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Reality check on Middle East talks

Motivation is there, but peace will take time.

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Optimism is taking wing in the Middle East: The Israelis and Syrians have been negotiating and Israel and Hamas are two weeks into a cease-fire. But is the Arab-Israeli conflict moving toward a resolution? A closer look at the situation reveals myriad and contradictory interests at work, making it unlikely that there will be a comprehensive peace in the Middle East soon.

Israel has several motives for reactivating peace talks. Scandal is one: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been greatly weakened by an ongoing corruption scandal. It has prompted members of his own cabinet – specifically foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defense minister Ehud Barak – to call for his resignation. As a result, he is looking for a lifeline. Peace with Syria would overshadow his financial misconduct and become his legacy.

Another possible motive impelling Mr. Olmert to focus on advancing the Syrian track is the Israeli need for image-boosting in the wake of the Gaza crisis. Ever since Hamas won a majority in Palestinian legislative elections in early 2006, Israel has looked askance at the state of affairs in the Palestinian territories, particularly in the Hamas stronghold of Gaza.

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