Israel and Syria deny secret talks
Reports of peace meetings ‘invented’
BOTH ISRAEL and Syria officially denied a newspaper report this week that the two countries held secret talks between 2004 and 2006 that had produced a framework for a peace agreement.
According to a report in the Ha’aretz newspaper, the unofficial talks took place in Europe between Dr Alon Liel, a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and a Syrian representative, Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman, who is also an American citizen. Ha’aretz reported that these meetings took place with the knowledge of both former premier Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Under the proposals, Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open. Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, whereas Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years. Other clauses in the document included Syria agreeing to the fact that Israel would retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret. Syria also reportedly agreed to end its support for Hizbollah and Hamas and distance itself from Iran.
Ha’aretz claimed that the talks ended after Israel turned down a Syrian request to end the meetings on an unofficial level and agree to a secret meeting between government officials. Prime Minister Olmert told reporters on Tuesday that he knew nothing of the talks “and nobody in the government knew. This is a private initiative of an individual talking with himself and, from what I read, his interlocutor was some kind of strange person from the United States. This is not serious... and it would not be fitting for me to say more than I already have.”
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he saw no point in negotiations with Syria, given Damascus’s backing for Hamas and Hizbollah, and US President George Bush’s opposition to any talks with Syria.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the report was “an invention, a trial balloon”.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the beginning of the week in an attempt to bolster the authority of PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in his battle against Hamas and move the peace process forward.
Dr Rice said that she would return to the region in the near future to hold a tripartite summit with Prime Minister Olmert and Mr Abbas. If this proved successful, Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported, President Bush planned to invite the two leaders to a White House summit.