This week’s Mideast summit in Annapolis, Md., is bound to fail – unless the Bush administration makes sure that the gathering leads to renewed Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. That could be the first step to ending Syria’s isolation and giving its renegade regime fresh incentive to reform.
The United States needs to do more than invite Syria to sit on the sidelines of yet another peace conference. Already, the administration nearly failed to bring the Syrians on board. They only agreed to attend at the last minute, after the US promised to put the Golan Heights – a strategic terrain that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war – on the agenda.
The Annapolis summit is a crucial opportunity to woo Syria away from its increasing reliance on Iran and North Korea. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can actually deliver on a peace deal with Israel– unlike the weak Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of the Gaza Strip to the militant group Hamas in June. The Israeli-Syrian peace track can move faster than Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, where the two sides are still far apart on the central issues: Israeli settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the final status of Jerusalem.
Mr. Assad has made clear that he wants to restart talks to regain the Golan. Some Israeli leaders are also keen to negotiate with Syria, and there have been reports in the press about secret meetings in Switzerland between the two sides under former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But the Bush administration has discouraged such dialogue.