(photo credit: AP)
Right-wingers were seething on Friday afternoon after initial reports about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent flurry of secret messages from Israel to Syria, signaling Olmert's willingness to give up the Golan Heights in return for a peace agreement.
Effi Eitam (NU-NRP) said: "The Olmert government that failed in Lebanon, is behaving as failed regimes have acted throughout history, and in an attempt to hide his responsibility for the failure he is embarking on a dangerous political adventure."
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Eitam's party colleague MK Zevulun Orlev said that Olmert was "ready to sell the Golan for his chair," adding that in his opinion, Olmert was attempting to save his skin by means of a declaration of his willingness to cede the Golan.
Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar called on Israel Beiteinu and Shas to withdraw for the coalition.
"The prime minister has no legitimacy to withdraw for the Golan," Sa'ar went on to say, adding that Olmert's continued leadership endangered Israel's security, Israel Radio reported.
According to the report in Yediot, quoting officials close to Olmert, the prime minister sent messages with German and Turkish diplomats to Syrian President Bashar Assad indicating that Israel was willing to hold direct peace negotiations and give up the Golan.
According to Yediot, Olmert repeatedly said he would be prepared to negotiate with Syria only if Assad's regime cut ties with Iran and Hizbullah and ceased its support for terror.
US President George Bush gave Olmert the green light for negotiations with Syria in an hour-long phone conversation last month, according to the report, and the two leaders will further discuss the possibility of talks during their scheduled meeting at the White House on June 19.
The Prime Minister's Office neither confirmed nor denied the report.
Israel Radio quoted a senior political official as saying that the details of negotiations with the Syrians must not be talked about but that Israel was willing to pay the agreed price for peace.
A Syrian diplomat in London denied the Yediot report, saying that Damascus had not received any invitation from Israel to open negotiations, Israel Radio reported.
Another senior Syrian diplomat also denied that Damascus had received an invitation from Washington or from any other officials to renew negotiations.
In an interview the diplomat gave to a Syrian newspaper, he also said that Olmert's "defeated and weak government is not a partner for negotiations."
Meanwhile, Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit said he would be able to accept Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights on condition that Syria agreed to lease the land back to Israel for 20 years.
"If in this period it becomes clear that there is real peace then the Golan Heights will be less important," said Sheetrit.
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said that if Syria really wanted peace Assad should come to Israel.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Yishai reiterated Shas's support for an exchange of land for peace to avoid bloodshed. However, Yishai refused to answer if it included a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, saying negotiations must not be conducted in the media.
Ahmed Tibi (UAL) said that a withdraw from the Golan was a move that could be have historical importance. "Negotiations with Syria are inevitable, and the price of true peace with Syria is well known - a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Eventually, this will bring regional stability and a decrease in the level of violence I the area"
Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin also spoke in favor of an agreement with Syria, saying that if the prime minister was serious in his intentions, the path to peace with Syria was short. "All the understandings were already reached under the Barak government," added Beilin.
Also Friday, the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper reported that Syria had announced to European emissaries its willingness to reach a deal with Israel which would include the return of kidnapped reservists Elad Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who are being held by Hizbullah.
Meanwhile, a Ma'ariv-TNS poll showed that only 10% of Israelis supported a full withdrawal from the Golan, 40% were in favor of a partial withdrawal and 44% were opposed to any withdrawal. The poll also showed that despite recent peace overtures from Damascus, 74% of Israelis did not trust Assad.