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An agreement between Syria and Israel will probably precede one between Israel and the Palestinians, Alon Liel, a peace activist and a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry told the Foreign Press Association on Wednesday.
Liel, who for the past three years has been engaged in secret negotiations with the Syrians, aided first by the Turkish and then by the Swiss government, said "it's much easier to conclude an agreement with the Syrians than with the Palestinians."
Liel blasted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's refusal to talk to the Syrians, and admitted that it was frustration over the government's position that had prompted the leak two weeks ago to Haaretz.
Those involved in the talks had feared that piecemeal revelations of the negotiations would be ineffective. There were two choices, said Liel, either to bury the story or to leak it and to let the public judge for themselves.
"The government headed by Olmert is still in the bunker as a result of the war," he said. "This is not the same Olmert that we had before the elections. He announced a second disengagement and thus got the support of the center left." Olmert and others in his camp were still overwhelmed with the problems of the war and couldn't rise above this, said Liel, who believes that if Olmert survives the Winograd investigation, "he will have to look around and bring Israel back to the peace momentum."
Still smarting from Olmert's denial of knowledge of the talks, Liel said that there had not been a single meeting in Europe that had not been brought to the attention of the relevant officials before and after.
Since the collapse six years ago of peace talks with the Syrians, said Liel, "everything has changed. Syria is ready to change its orientation." If six years ago, the deal should have been returning the Golan in exchange for peace, he added, today the deal is returning the Golan in exchange for Syria's new global orientation. "If we can pull Syria out of the camp of the Islamic fundamentalists and break the association with Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, this is more important than Israeli-Syrian peace," declared Liel.
"This has to be stressed to the Americans," he insisted. 'This is not an Israeli-Syrian story at this stage."