Lavrov goes to the Middle East with a hope

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova) - On March 19, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will go on a Middle East tour, visiting Syria, Israel and the territory controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

Together with Iran, the sides in the above triangle determine the region's future. The choice is between a peaceful settlement of the conflict and, if all arguments fail, war.

Lavrov is going to the region shortly before an Arab League summit, to be held in Damascus later this month, and the Lebanese parliament's 16th attempt to elect the country's president. Failure of the Lebanese elections would undermine the Damascus summit and probably drive Syria into international isolation. Damascus is rumored to be manipulating the political situation in Lebanon and blocking the elections there, according to some analysts.

What is Russia's role in the region?

Lavrov has said he wants to see which regional forces are ready for the international conference on the Middle East to be held in Moscow. Last week in Paris, he said that Russia would host the conference only if all of the parties concerned were ready.

According to Lavrov, the Middle East quartet comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN believes the conference should be held.

Participants in the Middle East meeting held in Annapolis last November agreed that the PNA and Israel should resume talks. Acting on Russia's urging, they also noted in the meeting's documents that Israel should discuss settlement with Syria and Lebanon.

The Moscow conference was proposed as a follow-up to the Annapolis meeting, especially regarding Israel's talks with Syria and Lebanon. However, Israel refused to hold open talks with Syria on the latter's terms, in particular the unconditional surrender of the Golan Heights.

The regional media reported that Israel and Syria have been discussing their problems unofficially for a while, which means that the Moscow conference is quite possible.

However, the optimism sparked in Annapolis has gradually given way to disappointment. Israeli territory is again being shelled from the Gaza Strip, an unprecedentedly violent terrorist attack occurred in Jerusalem, and Israel is carrying on military operations in the Palestinian territories and building new settlements.

Relations between Palestinian groups, above all Hamas and Fatah, remain strained. Fatah blames this on the Islamist leaders living outside Palestine, primarily in Damascus. Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite organization, backed by Syria and Iran, is increasing its influence on radical Palestinian groups.

The Palestinian-Israeli talks have stalled, with both sides regularly proclaiming the demise of the Annapolis process. A meeting between Palestinian and Israeli politicians, if held soon, would most likely fail to bring the desired results.

This is not a good atmosphere for holding a peace conference. Although many politicians, above all Arab ones, support the idea, it can hardly be implemented any time soon if the parties concerned want not only to get together, but also achieve practical positive results.

Lavrov is going to the Middle East not just to hear practical promises from regional leaders and negotiate a date for their arrival in Moscow. His silent mission is to strengthen communication between Syria and Israel and encourage them to trust each other.

Is this possible? The question has no answer, at least for the general public, but success would solve many regional problems, including promoting Palestinian-Israeli peace and easing the Lebanese crisis.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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