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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

March 30, 2008 The State of Syrian and Palestinian Talks?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is once again visiting Israel.   Today, Minister of Defense Barak agreed to remove 50 roadblocks, something he has been reluctant to agree to over the last few months.  Rice said she intends to follow up in order to ensure that Israel actually implements the promise.  The agreement came after a joint meeting with Barak and Palestinian Prime minister Abu Sayed. 

It seems that negotiations on a final status agreement have been moving forward between Israeli Minister of Foreign Relations Livni and her Palestinian counterparts.  Reports claim that the negotiations are making significant progress and might actually reach President Bush’s goal of an agreement by the end of the year.  Of course, in order for the talks to succeed, they need to be virtual.  An Israeli government source stated that Prime Minister Olmert has to decide between Shas, right wing political party that is part of the coalition, and the USA.  So far, Olmert has avoided the choice and has walked a careful tightrope.

Syria claims that Israel has spurned their repeated requests for negotiations.  Israeli sources claim that Israel has sent repeated messages to Syria but the responses made it clear that it was not worth to pursue the talks.  The situation seems more complicated.  The Middle East has changed since 2000, the last time Israel engaged in talks with the Syrians.  Then, reaching an agreement was a mere bilateral affair: if Israel gave up the Golan Heights Syria would agree to peace.  Now it is more complicated.  The question of Syria’s relationship with Iran and Hezbollah need to be part of the bargain.  Any agreement needs to include Syria ending its support for Hezbollah, changing its relationship with Iran, and closing the offices of those who oppose peace.

Israel’s initial position had been that Syria had to first change sides and do all these things and then they will talk.  That has now changed and Prime Minister Olmert stated recently that if Israel enters negotiations, perhaps Syria would change their orientation.  The problem is that someone needs to replace Iran, who Syria is dependent on.  The usual suspect to replace the Iran is the USA, and they have made their lack of interest clear.  That has made it impossible to move forward.  If Israelis were asked if they would agree to give up the Golan for peace, most would agree.  If you would ask them to give up the Golan to a Syria aligned with Iran, none would agree.  Even if the USA was to agree to a new relationship with Syria, could it afford to replace Iran today?