Newly-retrieved documents from 1990s reveal Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to withdraw Israel from the Golan Heights in return for a peace deal with Syria, a Qatari paper reported Monday.
Qatar-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadid said the memos from the British National Archive shine new light on the U.S.-mediated peace talks that took place between 1995 and 1997. The documents indicate both sides were willing to make concessions to reach an agreement, including Israel's willingness to retreat from the contested territory.
According to the document, England's Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind indicated that talks must be conducted on the "land for peace" basis, and they were examining the willingness of Israel's then-premier to carry out the negotiations with these principles in mind.
Dennis Ross, former Middle East coordinator under U.S. President Bill Clinton, said there were no formal agreements between the countries, but that it was quite close. "We were down to a couple of hundred meters, basically."
According to Ross, there were lingering disagreements about security arrangements and the timetable for Israel's withdrawal, and ''there were different creative formulas we could have come up with.''
In addition, then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad insisted that any peace agreement would have to include Lebanon, which constituted another sticking point for the Israeli side. Nevertheless, Netanyahu was willing to meet "anytime, anywhere" to move the talks forward.
The efforts eventually failed, since Syria wanted to pick the talk up where they were previously left off, while Israel offered new ideas that did not necessarily include withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Ross added: "A peace negotiation today is not feasible, since Bashar Al-Assad has deep ties with both Iran and Hezbollah."