Secret understandings reached between representatives from Israel and Syria

By Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz

This is a good deal for Israel and would involve peace agreements with both Syria and Lebanon. But is it for real. Ted Belman

In a series of secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006, Syrians and Israelis formulated understandings for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.

The main points of the understandings are as follows:

    An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.

    As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.

    At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.

    Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.

    The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel’s favor.

    According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.

The document is described as a “non-paper,” a document of understandings that is not signed and lacks legal standing – its nature is political. It was prepared in August 2005 and has been updated during a number of meetings in Europe.

The meetings were carried out with the knowledge of senior officials in the government of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. The last meeting took place during last summer’s war in Lebanon.

Government officials received updates on the meetings via the European mediator and also through Dr. Alon Liel, a former director general at the Foreign Ministry, who took part in all the meetings.

The European mediator and the Syrian representative in the discussions held eight separate meetings with senior Syrian officials, including Vice President Farouk Shara, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, and a Syrian intelligence officer with the rank of “general.”

The contacts ended after the Syrians demanded an end to meetings on an unofficial level and called for a secret meeting at the level of deputy minister, on the Syrian side, with an Israeli official at the rank of a ministry’s director general, including the participation of a senior American official. Israel did not agree to this Syrian request.

The Syrian representative in the talks, Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman, an American citizen, had visited Jerusalem and delivered a message to senior officials at the Foreign Ministry regarding the Syrian wish for an agreement with Israel. The Syrians also asked for help in improving their relations with the United States, and particularly in lifting the American embargo on Syria.

For his part, the European mediator stressed that the Syrian leadership is concerned that the loss of petroleum revenues will lead to an economic crash in the country and could consequently undermine the stability of the Assad regime.

According to Geoffrey Aronson, an American from the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, who was involved in the talks, an agreement under American auspices would call for Syria to ensure that Hezbollah would limit itself to being solely a political party.

He also told Haaretz that Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, based in Damascus, would have to leave the Syrian capital.

Syria would also exercise its influence for a solution to the conflict in Iraq, through an agreement between Shi’a leader Muqtada Sadr and the Sunni leadership, and in addition, it would contribute to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the refugee problem.

Aronson said the idea of a park on the Golan Heights allows for the Syrian demand that Israel pull back to the June 4 border, on the one hand, while on the other hand, the park eliminates Israeli concerns that Syrians will have access to the water sources of Lake Kinneret.

“This was a serious and honest effort to find creative solutions to practical problems that prevented an agreement from being reached during Barak’s [tenure as prime minister] and to create an atmosphere of building confidence between the two sides,” he said.

It also emerged that one of the Syrian messages to Israel had to do with the ties between Damascus and Tehran. In the message, the Alawi regime – the Assad family being members of the Alawi minority – asserts that it considers itself to be an integral part of the Sunni world and that it objects to the Shi’a theocratic regime, and is particularly opposed to Iran’s policy in Iraq. A senior Syrian official stressed that a peace agreement with Israel will enable Syria to distance itself from Iran.

Liel refused to divulge details about the meetings but confirmed that they had taken place. He added that meetings on an unofficial level have been a fairly common phenomenon during the past decade.

“We insisted on making the existence of meetings known to the relevant parties,” Liel said. “Nonetheless, there was no official Israeli connection to the content of the talks and to the ideas that were raised during the meetings.”

Prior to these meetings, Liel was involved in an effort to further secret talks between Syria and Israel with the aid of Turkish mediation – following a request for assistance President Assad had made to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

That attempt failed following Israel’s refusal to hold talks on an official level – and a Syrian refusal to restrict the talks to an “academic level,” similar to the framework of the talks that had preceded the Oslo accords.

January 15, 2007 | 6 Comments »

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6 Comments / 6 Comments

  1. Not one chance the Syrian obligations would be fulfilled, and of course Israel will be seen as the obstructionist party for not withdrawing from the Golan Heights. Absolute delusional brain candy for the brain-dead.

    I agree with Ted that it is another Geneva Accords Trojan Horse from the left. And Gary’s analysis is perfect.

