Watch for the real breakthrough at Annapolis

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images While it’s somewhat helpful to at least appear to be keeping a process going, very few Middle East analysts are hopeful that Annapolis will bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The main reason? Both Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are too weak to make a deal stick, ...

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597994_071126_assad_05.jpg

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

While it's somewhat helpful to at least appear to be keeping a process going, very few Middle East analysts are hopeful that Annapolis will bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The main reason? Both Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are too weak to make a deal stick, even if the basic parameters of a peace settlement are widely known at this point.

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

While it’s somewhat helpful to at least appear to be keeping a process going, very few Middle East analysts are hopeful that Annapolis will bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The main reason? Both Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are too weak to make a deal stick, even if the basic parameters of a peace settlement are widely known at this point.

Far more encouraging is Syria’s willingness to send its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, despite the fact that Israel bombed a suspected nuclear facility back in September. Damascus even spurned a request from the Iranians, who wanted the Syrians to stay home with them and pout, and ignored the views of their client, Hamas. The Syrians are desperate for a deal, but they don’t want it to look like they’re surrendering—and they don’t want to burn their bridges with Tehran until they have faith that entering the Western and Arab fold will be worthwhile. Many questions remain, among them:

  • Are the Syrians willing to essentially “sell out” the Palestinians and make a separate peace, à la Egypt? Or will they hold out for a comprehensive settlement?
  • Is the United States willing to sell out the Siniora government? The Syrians will seek to reassert their hegemony in Lebanon as part of any bargain.
  • And how to square this with Syria abandoning its support for Hezbollah, as the Israelis want?
  • Is Israel willing to give up the Golan back to the 1967 lines, as the Syrians have been demanding for years?

Still, it’s an encouraging sign that U.S. officials seem more open to the idea, which has been kicked around in policy circles for years, of peeling the Syrians away from their Iranian friends. And the Israelis are certainly enthusiastic about the concept, which helps:

Maybe it’s time to employ the carrot to remove [Syria] from the axis of evil,” the deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, said in Washington last month. This will “prevent the Iranian influence,” he said.

So, while most of the media attention is going to focus on Olmert and Abbas, I’m going to be watching closely to see what how Syria handles this summit. 

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