Two weeks after Prime Minister Ehud Barak took power in Israel, Arabs and Jews have taken a number of concrete steps to add substance to their sweet talk about peace prospects in the Middle East.
The most startling sign that new rules may be prevailing is that Israel's long and grinding war of attrition in southern Lebanon has quieted down.
The Syrian-backed Islamic guerrillas of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement have slowed their 14-year-old campaign to drive Israeli troops from the swath of Lebanese territory they have controlled for two decades.
Mortar and artillery attacks by guerrillas from Hezbollah, the Party of God, have dropped to their lowest level in several years.
Despite a pledge to fight on against Israel issued today by several small, radical Palestinian factions based in Damascus, analysts here expressed relief at reports that Syrian authorities recently called in their leaders and advised them not to attack Israel.
Taken together, the moves suggested that Syria, a regional power that negotiated unsuccessfully with Israel in the mid-1990s, intends to renew negotiations, now that Barak is prime minister, to recover the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967.
Hezbollah's operations in southern Lebanon slackened shortly before Barak took office, after Israeli warplanes struck against roads, bridges and power plants in Lebanon.
The attack was ordered June 24 by outgoing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but the fact that Hezbollah remains subdued nearly a month later strongly suggests that Syria has taken a hand, the analysts said.
Syria, which has tens of thousands of troops and workers in Lebanon, controls much of what goes on there, including supply routes for Hezbollah's militia in southern Lebanon.
There is now a widespread expectation, fueled partly by Barak's remarks this week in Washington and London, that talks between Israel and Syria will resume in the coming weeks.
Barak says he also intends to open simultaneous negotiations with the Palestinians, aimed at a permanent peace deal that would determine Israel's borders, the future of Jerusalem, the disposition of water resources and the fate of millions of refugees.
Officials in Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority have worried aloud that they could be sidelined by Israel's thawing relations with Damascus, particularly since Israel's differences with Syria--over the Golan Heights, security and water--are simpler than disputes with the close-in Palestinians. Moreover, Barak is still resisting Palestinian demands that he abide by the U.S.-brokered Wye River agreement, signed last October, by withdrawing Israeli troops from more West Bank territory.
Nonetheless, Barak insists he will bargain with Syrians and Palestinians at once, and in recent days his government has announced several policy shifts that suggest a less hostile stance toward the Palestinians than that of the Netanyahu government.
Barak's new public security minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, today dropped Israel's threat to forcibly close Orient House, the turn-of-the-century building that houses Palestinian offices in East Jerusalem. Many observers feared an explosion of violence if the threat had been carried out.
In a separate move, Interior Minister Natan Sharansky said he is inclined to halt Israel's practice of confiscating the residency permits of Palestinians from East Jerusalem who have left the city for several years.
The policy has deprived several thousand Jerusalem Arabs of permits if they moved to the West Bank suburbs because of the city's housing shortage or went abroad to work.
Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said he would work to reverse another irritant, Israel's policy of holding Palestinian detainees for years without charges if they are suspected of posing a security risk to the state. Palestinians and human rights organizations have attacked the policy. But Israel has ignored the objections, arresting some 5,000 such prisoners over the years.
Palestinian officials are unhappy that Barak has declined to remove any Jewish settlements from the West Bank, including dozens of trailer homes placed on remote hilltops in the last few months of the Netanyahu government. The intention was to create "facts on the ground" that would preclude Israel from making future territorial concessions in the West Bank.
Still, Barak's new trade and industry minister, Ran Cohen, has slashed several million dollars' worth of budget subsidies that would have supported settler-run businesses in the West Bank. That signaled a shift in the Netanyahu policy, even if it stopped short of Palestinian demands that settlements be removed.