Minister: Israel trying to bring Syria to table

Ben-Eliezer: Price of peace will be the Golan; says Barak also trying to renew peace talks with Damascus.

ben eliezer 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ben eliezer 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel is trying to bring Syria back to the negotiating table, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Friday just days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted that Israel might be holding - or planning to hold secret talks with Syria. "All efforts are being made to bring Syria to the negotiating table" in order to "sign a peace treaty," Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio. "We know exactly what the price would be," he added - namely, Israel's return of the Golan Heights. Ben-Eliezer would not disclose what results there had been, if any, from Israel's efforts to resume dialogue with the Syrians. Israel-Syria peace talks - a centerpiece of then-prime minister Ehud Barak's political agenda - broke down in 2000 with Syria rejecting Israel's offer to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and insisting that Israel pull back to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio that Barak, now defense minister, was a partner to the current efforts to renew talks with Damascus. On Wednesday, Olmert told foreign journalists that Israel favors face-to-face talks with Syria that could result in a peace treaty, adding: "That doesn't mean that when we sit together you have to see us," he said, an apparent reference to the possibility of secret contacts. A week earlier, Olmert told a joint meeting of the Israeli and German cabinets that he was ready to restart negotiations with Syria if Damascus would end its support for Hizbullah and Palestinian terror groups. All are backed by Iran and opposed to Israel's existence. Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, both Israel and Syria have declared their readiness to renew negotiations and have exchanged messages through third party emissaries, but there has been no sign of movement. The efforts to engage Syria in negotiations come at a time when Israeli attempts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians are making no visible progress. Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pledged at a US-hosted Middle East peace conference in November to try to reach a peace accord this year. On Wednesday, Olmert said he did not believe it would be possible to sign and implement a comprehensive peace treaty by the end of the year.