Israel dismisses Golan negotiations

US official: Bush administration has not given up on West Bank withdrawal plan.

sign golan syria 224 (photo credit: AP)
sign golan syria 224
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli officials dismissed as "na ve" a call from some European diplomats to dangle the Golan Heights as a carrot in front of Syria to get Damascus to stop arming and abetting Hizbullah. "To say that all the Syrians need is a good gesture from Israel, and then they will do everything we want regarding Hizbullah is detached from reality," one senior source in Jerusalem said. Finnish Ambassador Kari Veijalainen told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that Israel would do well to signal a willingness to pick up negations with the Syrians where they broke off in 1999 as a way to get Damascus on board to help implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701. According to the source, Syria has historically taken an "all or nothing" approach to negotiations. He said that its position has always been against confidence-building measures and that there are no intermediate steps with Damascus. Syria won‚t do anything to clamp down on Hizbullah before there is a "complete peace treaty," he said. Others have pointed out that the Finnish position of Israeli "carrots" for the Syrians is not universally accepted in Europe, and that France, for instance, is opposed because of French President Jacques Chirac's antipathy to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Other voices in Europe are arguing, officials in Jerusalem said, that Syria needed to prove it was in "a constructive mood," something many doubt Assad can do. While there is division in Europe regarding what approach to take toward Syria, there is, according to Israeli officials, unanimity of opinion regarding the need to move forward with the Palestinians. Israel is bracing for a new call from Europe on this issue this weekend, following an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Finland. Finland holds the rotating EU presidency. There is a feeling in Europe, according to Israeli officials, that the Palestinian track is stagnating and "something needs to move." Following the war in Lebanon and end of vacations in Europe, Israel is preparing to face down new diplomatic initiatives aimed at replacing the road map. One such initiative, put forward by the Arab League, is expected to be presented in September and will reportedly call for a cease-fire and the establishment of a yet-undefined mechanism to hammer out an overall Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Diplomatic officials said that Israel need not be flustered by the renewal of attention on the Gaza Strip, and it must press the international community to remain firm on the three conditions it set for granting legitimacy to Hamas: renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel and accepting previous agreements. Despite the feeling that something needs to move, one source said, "we are saying the ball remains in the Palestinian court, and they need to decide whether to accept the three conditions. We are preaching patience." In a related development, the US plans to recommend that Israel reexamine the Rafah crossing arrangement that will be up for review in November. According to the current terms of the arrangement, European Union monitors are stationed at the terminal - the sole crossing into the Gaza Strip from Egypt - and are responsible for preventing the entry of terror suspects per Israel's request. IDF officers watch the terminal on a closed-circuit camera system from Kerem Shalom. "No one is happy with the current arrangement," a senior US government official told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "The Europeans are unhappy, the Palestinians are unhappy and the Israelis are certainly unhappy." According to the defense establishment, the EU monitor force at the crossing is not effective and does not prevent the smuggling of arms and the passage of suspected terrorists in and out of Gaza. The US official also held high hopes for the possibility that Fatah would join the Hamas and create a national-unity government. If that happens and the new government accepts the US-backed road map and the Quartet's conditions - set up following Hamas's victory in PA elections in January - the PA, the official said, could be viewed as a legitimate partner for peace talks with Israel. "We hope there will be changes on the Palestinian side in the coming weeks and months," he said. "A national-unity government within the PA could be that change." The Bush administration, the official said, has not given up on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's West Bank withdrawal plan but believed that before unilateral steps, Israel should first attempt to talk with the PA. "Convergence is supposed to come after an effort to negotiate and only after those talks fail," he official said.