One thing that's different about these Israeli-Syrian peace talks is that for the first time, Israel is not dealing with President Hafez Assad, who died in 2000. Syria is now led by his son, Bashar, whose views are less well known. Something else that's new is the bone-deep cynicism in Israel's body politic toward giving up more land for the promise of peace with any Arab entity, what with the ongoing rocketing of Israeli border towns from the Gaza Strip nearly three years after Israel ended its occupation there.
Yet another new element is a U.S. president who isn't encouraging the talks. It has been widely reported that the Bush administration has little interest in moves that could ease the diplomatic isolation of Syria before it commits to breaking with its radical allies.
Settler activist Bar-Lev recalls past battles against Israeli prime ministers bent on trading the Golan Heights for peace, notably the settlers' hunger strike in 1994 that drew perhaps 250,000 Israelis to the Golan for solidarity pilgrimages. "Now it's a new round," she says.
Noting Olmert's legal and political troubles and Bush's chilliness toward the talks, she figures her team is starting out in a stronger position than in the past. But Olmert may have a successor before long, and Bush certainly will. "The chance of an agreement with Syria being reached under Olmert is almost zero," figures the Golan old-timer. "But 2009 should be an interesting year."