Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak came to power last year promising to reinvigorate a process which had languished under his predecessor Binyamin Netanyahu. He pledged in particular to achieve an Israeli troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon by the middle of this year. His desire to restart negotiations with Syria, considered a pre-requisite for peace on the Lebanese front, met with a positive response in Damascus.
There, Syrian President Hafez al Assad is purportedly keen to do a deal, which will retrieve the Golan Heights, lost to Israel in the 1967 war, to clear the way for Syria and possibly his son, as his own successor, to embrace a new era.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, increasingly showing signs of fatigue and ill-health, is impatient to reach the goal of Palestinian statehood.