France gives boost to Israeli-Syrian talks
French President Sarkozy, in Damascus this week, was also thought to be seeking Syria's help in dealing with Iran's nuclear program.
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She added, however, that the US and Israel shouldn't expect a radical realignment of Syria's ties with Iran. Syria is unlikely to cut ties with Hamas, as well. "It is naive to image that just because Israel and Syria sign a peace deal the relations between Syria and Iran to come to a standstill."Skip to next paragraph
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Israel, concerned about Iran's growing influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, hopes that diplomatic and economic ties with Syria – which aids both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza – will undermine Tehran's influence.
But after Mr. Olmert said last month he planned to resign because of numerous corruption investigations against him, the Syrians are awaiting a new Israeli government with enough political capital to give back all of the Golan Heights – which was seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and which a majority of Israelis oppose giving back.
Indeed, there is legislation making its way through the Israeli parliament to require a special majority to give back the Golan, which was de facto annexed by Israel in 1982.
"If there is one move capable of changing the dynamics in the entire region, it's an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty," wrote Ari Shavit, a commentator in the Haaretz newspaper. "Such an agreement will set into motion a positive strategic change: It will isolate Hezbollah, make it more difficult for Hamas, threaten Iran, and provide an important tail wind for moderate forces in the Sunni Arab world."
Syria is considered a major linchpin along with the Palestinians on the way toward a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. A return of the Golan – a mostly barren plateau that looks out to northern Israel and drops to the banks of Israel's one natural water reservoir – would fulfill one of the conditions of an land-for-peace proposal by the Arab League.
The major stumbling block in the talks has been resolving a dispute over where the international border should run in relation to the Sea of Galilee and whether the Syrians should have access. The talks also focus on a security buffer between the two countries armies, normalizing ties, and water rights.
The next milestone for the talks would be for the sides to move to the face to face negotiations, the first since the round of talks in Shepherdstown, W.V., in 2000. In those failed negotiations, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Assad's late father, Hafez, were thought to be a few hundred feet away on a common border that would have sealed an accord.
"The blueprint is known. [Israeli President Shimon Peres] said the other day. You need 24 hours to sign," says Moshe Maoz, a political science professor from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "The question is whether the parties are ready."