Mon, 17 Jan 2000

Little progress at Shepherdstown

Another year, another summit, another round of dashed hopes. This is the nub of the latest session of Israeli-Syrian peace talks, concluded with little progress made after a difficult week at Shepherdstown in the United States.

Although no major breakthroughs were expected, it is nevertheless disappointing that there appears to have been a lack of any progress in the talks.

Reports say the only positive development to emerge was the adoption of a working document presented by President Bill Clinton which "may represent an advanced step that could put the real intentions of Israel to the test." In other words, no real step forward.

Perhaps it is too soon to expect warmth after a half-century of unbridled hostility between the two countries.

Also the position the two foes have adopted is delicate and sensitive: the Syrians want an Israeli commitment to a pullback to the lines preceding the 1967 Mideast war; Israel wants Syrian security guarantees before committing to any withdrawal.

In Prime Minister Ehud Barak, unlike his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel seems to have a leader who is fully committed to the Mideast peace process.

Time will prove if he has the statesmanship to rise to the occasion.

-- The Star, Johannesburg, South Africa