Olmert to Assad: Israel willing to withdraw from Golan Heights
Yedioth Ahronoth report says prime minister relayed secret message to Damascus saying Israel would return Golan to Syria in exchange for comprehensive peace, severing of all ties to Iran, regional terror groups. Right-wing MKs: Olmert trying to save his own skin, has no legitimacy to give up disputed region
According to the report, Olmert told the Syrian leader Israel would return the Golan in exchange for a comprehensive peace agreement and the severing of Damascus’ alliance with Iran and terror groups in the region.
A senior official in Jerusalem was quoted by the newspaper as saying that Assad has yet to respond to Israel’s offer.
It was further reported that during a phone conversation with US President George W. Bush last month, Olmert said he had decided to look into the possibility of renewing negotiations with Syria.
'Enough with incessant babble'
Bush, the report said, gave the go-ahead and said the United States would not stand in Israel’s way, prompting Olmert to convey to Assad several messages through German and Turkish mediators saying he “realizes that a peace agreement with Syria would entail the return of the Golan Height’s to Syrian sovereignty”.
The prime minister expressed his willingness to live up to his end of the bargain if Syria would “gradually dissolve its alliances with Iran, Hizbullah and the Palestinian terror organizations and stop funding and promoting terror”.
Syria, for its part, has not responded to the offer, apart from a few vague declarations of its willingness to enter negotiations.
In response to the report Likud Knesset Member Gideon Sa’ar called on Yisrael Beitenu and Shas to resign from the government immediately.
“Olmert has no legitimacy from the public for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and his administration is a danger to Israel’s security,” he said.
“Steps being taken far from the public eye which may be difficult to stop, and the responsibility lies with all of the cabinet members.”
'New strategic situation'
National Union - NRP chairman Zevulun Orlev said, "Ehud Olmert would sell the Golan Heights for his seat. He is trying to save his own skin, and his statement regarding a withdrawal from the Golan is a desperate attempt to survive."
However, politicians from the Left praised Olmert’s initiative. "The price tag for a viable peace agreement with Syria is a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights,” United Arab List-Ta’al Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi said. “The negotiations must be renewed immediately,” he said.
Meretz faction chairperson Zahava Gal-On said that "for Olmert to demonstrate that his intentions are serious, he must not only make statements that create a new political agenda, but he must initiate a meeting between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Syrian foreign minister (Walid al-Mouallem)."
According to Gal-On, only direct contact will attest to the sincerity of the prime minister's intents. "Otherwise, it would appear that the prime minister was using Syria to divert attention from the discussion surrounding the Winograd Report, and to continue his personal survival."
Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin praised the “change in Olmert’s stance regarding negotiations with Syria”.
“An agreement with Syria has existed de facto since January 2000, when (then prime minister) Ehud Barak panicked and stopped the talks at Shepherdstown, West Virginia,” Beilin said.
“I call on Olmert to launch negotiations as soon as possible and reach an agreement based on the Arab initiative. This will directly affect Hizbullah, Hamas and Iran and will create a new strategic situation in the Middle East.”