Syria: Israeli Government Not A Good Peace Partner

By: Albert Aji, Associated Press Email
By: Albert Aji, Associated Press Email

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Syria's president said Friday that his country is interested in resuming indirect peace talks with Israel but does not believe the new Israeli government makes a good negotiating partner.

Syria has said it is willing to resume the talks mediated by Turkey as long as they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he would not be willing to cede the territory Syria wants.

"Syria is keen about peace as much as it is keen about the return of its occupied territories," Syrian President Bashar Assad said during a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

"When we have a specific vision and when their is a partner, then we can speak about a date to resume peace talks," Assad said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who also opposes ceding all of the Golan Heights, has said he would be willing to resume indirect peace talks with Syrian only if there were no preconditions.

Israel has held several rounds of talks with the Syrians, most recently indirect negotiations mediated by Turkey last year. Disagreement over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights have spoiled the attempts to forge peace. Israel captured the strategic plateau in the June 1967 Mideast war.

The talks mediated by Turkey broke off during Israel's three-week offensive against the Gaza Strip's militant Hamas rulers in December and January.

Assad said in a newspaper interview in March that those talks failed because Israel would not make a clear commitment to return all of the Golan up to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Assad said Israel wanted to keep some disputed land around the Galilee, its main water source.

Israel, for its part, wanted Syria to end its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, Assad said in the interview.

Direct talks between the two nations under U.S. auspices also failed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal.

The Turkish president said his country wants to help Arab states, including Syria, make peace with Israel, but the Jewish state should first accept previous agreements and commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"Israel must accept all agreements. Annapolis and road map," said Gul after meeting with Assad.

Under the internationally backed "road map" peace plan of June 2002, Israel and the Palestinians were to embark on a three-phase process toward a final deal.

But the talks broke down because neither side met their obligations under the first stage: Israel did not halt settlement construction and the Palestinians did not clamp down on militants.

When the talks resumed in 2007, in Annapolis, Maryland, the road map was the basis for negotiations, but the phased approach was jettisoned and the two sides went directly to negotiations on a final accord.

Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, has rejected the Annapolis process, and Netanyahu has been reluctant to commit to Palestinian statehood, despite pressure from the United States.

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