Barak-Yeltsin Backslapping May Hurt Arafat

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Ehud Barak urged Russia Tuesday to get more actively involved in the Mideast peace process, and that could be bad news for Yasser Arafat. Not that Moscow hasn’t been a traditional friend of the Palestinians; it’s simply that Russia’s prime strategic relationship in the region is with Syria – and the Israeli-Syrian peace effort for which Barak hopes to enlist Moscow’s help will leave Arafat out in the cold. "Arafat has so little power that a peace deal between Israel and Syria before the Palestinian question is resolved is very dangerous for him," says TIME West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad. "It would signal the declining importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Arab world, and leave Israel in an even stronger position to dictate terms to Arafat."

Concluding his first visit to Moscow, the new Israeli prime minister asked the Russians to help him understand the thinking of Syria’s President Hafez Assad. Israel and Syria are poised to resume talks -- suspended after Benjamin Netanyahu refused to consider giving up territory to Syria -- on a peace deal involving Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The Israeli leader also expressed concern about a multimillion dollar arms deal between Moscow and Damascus in which Russia will supply advanced jet fighters and missile systems to Israel’s most militarily powerful neighbor. Of course, Syria remains on hostile terms with both Turkey to the north and Iraq to the east, and upgrading his military doesn’t detract from the fact that Assad appears as eager as the Israelis to conclude a peace deal. That’s a further reason the Palestinians are so alarmed by Barak’s suggested delays in implementing the Wye Accord – being last in the line of Arab leaders making peace with Israel won’t leave Arafat much leverage.