It has been politically divided for almost 25 years over the
future of captured Arab territories. Military experts cited by the right insist that the West Bank is a necessary buffer to protect Israeli cities against an invading land force. Experts cited by the left say that a buffer is useless in the missile age and that the main security threat comes from the frustration of Palestinians living under Israeli rule.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir pledges he will not relinquish territory. He is willing to offer Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip limited self-government and to negotiate a final settlement later. Israelis are unanimous in insisting that they must retain control of all of Jerusalem.
Probably no Arab state is in greater need of a peace settlement. Ruled by King Hussein since 1952, Jordan has no oil resources, little money and growing social and economic problems. More than half its population is Palestinian, a proportion increasing because of an influx after the Persian Gulf war. Since 1967, aside from Egypt, Jordan has been the least belligerent of the Arab countries surrounding Israel. King Hussein has conferred secretly on several occasions with Israeli leaders.
Jordan is sponsoring the Palestinians in Madrid by forming a delegation with them. Many Palestinians envisage talks leading eventually to a semi-independent West Bank that would become part of a confederation with Jordan.
Within the past year, the country has managed to assemble its first stable government since the mid-1970s. Over the past 15 years, the country has suffered from a civil war, an invasion by Israel directed against the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organization and an occupation by Syria. Large numbers of Syrian troops are based in the eastern half of the country and help the central government maintain control elsewhere. Damascus effectively dictates Lebanon's policies.
In peace talks, Lebanon will insist on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the south and the disbanding of an Israeli-supported militia there. The U.N. Security Council passed resolutions in 1978 demanding withdrawal.
They probably saved themselves from political oblivion in 1987 by launching what became known as the intifada, the uprising against Israel's occupation. For the first time, Palestinians captured the world's sympathy. It proved a better strategy that one that preceded it -- the long campaign of attacks organized by the PLO and other groups against Israeli targets, often including Israeli civilians.
Palestinians may have the most to gain from peace talks. They are seeking a freeze on the building of Jewish settlements, Israeli recognition of them as a people and -- ultimately -- creation of an independent state. Delegation members say they now will accept the Camp David autonomy formula.
Hafez el Assad has been its president for 18 years and imposed a ruthless brand of stability, preserved by a pervasive secret police. He was the Soviet Union's main ally in the region but deftly overcame the loss of Soviet influence by joining the American-led coalition against Iraq, a much-hated rival. Syria was rewarded for its stand by large grants from a grateful Saudi Arabia, rescuing an economy that was in a shambles.
Mr. Assad has never wavered from demanding that Mideast negotiations begin with Israel returning the Golan Heights. Less clear is whether he would agree even then to sign a peace treaty with Israel. He already has pulled out of planned talks about water and other issues, saying the question of territory must come first.