Opportunity" and "Middle East" are rarely mentioned in the same breath, and for good reason. The Middle East is a part of the world in which history is often defined by conflict. A sense of despair grips the region for other reasons, too: it trails Europe, Asia, Latin America and much of Africa by many measures of social progress, including the quality of education, the presence of democratic institutions and the treatment of girls and women.
All the same, there may be an opportunity now--to make peace between Israel and Syria, two countries that have been in a state of war for more than six decades. The opportunity exists even though Syria has been a principal supporter of both Hamas and Hizbullah, the two groups that have waged recent conflicts with Israel, and despite the fact that only 18 months ago Israel attacked a Syrian site suspected of being part of a fledgling program to produce nuclear fuel.
This opportunity should not come as a total surprise. Syria and Israel have negotiated partial agreements in the past (in the wake of the 1973 war, for example) and have come close to concluding a full peace several times. The basic contours of a deal--with Israel returning all of the Golan Heights in exchange for diplomatic recognition and formal peace--are well known and acceptable to both sides, including many conservatives in Israel. After nearly a decade in power, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad looks to be strong enough to overcome domestic resistance to making peace with Israel. He may be able to accomplish what his father could not: make the country whole.