Dichter: Syria ready for peace, are we?

Public security minister tells Saban Forum that Damascus is mentally prepared for negotiations.

avi dichter 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
avi dichter 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Syria is mentally prepared for a peace process, but it is uncertain whether Israel or the United States is ready, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said during a debate at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem on Monday. "Many of us are confused between information and intelligence," he said. "A country that wants to use its military might needs information, but a country that wants to use its political might needs intelligence. "We have information indicating that Syria is mentally prepared for a peace process with Israel. The question is whether we or the US are prepared for it," Dichter said. Martin Indyk, the director of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and a former US ambassador to Israel, said the impression gained during the Saban US delegation's talks on Sunday in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah was that Damascus would respond positively to an American invitation to attend the Annapolis peace conference. "There is a growing expectation that they will come and they will be canceling the anti-[Annapolis] terror meeting that was supposed to take place in Damascus," he said. "If this is in fact the case this is a first signal that something else is going on there." Indyk was speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem at the end of the prestigious two-day Saban Forum. Much of the discussion focused on the Annapolis gathering and its prospects for success. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his speech to the forum, expressed hope that there could be a peace breakthrough before US President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009. He said all issues would be on the table during the intensive negotiations that will commence immediately after the conference. Israeli officials said it was no coincidence that Olmert chose to speak in Hebrew at a conference where all the other speeches were in English. The prime minister was really addressing the Israeli public, they said, and the message was that he was serious about the peace talks and that Israel would have to fulfill its obligations under the road map peace plan. An official in the Prime Minister's Office confirmed Monday that Israel was considering a further release of Palestinian prisoners to coincide with Annapolis. The Palestinians have requested another release in an effort to boost the standing of Palestinian Authority President President Mahmoud Abbas. However, the Israeli official said, no decision was imminent and Israel had not committed at this juncture to freeing additional detainees. Indyk indicated that he believed the question of the Palestinian refugees would be the most difficult of the core issues that would be addressed in the negotiations after Annapolis. "The issue of Jerusalem can be fudged for the conference; issues of territory are not very controversial anymore," he said. "The issue of refugees and the Jewish nature of the State of Israel seem to be, at the moment, the most critical issue." Former IDF chief of General Staff and minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak said the Palestinians would eventually have to accept the Israeli position on refugees. "All the Palestinian leaders who support a peace agreement with Israel fully understand that Palestinian refugees will not come back to Israel; it is very clear to them," he said. "Are they willing to say it now? The answer is no. Will they be able to say it later in the process? I believe the answer is yes." For Indyk, the key factor pushing the drive toward Annapolis is the common sense of urgency among Israel, the Palestinians, the US and the international community. "If we don't move now and find a way forward, then what happened in Gaza is going to happen in the West Bank, and then the whole notion of ending the conflict through a two-state solution is out the window," he said.