The Syria-Israel talks

The news that Syria and Israel are in talks aimed at a comprehensive peace solution offer a rare breath of hope. However much experience makes us expect the worst, this seems to be the first serious effort in eight years to solve one of the Middle East’s thorniest problems. It is encouraging that both protagonists need peace more than ever. Israel has reached agreements with Egypt and Jordan but this is not enough: The Palestinian resistance will not break. The two organizations that lead the resistance – Hezbollah and Hamas – are supported by Syria and Iran. Today Hezbollah is stronger than ever in Lebanon, while Hamas, in the Palestinian territories, goes from strength to strength. Israel is trapped: Its harsh response to the Palestinian actions simply fans the flame of resistance. Sixty years after its foundation, the Jewish state knows it cannot live in eternal war. At another level, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces serious charges of corruption and needs a significant success. Today most Israelis disagree with the possible return of the Golan Heights, which Syria lost in 1967, but if this sacrifice were to secure peace, the public might accept it. Since 2000, when Bashir Assad became president, Syria has wanted rapprochement with the West. But its secular regime allied itself with Iran (and its extremist Shiite religious leadership) in Lebanon and against Israel, while at the same time supporting Sunni insurgents against US forces and the Shiite government in Iraq. An honorable peace with Israel would end this impasse. If the indirect talks (with Turkey’s mediation) lead anywhere, it will be a new dawn for the region. Peace on this front could lead Israel to a deal with the Palestinians. And if Washington’s tepid response is genuine, a deal will be another good sign: that the region’s countries can at last seek their own solutions to even the greatest problems.