suleiman fadc 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ibrahim "Abe" Suleiman, who has represented the Syrian position in secret unofficial talks with Israelis, believes it could take only six months for the two countries to negotiate a peace agreement.
Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Suleiman, 70, who now resides in the US and reportedly has close ties with the Syrian leadership, said, "80 percent of the issues were resolved at peace talks between Israel and Syria held at Wye Plantation  and Shepherdstown . The remaining issues can be fixed in two or three meetings."
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Earlier, the Syrian-born Alawite made history by becoming the first Syrian to address the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. His message was simple - President Bashar Assad is serious about peace but he needs an Israeli partner.
Although Suleiman stressed that he does not represent the government in Damascus "in any way, shape or form," he challenged Israel to answer Asaad's call for peace.
Suleiman and Alon Liel, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry who represented the Israeli position in the nongovernmental talks, were supposed to brief the panel for an hour on the understandings reached at the meetings held in 2004-06.
They ended up talking for two and a half hours and were followed by Prof. Uzi Arad of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Arad, a former Mossad official and adviser to Binyamin Netanyahu, also represented the Israeli position during the first year of the talks.
But those committee members who oppose peace talks with Syria at this juncture were not convinced. Likud MK Yisrael Katz said he asked Suleiman to tell the Syrian president that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.
Suleiman did not hold any talks with Israeli officials during his stay. A senior official at the Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post that Israel does not know who Suleiman represents, other than himself.
A scheduled meeting with a Foreign Ministry official was canceled at the last minute.
Asked by MKs why Syria was unwilling to make any goodwill gestures toward Israel, Suleiman said he had been refused permission to visit 12 Druse residents of the Golan Heights and infiltrators from Syria who were being held in Israeli prisons.
Suleiman made it clear that Assad is not ready to visit Israel. "Assad is not Sadat - that's for sure," he said. He said there would be no confidence building measures from Damascus as long as there were no peace talks.
Suleiman said he believed the Syrians' denial that they are allowing weapons for Hizbullah to be smuggled across their border with Lebanon.
Liel, briefing the Knesset committee on the secret talks, said the Syrian participants were very unbudging on regaining full sovereignty over the entire Golan Heights, but did show a degree of flexibility on other issues.
Liel said Damascus would be willing to allow an Israeli withdrawal from the strategic plateau to take place over a five-year period. Syria would not touch Israeli water sources and Israelis would be allowed to visit a "park" to be set up in some of the area coming under Syrian control, without requiring visas, he said.