Copyright: Pinhas Inbari on line
The latest developments in the peace process are related more to tracks vis a vis Syria and Hamas rather than with the Muqata'a in Ramallah – but affects it directly for better or worse. By all means those three tracks are interconnected. Let's examine those tracks one by one and their interconnections:
The Syrian track came to the open after Israel accepted the 2 principle Syrian pre-conditions: to recognize the 1967 lines as the future boarder rather than the international borders and to reconcile with the indirect and open channel rather than the secret and direct channel as Israel has insisted until now. Israel also apparently gave up a pre-condition that Syria will detach itself from Iran and Hizbullah and now the government sources are talking in terms that this wished aim will be a necessary fulfilled in the end of the process.
The Israeli motivation of latest developments, as most of observers believe, is related to Olmert's corruption investigations. In order to understand Syrian motivations we have to relate to information we received from senior Palestinian sources who have just returned from Damascus. They told us that the Syrians perceive it as public relations excise as they do not believe that Olmert is strong enough to conduct serous negotiations. We are going to meet the source in Ramallah tomorrow to learn more. This can give us a perception about what the Syrians have in mind at this stage. We think that Assad is following his prospects in the current USA electoral campaign and he identifies good chances to improve his position in next USA administration: Obama is the best of course but also McCain is not bad as he is known to be close to the Hamilton-Baker report.
Proving the practicability of this report is the major engine behind Syria and Iran that apparently supports the move. Syria and Iran want to prove now to the next administration that the recommendations to re-engage with them and abolish the definition of "axis of evil" are not imagery but practical. So, the very fact that Israel is engaged with Syria in an open track is important move ahead. So, Syria will insist on the "openness" and transparency of the negotiations – so everybody will know that they are not "evil" but preserve the directness of the meetings to the next USA president to endorse them. So, a breakthrough is not expected during Bush and Olmert but in the next administrations in Washington and Jerusalem.
As for the implications on the Palestinian track they a little bit complicated. As for the Annapolis track - to the shorter run Israeli acceptance of the 1967 lines bolsters Abu Mazen's demands to have the same. As far as now Israel is crawling closer and closer to the 1967 lines, but until now it did not touch it yet. Also the Palestinians are doing full use of Olmert's personal plight. Unlike during Arafat-Hafez Assad's time the two tracks are not conflicting but might be completing. Papa Assad and Arafat personally hated each other and it was clear that Papa Assad will do everything to damn Arafat. He also was behind several hitting attempts on him. This is not the case between Assad Junior and Abu Mazen. In the process of proving to the next USA president its positive role Damascus is ready to replace Saudi Arabia as the main Arab pusher of the Annapolis process and the Arab initiative. Furthermore, it also began to support Egyptian efforts to have ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
This is for the short range- as for the longer range the prospects can loom as dangerous. Syrian policy is not only "positive". Only a week ago they stood behind the show of force manifested by Hizbullah in Lebanon that by all means was kind of Hamas' style "coup d'etat". Hence, use of force is in no way moved from the table. To the contrary, it completes it. The point that Syria (and Iran) want to prove is that they can be positive but on the same time will not decline of the use of force. The combination of the two is to manifest that they are the leading force in the ME and can replace Israel and the Sunni countries as major western allies.
My concerns are from the high expectations raised by the reports of the open channel. As we expect Syria to leak everything – very soon it might be exposed as fooled by Israel and the question is whether they can afford the weak response of Abu Mazen. After having a positive president in the USA – they can heat up the Palestinian arena in order to pressure for their interests. We have to remember that the Hamilton-Baker report conceive also Israeli complete withdrawals as a major tool to re-engage with the Arabs and Iran.
Hamas-Syrian relations are complicated as well. Basically the Syrians are suspicious of Hamas as branch of Moslem Brothers that has already created a lot of problems to the Alawite regime in the past. So, Khaled Mash'al has reasons to ask Tehran's protection in case the Syrian will exploit the situation to have better control on them. But as far as now, Mash'al is fully cooperative with the Syrians in both – advancing the ceasefire efforts and the military built-up for the next round with Israel.
So, despite the current difficulties in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas through Egypt on a "mega-deal" – the contacts continue. It seems that there are still 3 main obstacles- 1- turning the Rafah crossing as the major one for Gaza which is difficult for Egypt to accept 2- the prisoners exchange and 3 – stopping the smuggling through Philadelphi route. Judging from near past experience Israel will give in on her demands, but we can't tell about Egyptian readiness to accept Hamas demands regarding Rafah.
Sum up- Syria entered an open and indirect process with Israel to prove to the next USA president that it – and Iran – can be deleted from the title of "axis of evil". In the short run this bolstered Abu Mazen's demand to have Israel agree to the 1967 lines like with Syria, in the longer range an impasse can result in aggressive confrontation either through war or using Syrian terrorist tools in the Palestinian territories as gesture of good will – Syria is also supporting the ceasefire efforts- also proving to the next USA president that it and Iran are holding the true keys for war or peace in the Middle East.