The death of Syrian President Hafez Assad has sounded the knell for a rapid resumption of the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace process as Damascus focuses its efforts on ensuring a smooth transfer of power, Israeli newspapers said Sunday.
"It doesn't matter whether the power struggle in Damascus culminates in Assad's son Bashar or anyone else in power -- the peace process between Israel and Syria will be frozen now for an indefinite length of time," wrote the respected analyst Zeev Schiff in a front-page commentary in the Haaretz newspaper.
The death of Syria's autocratic ruler was splashed across the front pages of all Israel's newspapers, with columns of analysis and commentary inside.
Peace talks between the long-time foes resumed in December in the United States after an impasse of almost four years, but they broke down only weeks later in dispute over the fate of the occupied Golan Heights plateau, which Syria demands back as the price of peace.
Assad's son and designated heir Bashar, who is expected to chosen by parliament later this month to become president, is unlikely to make concessions to win a deal with Israel.
"He will have to focus efforts at the start towards consolidating his rule and ousting domestic opponents and under the circumstances it is doubtful that he will take chances by pursuing a compromise agreement with Israel," Schiff added.
"He's sure to fear that such a move would be highly dangerous for him right now."
The best-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, quoting senior officials, said that Assad's death may accelerate the resumption of the negotiations in the long-run even though no progress can be expected in the near future as Syria tries to ensure a smooth transition.
"It is hard to believe that whoever receives the leadership, probably Bashar, will find time now to deal with the peace process," it quoted a senior political source as saying.
But the source added that Bashar was expected to have a combination of "Assad's toughness in terms of regime and a willingness in principle for peace and openness and an attempt to bring Syria into the 21st century."
Yediot's columnist Nahum Barnea said Israelis had no reason to shed tears for Assad.
"The man who missed so many trains and through his intransigence and hesitation stopped all of the processes has concluded his role in Middle Eastern history."
He said however that once the situation in Damascus stabilizes, either with Bashar or another leader, "there may be a real chance to reach an arrangement with Syria and have Syria open up to the west."
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Itamar Rabinovich, who was involved in previous negotiations with Syria, spoke of the "mixed legacy" left by Assad in an article in the Hebrew newspaper Maariv: "The idea of peace with Israel but at a high price."
The Maariv said Assad's death moves the peace negotiations "into second or even third place,” – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)