Homesh 88 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called over the weekend for direct peace talks between Israel and Syria, without any mediation.
His proposal came in response to comments from Syrian President Bashar Assad last week that Damascus would resume peace talks in the presence of an honest broker if Israel first provided a guarantee that it would return the entire Golan Heights.
Addressing veteran kibbutz members on Friday at Kibbutz Yifat in the Jezreel Valley, Olmert responded to Assad.
"I want to make peace with any Arab country, and I want to do it through direct negotiations. That's how it was with Egypt and with Jordan," he said.
The prime minister rejected the Syrian demand that before negotiations resume, Israel agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights. "When he [Assad] says Israel needs to withdraw to the June 4, 1967, lines, that is setting a precondition. I can't make any commitments before negotiating," Olmert said.
Regarding the Gaza Strip, the prime minister said he could not promise that the situation there would not develop into one similar to that on the northern border before last year's Second Lebanon War, but he cautioned against a large-scale military incursion or reoccupying the Strip.
On Thursday, a senior IDF commander said Hamas, which seized control of Gaza last month, had stepped up weapons-smuggling and was trying to bring in longer-range and more sophisticated missiles.
"I have no intention of closing my eyes like Israel closed its eyes on Lebanon," Olmert said. "We must deal with [Gaza] wisely. I don't think mass military force is the right way. I don't think the current circumstances justify such an offensive."
Referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, Olmert said Israel would not make unilateral moves.
"Everything will have to be done alongside negotiations with the Palestinians, to reach an arrangement acceptable to both us and them," Olmert said.
But anyone who believed that Israel could maintain its hold on the entire West Bank was "living in a dream," the prime minister said, reiterating that Israel "needs to withdraw."
"Everyone understands that the State of Israel can't exist without a guarantee of a Jewish majority," Olmert said. To ensure such a majority, Israel would have to make "tough decisions," he said.