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(photo credit: AP)
Vice-Premier Shimon Peres says he is certain there will be peace between Syria and Israel "sooner or later." In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Peres said there was no alternative. "They won't have a choice. Nobody has a choice. War becomes so expensive. It doesn't bring any conclusion. It doesn't have any justification."
Two months ago, Peres caused controversy by inviting Syrian President Bashar Assad to peace talks in Israel. At the time he said that if Assad wanted a meeting, he was certain Israel would agree. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later distanced himself from the remarks.
"I have not changed my view," said Peres, "but I knew that what was published [about Assad] was inaccurate. This week President Assad made his position clear in Moscow. He said: 'I am not looking for direct talks with Israel; I am looking for direct talks with the United States.' Now, if he wants to talk with the United States, let him go and talk with them. Israel is not the United States."
Peres said he was all too familiar with Syrian maneuvering. "I negotiated with [Hafez Assad] the father of the president. I got a message from the United States that 'He wants to make peace; he's ready to go a long way and he accepts my proposals.' That was March 1996. We were supposed to have elections in November.
"I said, 'Look if you want to make peace, it has to be before the elections. I cannot go to the elections with an open stomach, saying that I suggested [peace] but got no answer.' I said, 'If you want to do it in a few months, let's meet and conclude the outstanding issues.'
"I got a reply that he was ready to meet but couldn't give me a date. I answered, jokingly, that a girl without a date is like a date without a girl. You have to have the two together otherwise it's nonsense."
In short, Peres said, the Syrians were "all the time maneuvering." In a presumed reference to himself, Yitzhak Rabin, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, he said: "Four Israeli prime ministers indicated they are ready to give back the Golan Heights and at the last moment, for reasons which are hard to explain, the Syrians backed out. So again, if they want to talk, let them come and talk. They cannot do it by proxy. They can not do it indirectly and they can not go to America and talk with America about how to make peace with Israel."
Peres said the Assads were so cautious because they represented a minority in Syria. "The inner situation in Syria is not simple. The Alawite tribe that the Assad families belong to is not more than 11 or 12 percent. From time to time, they permit themselves to issue declarations, but when it comes to [substantive] moves, they are extremely careful. On top of it, when the Syrians were in Lebanon they developed a great interest in the Lebanese economy and today maybe a third of Syria's revenues come from Lebanon.
"That's the reason why they keep so close to the Hizbullah. Hizbullah is the only party in Lebanon that wants to protect the interests of Syria."