Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has called his government’s peace talks with Syria a “historic breakthrough.” It remains to be seen whether these talks, mediated by Turkey, lead to the genuine breakthrough of an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement. But the negotiations in Istanbul already qualify as historic for at least one reason: They are not being conducted under American auspices. Not only has the Bush administration ceded to Turkey the traditional US role as broker of Mideast peace talks, but Israel, Syria, and Turkey have had to take the political risk of pursuing a peace agreement against the will of President Bush and some of his high-ranking advisers.

By now, Bush should have absorbed a lesson that these three very different governments have learned. As Olmert said this week, “It is always best to talk and not shoot.” Bush’s efforts to dissuade Israel from talking to Syria would make sense if Israel’s aims — or even Syria’s — ran counter to American interests. But the opposite is true. An Israeli-Syrian peace could also subtract Syria from the Iranian sphere of influence. Syrian President Bashar Assad has made no secret of his wish to get into the good graces of America by making peace with Israel. We can only hope that Bush’s successor will grasp the peacemaking opportunities Bush has squandered.