The simultaneous announcement of an agreement between government and opposition in Lebanon and of the start of indirect talks between Israel and Syria in Turkey might be the best news to come out of that troubled region for a long time. And while the United States favored neither the compromise over Lebanon that strengthens the position of Hizbollah nor the talks between Syria and Israel, these two developments may have a positive influence on stability in the region and on the Palestinian–Israeli peace process the Bush administration wants to succeed.

The package deal on Lebanon negotiated with the help of Qatar and the Arab League is to an extent a victory for Hizbollah, giving the Hizbollah-led opposition 11 portfolios in the 30-member government of national unity, thus the power to block major decisions. The March 14 coalition that controls the government now will name 16 ministers and the president three. Hizbollah and the government have also agreed on the immediate election of army chief Michel Suleiman as president, a return to the 1960 election law for the 2009 parliamentary election, and the renunciation by all sides of the use of weapons in internal conflicts. The agreement leaves intact Hizbollah’s militia as an “instrument of resistance against Israel,” though. While Hizbollah got what it wanted in the negotiations, Lebanon as a whole will also reap some benefits from the agreement. Lebanon will have a government, Hizbollah’s tent city that paralyzed the center of town was removed as soon as the agreement was announced, and the population will hopefully return to normal life. The slide into civil war that recently loomed as a distinct possibility has been halted.