Picking up on the small news items in recent days, I’ve seen an upturn in willingness by leaders in the Middle East to step forward and begin talks without setting conditions. It seems there is a sobering effect to regional players as a result of the Baker-Hamilton report, the Iraq Study Group, the naked truth a military victory isn’t in the cards. The findings, conclusions and advice in the report were rejected by all sides, however watching recent visits and meetings, leaders are making an attempt to reach out to peace options. The power play of the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq has ended in failure and regional leaders are picking up the pieces. Only U.S. stubborness by adding fuel to the conflict, the so called “surge” option, could lead to further escalation and disaster in Iraq.

Real politik – Iraq reality sinks in

AMMAN, Jordan (CS Monitor) Dec. 22 –  Over the past week, power brokers in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq have engaged in talks to resolve conflicts.

A good example is Israel. Watching the unfolding tragedy in Iraq and with its own war this summer against the Shiite militants of Hizbullah in mind, it’s reaching out to the Jordanians, the Saudis, and the Lebanese to find solutions to its own security problems.

“In the late 1990s, Israel’s worldview was that ‘we are the military superpower in the region and we are very closely allied with the world’s only superpower. So we have very little to worry about,’ ” says Gidi Grinstein, a former peace negotiator for the Israeli government and now president of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv think tank.

Now, he says, “you have America in a situation of very serious overstretch, unable to get a decisive victory across the region … we have to look for new partners, alliances, and means of cooperation.”

Israeli defense minister orders dismantling of some checkpoints

TEL AVIV (IHT) Dec. 24 – Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said inspections would be eased at 16 checkpoints, and 27 unmanned roadblocks would be removed. Also, crossings for people and cargo between Gaza and Israel would be upgraded “in order to accelerate the economy in Gaza to lessen the poverty and despair.”

  «« click image for info Israeli wall
Palestinian youths throw stones at Israeli soldiers taking position during an Army operation at the Qabatya village near the West Bank City of Jenin. (AFP/Said Dahlah)

Olmert singled out Abbas as a Palestinian leader who is interested in peace with Israel — a clear contrast to Hamas, which rejects the existence of a Jewish state in an Islamic Middle East and has rebuffed international demands to renounce violence. Hamas controls the Palestinian government.

Peretz also came out in favor of releasing some Palestinian prisoners.

Speaking to reporters at parliament, Peretz said, “Every year there has been a humanitarian release of prisoners” around the Christmas and (Muslim) Eid al-Adha holidays, and the government should carry out a similar goodwill gesture this year,” he said.

PM Olmert agrees to transfer $100 million in frozen PA taxes to Abbas


In another development, Jordan invited Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas for talks in Amman, the Jordanian capital, a Palestinian official said Monday.

Palestinian government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Haniyeh was expected to go to Jordan this week, and Abbas would also attend.

Syria serious about negotiations – MI and Mossad differ

"But I will not let myself be reduced to silence."