear, and conditional than is commonly acknowledged. This chapter therefore suggests that Syria can be viewed as a case study of a truth that applies more generally in the region: namely that the perception or image departs widely from the actual reality. This highlights the need for a critical analysis that challenges taken-for-granted assumptions and received wisdom. In addition, however, it also highlights the extent to which ideologically rooted assumptions have substituted, albeit in a highly unsatisfactory way, for a close examination of empirical realities.