Nicholas Noe has a plan for a negotiated settlement to conflict in Syria. Several of his proposals sound politically risky for any Western government to support, but the last one is the least relevant to the current crisis and the hardest to imagine happening:

Finally, so that it is not tarred as a Western plot, any deal would have to include a serious American-led effort to broker the return to Syria of the Golan Heights, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Although there appears to be little political will for such an approach in Israel at the moment — the government sees no need to make concessions to Mr. Assad’s weak, teetering government — expending American political capital on a more promising peace process makes sense. Unlike the now defunct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, talks with Syria could actually succeed (they broke down over a few hundred meters of land in 2000).

The Turkish-mediated process was also making some progress on this issue before Operation Cast Lead sent the Turkish-Israeli relationship into the downward spiral from which it has yet to recover. Unfortunately, there is no chance that Turkey will return to a mediating role between Israel and Syria (its relations with both having deteriorated significantly), and an American-led process would go nowhere even if it weren’t an election year, which it is. Bringing in the question of land would create a needless complication for Noe’s proposed deal-making, which already has many obstacles in front of it. It wouldn’t disabuse anyone of the the belief that removing Assad from power is something that Western governments want, and when this part of the deal fell through (as it would) it would risk unraveling the rest of Noe’s proposed settlement.

Noe’s concern to defuse the crisis through negotiation is commendable, but his plan puts off Assad’s departure from power until next year at the earliest, and the incentives he proposes (disarming the Free Syrian Army, relaxing sanctions, negotiating for the return of the Golan Heights) would be unworkable and/or too politically risky for Western governments and Syrian opposition groups. If his proposed deal were accepted and successful, it could reduce violence in Syria, and it could offer Assad a way out without plunging the country deeper into civil war, but it assumes that Assad is interested in taking a deal that would guarantee the end of his rule. The “weapons-free safe zones” Noe envisions for the disarmed FSA would be particularly hard to sell to the armed Syrian opposition. That said, Noe’s proposal is focused on defusing the crisis rather than escalating it by turning the Syrian opposition into Western proxies.