(Reuters) - Following are comments from analysts after Israel and Syria said in surprise announcements on Wednesday they were conducting indirect peace talks with Turkish mediation.
EZZEDIN CHOUKRI-FISHERE, DIRECTOR, ARAB-ISRAELI PROJECT AT
“It is significant in many ways. It is significant for the Israeli-Syrian track and for other issues in the region. As we said repeatedly, an engagement with Syria is very important if you want ... the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to continue in a smooth way.
“I think a deal will take time. I will be surprised if a deal comes out quickly from their meetings. The two countries have a number of issues they have to talk about and agree on before a deal becomes possible. The issues are not only the Golan but include Syrian support to Hezbollah and Hamas. These issues are not easy to resolve. I expect the talks to take some time before a breakthrough to happen.
“You need the U.S. administration to be on board for any deal to proceed. The current U.S. administration is very hostile to the Syrian regime. So I would think that probably you still need the next administration to come to office for this effort to come near completion. But it is a very positive development they are talking to each other at this level at this time. The Turkish mediation deserves both support and praise.”
EYAL ZISSER, DIRECTOR OF THE MOSHE DAYAN CENTRE FOR MIDDLE
“This is a major development. For years Syria refused to consider even the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria because there was always a very clear Syrian condition that Israel should commit itself, before the resumption of negotiations, to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. They probably got it.
“Probably Prime Minister Olmert was ready to commit himself to give Syria what it wanted so much. This is why they moved ahead.
“Now there are indirect talks, and in the future resumption of formal talks will be announced.
“Theoretically, they can reach a peace agreement because the main obstacle, or one of the main obstacles was the issue of the Golan Heights. And if Prime Minister Olmert indeed commits himself to a complete Israeli withdrawal, then this obstacle has been removed and we can reach an agreement.”
MOSHE MAOZ, MIDDLE EAST STUDIES PROFESSOR, HEBREW UNIVERSITY
“This is good news but I am sceptical about the results. U.S. President Bush is against the talks and so were other officials in the U.S.
“Olmert doesn’t have the majority support of the Israeli parliament and public support for him is low at this time. Seventy percent of Israelis are against returning the Golan Heights even with a peace agreement.
“The question is what will happen with Syria’s connections with Iran and Hezbollah.
“It is possible that Olmert announced the talks at this time because he wants to divert attention to larger national issues due to the current corruption investigations against him.
“Olmert has already said Israel is in contact with the Syrians and that both sides know what the terms are for the talks.
“Turkey’s role is crucial here. They are in contact with both sides, especially on water and other regional issues.”
PAUL SALEM, DIRECTOR OF CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT’S MIDDLE EAST
“My general sense is that it has been serious and has been going on for about a year. The Turks wanted to keep it quiet, but it got out, which is probably not a big problem.
“The Americans are not obstructing it, but they are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“The Bush administration doesn’t want to give anything to the Syrians unless they give something first. But if Syria and Israel make progress, this could be presented to the next U.S. administration some time in 2009, when such an agreement could become part of a wider agreement that might involve other regional issues like Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
“At that stage it would require the United States to be more engaged. For now they (Syrians, Israelis) want to focus on the technical issues, bilateral issues, on the Golan.
“The Syrians are calling it a pre-negotiation where they work out bilateral issues before they sit down for formal talks.
“They are not necessarily ready or the United States is not ready to launch the process publicly, so they are preparing the files, preparing an agreement in case there is movement on reviving the Syrian-Israeli process, which would definitely require U.S. shepherding.”