olmert bush oval 224 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday confirmed his readiness to open substantive peace talks with Syria, and pointedly recalled that three previous prime ministers had shown a readiness to leave the entire Golan or the overwhelming proportion of it.
In a briefing ahead of Tuesday's summit in Annapolis, Olmert noted approvingly that the Syrians would be participating, albeit at the level of deputy foreign minister.
"We always said Syria's presence was acceptable," he said. "It's right that they're here."
Amid reports that Syria would use the Annapolis platform to demand the Golan Heights and the Shaba Farms from Israel, he said that, like the other speakers at the conference, "they'll say what they want to say."
Olmert added that his government had always made plain it would talk seriously with the Syrians if and when the circumstances were ripe, and that the Syrians knew this.
Asked flatly whether he would trade the Golan for peace, Olmert said that was "an interesting question" and one that he would deal with "when the time comes."
He added that three past prime ministers had shown a readiness for dramatic concession on the Golan, and named them as Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu.
"Let's not go into why [negotiations with Syria] didn't work [for those three]," he went on - and then did just that: It may have been that Barak was deterred, he mused, that Yitzhak Mordechai and Ariel Sharon blocked Netanyahu, and that for Rabin it just didn't pan out.
"All three had their positions," he said. "All three could detail why they thought Israel should leave the entire Golan or the overwhelming proportion of it."
He said it was telling that Syria had decided to come to Annapolis even though Iran had made plain that it was "furious" about the conference. The presence of Syria and so many other Arab states, he said, was "the great achievement" of Annapolis.
Olmert later said that Israel expects Arab countries to start putting out feelers toward establishing ties with Israel after the meeting.
Olmert told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that "in this way, [the Arab countries] can show that they support the peace process."
Olmert met with Ban in his hotel in Washington.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.
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