Wed, 05 Jan 2000

Rising hope in the Middle East

For years, Israel had attempted to undermine the Syrian supremo, Mr. Hafez al-Assad, and so long as it refused to face the reality, trying instead to make peace with the other leaders in the region, there was little hope of a lasting reconciliation.

The 69-year-old leader in Damascus, who in recent times had shown a noticeable impatience for agreement, is keen on getting back for his country the Golan Heights that were lost to Israel in the 4 Day War in 1967 when he was the Defense Minister.

Mr. Assad is the only Syrian leader capable of signing a peace agreement with Israel. With the biological clock ticking, he must have realized that if peace comes it must come within the next few months or never.

It needed a new leader in Israel to turn the fortunes of the region and the moment has found the man. Living up to his surname which in Hebrew means lightning, Mr. Ehud Barak, a former army chief, is moving fast and decisively.

Mr. Barak came to office with a preference for peace with Syria and has shown the courage to grasp the opportunity to hasten the region into an era of hope and reconciliation.

With the historic Israeli-Palestinian accord under full implementation, an Israeli-Syrian agreement will fill a major gap in a comprehensive peace framework for the Middle East. Hard bargaining lies ahead but one hopes the compulsions of peace will help overcome the hurdles.

Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, the Golan, Lebanon have all evoked images of unrest and violence and human suffering these past five decades.

With the timetable for peace being drawn up finally, Arab- Israeli confrontation is set to wind down.

A favorable climate in which India, as it seeks to enlarge its relations with the Jewish State, must exercise caution.

For, a policy line dictated by hard geopolitical considerations should not be trifled with for narrow domestic gain.

-- The Hindu, New Delhi