Opinion: Mideast Peace Still Very Elusive | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.06.2008
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Opinion: Mideast Peace Still Very Elusive

Israel has accepted an Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas Islamists ruling the Gaza Strip and plans to open peace talks with Lebanon. Deutsche Welle's Rainer Sollich reflects on what these overtures actually mean.


The truce between Israel and Hamas can be interpreted cynically -- shooting is allowed until the ceasefire takes effect on early Thursday morning, June 19. A few militant Palestinians seem to have read this literally by firing self-made rockets into Israeli territory on Tuesday evening.

The incidents demonstrate the fragility of all current peace efforts and confidence-building measures between Israel and its Arab neighbors. A host of uncertainties plague the Israeli side too. It remains unclear how long Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, facing corruption allegations, can remain in office as he fights for his political survival.

But the real problems related to the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon are much too complex to be solved with a short-term fix to Israel's internal tangles. The country has to constantly reckon with possible setbacks in the Middle East that could pile on further pressure on Olmert.

And the Israeli leader is hardly riding a popularity wave with his peace initiatives -- in the past months, the Israeli population's approval of negotiations with Hamas or of a handover to Syria of the Golan Heights captured in 1967 has been sinking.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has significantly enhanced the standing of the so far widely isolated Islamists and has indirectly weakened Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

The next few days will show whether both sides really want to and can implement the agreements. There are a number of possibilities: Hamas could use a ceasefire and a partial opening of the Gaza Strip to stock up its military arsenal and could in addition give way to other armed groups. Or the Islamists could also seize the chance to take real political responsibility for the fate of the people in the Gaza Strip and find a gradual way out of their international isolation.

At the moment, one can only hope for the latter. But it remains a fact that any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would have no chance of succeeding if Hamas were not to be involved in it.

Israeli peace talks with Lebanon, if they ever took place, would by no means be any less complex given the complex territorial issues at hand and the large Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon that would hugely complicate any peace deal.

As expected, Lebanon's current negotiations to form a government, made up of pro-western and pro-Syrian forces, are difficult. But the bitter losses of the war with Israel in 2006 have united Lebanese of all political stripes. None of the feuding Lebanese politicians can allow a demonstrative readiness to compromise with Israel -- that would amount to political self-destruction. Hezbollah, which is part of the new government, in fact justifies its existence largely on account of its armed struggle against Israel.

One can only hope for a successful conclusion of the so far indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria though it's likely to be a long time before that happens.

Yet there are signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to carefully open up his country and move away from his one-sided dependence on Iran. But al-Assad is known for his unpredictability and his sly tactics. He would probably even demand a price from the US in the form of economic aid or a guarantee to continue with his dictatorship in return for a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel.

The conclusion? Things are stirring in the Middle East, they're moving in the right direction but the outcome is anybody's guess.

Rainer Sollich heads DW-RADIO's Arabic service (sp)

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