Ayalon: Assad doesn't want actual peace

Deputy FM says Syria only interested in process, not results; Assad: Israeli gov't is not a partner.

Danny Ayalon 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Danny Ayalon 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Saturday dismissed comments by Syrian President Bashar Assad that his country was interested in peace with Israel, and said that while Damascus was interested in resuming the peace process, it did not actually want to achieve peace. "Assad is not interested in peace, but rather is interested only in the peace process," Ayalon said at a meeting in Beersheba. The deputy foreign minister explained that Assad feared peace because "the Syrian president is aware of the fact that in exchange for peace he will have to open his country to the West, possibly leading to the fall of his regime." However, the Syrian leader was interested in resuming the peace process because he saw it as a means to leading his country out of international isolation, Ayalon concluded. Earlier Saturday, Assad reiterated his commitment to pursuing peace with Israel, saying that peace was a strategic issue and a top priority for his country. According to Israel Radio, Syria's president explained that Syria was interested in reaching peace because it would bring prosperity to the region and have a positive effect on other issues. In a meeting with Turkish and Syrian businessmen in Damascus, Assad reportedly praised Turkey for its central role as mediator in the indirect peace negotiations with Israel. The Syrian president noted that the talks with Israel were one of the major subjects discussed in his meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Friday. The Jerusalem Post could not independently confirm the report. On Friday, however, Assad's statements were less optimistic. The Syrian president said that his country was interested in resuming indirect peace talks with Israel, but noted that he did not believe the new Israeli government was a good negotiating partner. Syria has said it is willing to resume the talks mediated by Turkey as long as they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he would not be willing to cede the territory Syria wants. "Syria is keen about peace as much as it is keen about the return of its occupied territories," Assad said during a joint press conference with Gul in Damascus following a meeting between the two leaders. "When we have a specific vision and when there is a partner, then we can speak about a date to resume peace talks," said Assad. The Turkish president said his country wants to help Arab states, including Syria, make peace with Israel, but Israel should first accept previous agreements and commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state. "Israel must accept all agreements. Annapolis and the road map," said Gul after meeting with Assad. Syria held several rounds of indirect talks with Israel during the previous Israeli government's tenure, headed by Ehud Olmert. The talks ceased in the wake of the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and Turkey's sharp criticism of Israel over the offensive. Turkey has since re-offered to mediate the talks. Syria claims that in peace talks between Assad's father, former president Hafez Assad, and then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin pledged that the Golan would be ceded in any future agreement. Israeli officials since then denied the pledge, saying that a Rabin emissary made the promise without asking for Rabin's consent.