'Golan bill delay unrelated to Fred Hof'

Mitchell aide meeting with Syrian FM may be USA bid to revive peace negotiations between Israel, Syria.

fred hof 248.88  (photo credit: AP)
fred hof 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Officials close to MK Carmel Shama said Thursday that there is no connection between efforts to block his proposed law, which would require 80 MKs to approve any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and the visit to the region of Fred Hof, aide to US envoy George Mitchell. The sources dismissed earlier reports of a last-minute request made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, saying the prime minister had asked to put the bill on deep-freeze weeks ago, shortly after Shama presented it. A special Knesset committee led by Coalition Chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) was supposed to begin discussing the bill Thursday after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation agreed to support it Sunday, but on Wednesday night someone waylaid the bill, and the meeting was postponed indefinitely. Kadima quickly claimed credit for the delay, but others claimed it was Netanyahu's office that had intervened - coincidentally one day before Hof held talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in Damascus, in what could potentially be a bid to revive stalled peace talks between Syria and Israel. The Prime Minister's office declined to comment. Hof refused to speak to reporters after his 90-minute meeting with the Syrian foreign minister. Since arriving in the region Sunday, Hof has met a host of senior military and defense officials in Israel, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and National Security Adviser Uzi Arad. He is also expected to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad later in his trip. Syria has insisted that the promise of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights be a precursor to any renewed peace negotiations between the two countries. Netanyahu has vehemently rejected the notion of a withdrawal. Prior to his meeting with Hof, Ayalon told the Jerusalem Post that talk of restarting negotiations was "very premature considering Syrian intransigence and support for terror." However, following the meeting, Ayalon said he had told Hof that Israel was prepared to enter direct negotiations with Syria without any preconditions, but that it was impossible to talk of peace on the one hand and "incite confrontations on the other" - as he said Syria was doing through its proxies Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and by strengthening its ties with Iran. AP, Haviv Rettig Gur, Herb Keinon and the Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.