A lot of positive developments seem to be happening in the Middle East at the moment, but they are all happening on their own, with no combined sense of overall direction, so all the goodwill that is flying around at the moment will probably eventually lead to nothing.

The intricate web of disputes in the Middle East means that each separate issue impacts on the others, and to try to move ahead to solve one problem without moving on the others will lead to eventual failure.

The Middle East needs a comprehensive peace initiative, based on the plan adopted by the Arab League when offered by then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which comes down to the Arabs offering complete peace with Israel in return for the total return of all land occupied.

Such a comprehensive process is not what US President George W. Bush is trying to find with his doomed Annapolis process, which focuses on Palestine alone. And all the other developments do not add up to a combined peace initiative which would build its own momentum. They remain a disparate group of tentative explorations of peace.

The most obvious recent positive development has been the formation of a new government in Lebanon and the election of a new Lebanese president after a gap of many months.

While the accord is a major improvement to daily life in Lebanon, it avoided tackling the basic issue which still remains: how will Hezbollah fit into a unitary Lebanese state. That remains unanswered as Hezbollah refuses to disband its militia, and maintains its own networks of civil support for the population outside the state's control.

The accord was brokered by the Qataris two weeks ago, and it has established a structure in which the Lebanese can talk and find a way forward for themselves, should they want to do so.

But there does not seem to be much desire from Hezbollah to meet the requirements of the rest of the nation, and the rest are unable to force a solution on Hezbollah, so the deep division in Lebanese society is likely to remain.

Another development is Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's announcement during this week's visit to the UAE that Syria is ready for direct talks with Israel, although he added that he does not hold out much hope of them getting anywhere.

Bashar's scepticism is partly due to his past experience of talking to Israel, but also due to the increasingly weak position of the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who is fighting off corruption charges and losing the loyalty of his coalition partners. An embattled and weak Israeli prime minister will not be able to sell any deal on the Golan to the Israeli people.

Then there is the much touted Annapolis peace process. Palestine remains the core issue for the Middle East, but to date there is no progress at all.

The totally unreal optimism of the Bush administration that an agreement will be reached by the end of this year, differs starkly with the facts on the ground, where things are getting worse.

Dismantle colonies

This week, Olmert approved the construction of 900 new houses in occupied East Jerusalem. If Israel was serious about the Annapolis peace process, and wanted to heed the White House, it would be taking down road barriers and preparing to dismantle colonies, rather than building them up.

"We do not believe that any more settlements should be built," said a frustrated White House spokeswoman this Monday, but the laconic Israeli reply came from the Housing Minister who said "There is nothing new in this position. For 41 years we have differed with the United States, the UN and the Palestinians."

Olmert is due in Washington for an official visit quite soon, and how the issue of settlements and road barriers is handled will be an important test of the determination of both the Israelis and the Bush administration, as the Annapolis process finally unravels or not.

The Syrian talks with the Israelis carried out through the Turks have helped define how a peace deal might be done. The continuing Annapolis talks help make clear how the two-state solution could happen.

The Egyptian mediation with Hamas helped make clear how Hamas might come back into mainstream talks. The new government in Lebanon will wait for the next election and see how to rebuild its shattered country.

These processes have helped sort out the details of how possible solutions might look. But they lack the political commitment to make them happen. Peace will be unpopular in many quarters, and the compromises to win peace may be even more unpopular.

So when a final deal is struck, the leaders who commit to peace will need to sell it to their populations and they will need to show substantial benefits to all quite quickly. None of this is happening at the moment.

All these processes help the overall direction to peace, but none of them can succeed on their own. And an uninterested White House does not have the political vision to even start to coordinate these processes, much less challenge the Israelis to get real about peace.