'Recipient of cash can't touch Golan'

Likud MKs infuriated by PMO announcement; Meretz pleased; Barak: I'm a "long time supporter" of talks.

silvan shalom 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
silvan shalom 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"The recipient of cash envelopes will not touch the Golan," Likud faction chairman MK Gideon Sa'ar said Wednesday, in response to the announcement by the Prime Minister's Office confirming that indirect peace talks with Syria were being conducted via Turkey. "The prime minister's announcement confirms that there is no end to this cynicism in playing with Israel's strategic assets for the sake of Olmert's personal survival," Sa'ar said. Olmert "doesn't have a majority for making concessions on the Golan - not in the Knesset and not among the public," he added. "Shas needs to leave the Olmert government immediately." Likud MK Gilad Erdan charged that "Olmert has finally proven that he is willing to sell everything, including Israel's security, in order to cause us to forget the severe criminal offenses that he suspected of." "If Shas, (Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni and (Defense Minister) Ehud Barak do not quit his corrupt government forthwith then they are fully complicit in selling the Golan and relinquishing our defense," he continued. Likud MK Yisrael Katz, who is the head of the Golan Lobby in the Knesset, also lambasted the PMO's announcement. "The prime minister and the president of Syria must thoroughly understand that there is a clear Knesset majority against an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan," Katz said. "More than 61 MKs signed a petition against relinquishing the Golan and they won't allow the prime minister to continue the process." Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom (Likud), who himself had contacts with Syria, said in response to the announcement that "this will not allow Olmert to be safeguarded from the investigations against him." "Olmert is giving a prize to the Syrians for their extremism, at a time when they are hosting Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas and when the United States opposes talking to them. This is not the way to remove Syria from the axis of evil. The way to do that is stop their weapons smuggling from Iran." "They say they want peace with Israel while they are trying to kill us," Shalom said. Among left-wing MKs, Ran Cohen of Meretz praised the Prime Minister's Office for the announcement. Cohen said that he encourages the representatives of both sides "to continue bravely," and that this "will assist in stabilizing the region and in isolating Iran." Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) also expressed her approval of the move. "I'm pleased regarding the opening of negotiations with Syria, which can stabilize peace in our region," Tamir said. "We must break the Iranian-Syrian axis and arrive at a comprehensive peace agreement with the Syrians in exchange for a withdrawal from the Golan." Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, of Olmert's Kadima, said he was "on principle against withdrawing from the Golan Heights; however, one must hear how the negotiations are being conducted and on what topics they focus." Boim said he thought a peace agreement could be reached if Syria would cease all support for terror including Hizbullah, cease its strategic dependence on Iran and if the issue would be dealt with over a long period of time, with the preference of creating a blueprint for leasing the land. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who has declared his candidacy for the leadership of Kadima in case Olmert resigns following the investigation, said that he was ready to give Syria control over the Golan Heights "tomorrow," on the condition that Damascus would be ready to lease the land to Israel for 25 years, during which the Assad regime would need to prove its ability to live in peace alongside Israel. Another Kadima minister said in closed conversations that he was going to visit the Golan Heights next week to emphasize that the territory must stay in Israel's hands forever. Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, announced it would submit a no confidence motion in the Knesset on Monday. Labor's Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is himself eying the prime minister's position, issued a statement through his office saying "Barak welcomes any effort to remove Syria from the axis of evil," adding he was "a longtime supporter of talks with Syria." A source close to Olmert denied that the talks with Syria had anything to do with distracting the public from the case involving American Jewish financier Morris Talansky. The source said that two weeks before the Talansky investigation emerged, Olmert told him in closed conversations that the diplomatic process with Syria was advancing, including serious practical steps. "The people who know what is happening in the diplomatic process with Syria know that there really is no connection [with the investigation]," the source said.