Renewal of Israel-Syria Peace Talks?
Reports in recent days indicate that an intense effort is being made to renew the Israel-Syria peace process. The efforts nearly lead to a meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Syrian Minister of Defense Mustafa Talas in Paris three weeks ago, according to Israeli daily Maariv.
As early as January, the Turkish press quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Turkey had asked Israel to resume peace negotiations with Syria. Turkey, Syria’s neighbor, maintains close relations with Israel. According to Israeli daily Maariv, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer eventually signaled Syria that Israel would like to renew the talks by asking Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to convey the message to Syrian President Assad during a July visit to Ankara. Ben-Eliezer later asked Jordan's King Abdullah II to convey this message to Assad as well. The signals were apparently accepted in Damascus, and a meeting arranged. Israeli sources told the Maariv newspaper that the high-level meeting was called off by the Syrian side at the last minute.
The timing of the Paris meeting fits in with the visit Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak made to Damascus at the start of December. Observers noted at the time that in their joint statement the leaders of Syria and Egypt made a few points regarding the need for comprehensive solutions to the Arab Israeli conflict, and of the adherence to the principles of full Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.
These two points have always been the key items of contention in the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. Syria has been unwavering in its insistence that Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the 1967 was not negotiable, while Israel would like the withdrawal to be only up to the international border, an outcome that would give Israel complete control of the Sea of Galilee, one of the largest water resources in the area. A second issue in any Israeli-Syrian resolution is the status of the Palestinians. Syria has repeatedly indicated it would not sign a peace agreement without a solution to the Palestinian’s problems, and with a large Palestinian refugee community in Syria this is all the more crucial.
Syrian President Assad amplified his position in an interview with the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper earlier this year, when he said: “The late President Hafez al-Assad did not surrender and we will not surrender neither today nor at any time in the future,”
Replying a question whether Syria will sign a treaty if it is presented by Israel before the Palestinians sign, the president said:’ we in Syria say that the objective is a just and comprehensive peace. Comprehensive means all occupied Arab territories… The Golan and Lebanon do not mean a comprehensive peace. Therefore there should be parallelism between the Syrian-Lebanese track and the Palestinian track.”
It does not appear as if a major shift has come about in Syrian President Assad’s or Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s positions, leading to some speculation on the basis for a resumption of talks. There is a possibility that the talks will be confined to limited issues, regarding Lebanon (www.albawaba.com)
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