Haaretz has just reported “Government sources in Damascus said Sunday that the Syrian government will send its deputy foreign minister [Faysal Mekdad] to the Annapolis peace conference this week”. The Haaretz report is here.
The Jerusalem Post reported that “in recent days the Annapolis conference has also turned into a meeting that is to a large degree about Syria”. The JPost article added that “While there is no love lost in Washington for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Syria’s presence at the meeting is something that in a matter of months has gone from something that the US indicated it would tolerate, to something that the US now wants badly. And not only the US. Jordan’s King Abdullah II made a rare trip to Damascus Sunday to try and get Assad on board. As odd as it may sound, Syria is the prize. The US wants to see Syria at Annapolis because its presence there will be proof that it may very well be possible to peel Syria out of Iran’s orbit and into the warm embrace of the ‘normative’ Arab world … Washington is so keen on seeing some kind of Syrian presence at Annapolis that it has apparently given assurances that “Syrian issues” will be addressed there in some fashion. And Syrian issues in this context means only one thing: the Golan Heights. Syria has made it clear that it would not show up in Maryland unless the Golan was on the agenda … Assad has a price for his attendance and for moving away from Iran, a price that – sooner or later – Israel will be asked to pay”. The JPost commentary on Syria’s just-confirmed participation in the Annapolis event is here.
The Associated Press is reporting that “On the plane carrying [Israeli FM Tzipi] Livni and [Israeli PM Ehud] Olmert to the U.S., Livni suggested that a lack of Arab backing contributed to the failure of the last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which broke down in bloodshed in early 2001. The Arab world, she said, ‘should stop sitting on the fence’. ‘There isn’t a single Palestinian who can reach an agreement without Arab support’, she said. ‘That’s one of the lessons we learned seven years ago’.” The AP report is here.
But, a commentator in Haaretz said, “Saud al-Faisal and his colleagues should treat Olmert like Sadat treated Begin in 1977 – not like Farouk al-Shara treated Ehud Barak in Shepherdstown in 2000”. The then-Syrian Foreign Minister refused to shake hands with the then-Israeli Prime Minister. The commentator added that “the Arab guests at the summit must break their psychological barriers. If the stances taken (or orchestrated) at the summit succeed in shaking the lack of confidence the Israeli public has in the intentions of the Palestinians and the Arab states, its opinion may change. In this respect, it is disappointing to hear the announcement of the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia that he is traveling to the U.S., but does not intend to take part “in this theatrical gesture of shaking hands.” The behavior of the Arab foreign ministers toward the Israeli delegation to Annapolis will press a sensitive point among Israelis – their fear that they may be seen as suckers”. The commentary in Haaretz is published here.
And, the Lebanese acting foreign minister [Tarek Mitri] has also just arrived in the U.S. to attend the Annapolis conference (though Hizbollah has protested this.)