Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have denied
claims in a Yediot Aharonot story on Friday that they agreed to withdraw from
the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.
A politician who
spoke with Netanyahu following publication of the Yediot report, said, “The
Likud government under Netanyahu will continue to build in the Golan and
In an interview with Channel 2’s Meet the Press on
Saturday, Barak explained that before the violence in Syria that broke out in
January 2011, there had been an Americanled initiative to cut the Assad regime’s
ties with Iran.
As part of that initiative, he said, a number of
exploratory suggestions were put on the table with regard to what Israel could
offer Syria in return.
Since taking Syria out of the radical axis of Iran
and Hezbollah was a high security priority, it was important to explore the
possibility, Barak said.
“That was all that happened,” he said. “There
was never any real negotiations.”
The US went back and forth between
Israel and Syria, but did not secure pledges from either side, he
They simply wanted to know if there were grounds to move forward,
There were a number of meetings, he said. American envoys
Dennis Ross and Fredrick Hoff were in Israel; Hoff came four or five times, he
It is good that there were these initiatives, he said, but it was
also good to reject them when the conditions were not right to move
“Netanyahu never, in any situation, said he was willing to
withdraw from the Golan,” Barak said.
He added that the country was
heading to elections, and given that he was now Netanyahu’s political rival, it
would be helpful if he could confirm the Yediot story. But, he said, he could
Despite Barak’s words, MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) attacked
Netanyahu over the story and charged that the prime minister was willing to sell
the land of Israel in exchange for political gain.
He also accused the
White House of leaking the story as payback for Netanyahu’s interference in the
Over the past four years the Obama administration has
repeatedly used Yediot Aharonot as a way to reach out to Israelis over the
Netanyahu administration’s head.
On Friday, State Department spokeswoman
Victoria Nuland said of the story, “As you know, our goal has always been to
have a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of her
“Prior to the eruption of all of the violence in Syria, there
were efforts to try to support contacts between Israel and Syrian
“This was part of the mandate of [US envoy] George Mitchell.
But obviously, in the current environment in Syria, that’s not something that
one can continue to work on,” she said.
Netanyahu’s office said on
Thursday that the initiative was one of many proposed to Israel over the past
At no point did Israel accept this American initiative. It
charged that its publication at this time stemmed from political
But according to the Yediot report serious negotiations
were going on that could have led to a withdrawal from the Golan, if violence
had not broken out in Syria.
It is not the first report, which has
surfaced that speaks of Netanyahu’s willingness to negotiate with Syria over the
Golan. In 2009 there was a report that Netanyahu had sent a message to Assad to
When Barak was prime minister, Turkey hosted four rounds of
discussions between Israel and Syria about the Golan.
contributed to this report.