(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel should drop its preconditions and immediately resume peace talks with Syria, Labor MK Danny Yatom said Saturday.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Yatom added that it would be easier to reach a deal with Syria than with the Palestinians, and that progress with Syria could accelerate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
It was not immediately clear whether Yatom was speaking on behalf of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, or if was expressing his personal view. Israel Radio said Yatom was briefed by Barak after the defense minister returned from the Annapolis conference.
The conference focused on the Israeli-Palestinian track, but Syria also attended, raising hopes that it could be persuaded to break its alliance with Iran if talks with Israel resume.
An Annapolis follow-up conference, tentatively scheduled for Moscow in the spring, may address the Israeli-Syrian conflict directly.
Yatom, a former chief of the Mossad, said the government should drop a series of preconditions and start talks with Syria immediately.
In the past, Israel has demanded that the Syrian government withdraw support for terrorist groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah.
In exchange for peace, Syria wants Israel to return the entire Golan Heights. Yatom said that in March 2000, then-US President Bill Clinton proposed to Syria, with Israel's backing, that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders, "except for a very slight modification in the northeastern part of the Sea of Galilee."
Barak was prime minister at the time, and Yatom a senior negotiator with Syria.
Yatom suggested that negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians be conducted simultaneously, but said it would be easier to reach a deal with Damascus.
"Between us and Syria, there's only the issue of a border, and we were very close in March 2000," he said. "The negotiations with Syria, if resumed, will also accelerate the negotiations with the Palestinians."
Palestinian officials fear that talks with Israel would stall if the Israeli-Syrian track was revived.
"Israel is manipulating the negotiations by talking about tracks," said Nimr Hamad, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "The Syrian-Israeli path is the easiest excuse, and an old one."
He said the Palestinians would not oppose parallel negotiations on both tracks.