Syria, Israel Call Off Talks

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If it had always been an easy proposition, peace between Israel and Syria would have happened decades ago. So while Monday's announcement indefinitely postponing the resumption of negotiations in Washington this week may be a setback, it wasn't entirely unexpected. "Some brinkmanship and posturing at this early stage was inevitable," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "These two countries have been at each other's throats for a half century, and, if anything, they'd have had a hard time selling their own people a quick deal that involves making concessions. They need to make whatever deal they reach appear as the outcome of a long and hard-fought battle at the negotiating table."

That's not to say there aren't serious issues blocking progress: "The Syrians accepted a resumption of talks without their basic demand of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders being guaranteed," says MacLeod. "But they made it clear that this demand had to receive priority in the talks. If Israel is reluctant to give that guarantee at the outset — which it plainly has been — the Syrians may be trying to underline the seriousness of their demands."

Syria over the weekend mooted postponing a return to Washington, and the formal announcement came from Israel on Monday. The first round of talks between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa ended inconclusively at Shepherdstown, W. Va., last week as the two sides wrestled for control of the agenda. And both sides are clearly encountering domestic political resistance to making the concessions required for a peace deal. "This process is going to be slow and difficult, and we're going to see a number of crises before they reach a deal," says MacLeod. "We shouldn't see the latest delay as any kind of dramatic turn for the worse — both sides are very intent on making a deal, or they wouldn't have gone back to the table in the first place."