(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"I was not representing the government's view. I have told you on more than one occasion that I am the different voice, the other voice in the government and this is an important thing in a democratic society," Culture, Science and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle told Israel Radio Friday, referring to an interview he gave Kuwaiti newspaper Mishkat Al-Ray, in which he said Israel was prepared to return the Golan Heights for peace with Syria.
The minister said that in his opinion there was no strategic importance to the Golan. "We saw this during the second Lebanon war."
"Peace is most important thing," he said. "For true peace I'm certain that the people of Israel will agree to return the Golan."
When asked about his remarks in light of recent reports of Syrian nuclear activity, Majadle said: "Peace is made between enemies, not friends," adding that "everyone needs to remember that it is Israel's duty to do everything possible to take Syria out of the axis of evil and into the axis of peace."
Referring to Golan Law, which annexed the region as part of Israel in 1981, the minister said: "Law can always be changed for the benefit of the people and the state. It is not holy and not Torah from Sinai." He said that as a democratic nation that wants peace, Israel should be prepared to change law. "We don't consecrate law or land, we consecrate the people," he continued.
Majadle went on to say that the Iranian agenda was neither an Arab agenda nor a Palestinian agenda but "an agenda to establish a Persian empire."
Earlier Friday, the Kuwaiti newspaper had quoted the minister as saying: "The price of peace with Syria is the return of the Golan Heights and Israel is prepared to do this."
In the interview with the newspaper, Majadle said that Israel must "change its approach" toward Syrian President Bashar Assad. The minister added that despite recent tensions between the two countries, he was convinced that Syria still saw peace as a strategic goal and that "it is closer to Israel than it is to Iran."
Majadle stressed that it was impossible for the Arab world to form ties with Israel without Israel "paying the price for everything connected with the Palestinian issue," adding that he did not discount the possibility that the fate of West Bank settlements would be like that of the former settlements in the Gaza Strip.
The minister called on Arab states in the Gulf to help Arab Israelis "just like the world's Jewish communities give aid to Jews in Israel."
In response to the Mishkat Al-Rayinterview, Coalition Chairman Eli Aflalo (Kadima) said that the Golan Heights "is an inseparable part of Israel" and that large West Bank settlement blocks would remain as they are.
"Majadle's remarks don't reflect the position of the government or that of the prime minister," said Aflalo. "(Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert has a different stance, but he can't forbid his ministers from expressing their own personal standpoints."
MK Zevulun Orlev (NU/NRP) said that his party would submit a no confidence motion against the government "because a government minister cannot be allowed to express such views."
Orlev added that Majadle's words reflected the Palestinian stance and were far from being the Israeli consensus.
Majadle's comments came a day after a large-scale IDF exercise scheduled to begin this week in the Golan Heights was cancelled out of fear that the maneuvers and increase in military personnel in the North could trigger a conflict with Syria.
The exercise will instead take place in the Upper Galilee, in terrain that resembles southern Lebanon. The decision to cancel the Golan Heights-section of the exercise was made even after calming messages had been relayed to the Syrians through diplomatic channels.
In related news, Assad on Tuesday ordered Syrian authorities to distribute Syrian ID cards to the Druse residents of the Golan. The Syrian Sama news agency said that the move was made in order to ease the suffering of the Druse people resulting from harassment by Israeli rule and violations of their rights.