    Lori Lowenthal Marcus

  2. In my opinion, under the right safeguards, this trade off of the Golan for peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon and a withdrawal of support for Hezbollah and Hamas works for me

    But it smacks of the Geneva Accords. Non official people cutting a deal without regard to realities. My guess it was released now to encourage talks with Syria which the left wants.

    But since these meetings took place much has changed in the area to distance us from such an agreement.

  3. It sounds like a perfectly good agreement to me. If Israel were dealing with normal people/countries who honored agreements and did not have hate for others codified in their Koran, it would probably satisfy and make sense for all concerned and be considered a breakthrough if it were implemented.

    Hezbollah would naturally try to provoke war to scuttle anything resembling peace and, naturally, Syria and Iran would come to their defense – thus putting a swift end to any agreements. Who would monitor the implementation? The United Nazis? I would not put too much hope in the internecine war between the Shiites and the Sunnis making Syria anxious for an alternative to Iran and leaning towards peace. They fight themselves if and only if they get tired of fighting those whom they call big satan and little satan.

  4. A bit OT here, but… enough is enough. Anyone here with some knowledge of Parliamentary proceedings– is there any way to help bring forth a motion of no-confidence in the Knesset to get rid of this fool Ehud Olmert, Peretz and Kadima, before they do even more damage? (I’m sure there are plenty of MK’s who would like to do just that.) Olmert’s popular support is now down to 14%. In almost any Parliamentary democracy, this abysmal amount of support for so long would trigger new elections: Olmert can no longer effectively govern when he has so thoroughly lost the mandate of the Israeli people. Even more apropos is the reason Olmert has lost so much support, for being a failure against Hezbollah and Iran and for advocating appeasement of Iran when it has never been more important to stand up for our survival.

    In the Middle East, where strength and success are the only common languages that are respected and understood, Olmert and Kadima display two traits that are nothing less than fatal for a nation in the region: Weakness and cowardice. Iran is pushing rapidly forward with its nuclear program
    strengthening its hand and preparing for conflict, while Olmert– assisted by his appeasement bosom buddy, Condi Rice– dawdles and continues in this foolish appeasement of Iran and Hamas. 3,000 centrifuges, with Iran moving toward industrial scale uranium enrichment– they’ve already mastered the one technical barrier to nuclear bomb production, the enrichment to U235 and U238, and so Iran is now only months away from nuclear weapons production, North Korea-style, an effort being pushed even by Iranian moderates and of course, the powerful mullahs.

    It is dangerous to have such ineffectual incompetents as Olmert, Peretz, Livni and Halutz in positions of such power– it’s the sort of thing that will kill the dream of 2,000 years if it continues like this. We don’t have the luxury of waiting here. Iran need not actually use a nuclear device against Israel, merely acquire and test one– even the current weakness in the face of Iran is increasing emigration from Israel and powerfully discouraging North American aliyah, critical to Israel’s survival. Understandably, nobody wants to enter a ship being captained by fools. Olmert and Kadima seem to be indisposed to action due to the “inconvenience” that would be caused by launching supported strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities. Yes, and it would have also been inconvenient to stop Hitler in 1938, though he was vulnerable then and could have been nipped in the bud– saving millions of lives. The British of course were perfectly happy to provide a few years for someone else to do the dirty work of getting rid of the Jews that they also hated and continue to despise, yet there were voices across the world who opposed Neville Chamberlain and were desperately pushing to stop Hitler before he launched the world into darkness. Yet then, as now, far too many fools in power opposed what would have been a relatively minor military operation due to the inconvenience involved. Yeah, and it became a hell of a lot more inconvenient when WWII started. (And even that analogy doesn’t do justice– the Iranian nuclear program could be far more easily taken down today than Hitler was in 1938.)

    As for Olmert’s replacement, my #1 choice is Uzi Landau, who IMHO would be ripe for a major political comeback and has the potential to be a great leader. He has degrees from the Technion and MIT– tough and smart at the same time. He has stood up to Iran and clearly recognizes the Iranian threat. Avigdor Lieberman in an ideal world would also be a great candidate. Even without Yisrael Beytenu itself taking power, Lieberman himself could become PM through coalition agreement. Leaders of minority parties can frequently be consensus choices in Parliamentary coalitions. I’d even entertain Netanyahu again, though with reservations. But Likud needs to take the reins in any case.

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