Defense Minister Ehud Barak supports a comprehensive peace initiative that would include promoting a peace agreement with Syria, Ynet learned Monday evening.
This initiative would determine Israel's needs and demands and what it would need to give in return in its talks with the Palestinians after the US-sponsored Mideast peace conference scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland at the end of the month.
Barak has told his associates in recent days that only such an initiative could stop other peace plans, like the Arab peace initiative, from being forced on Israel.
According to the defense minister, the issue of talks with the Syrians should be reexamined, and a change of policy may lead to positive results. "Such a change may lead to good and unexpected results for Israel," Barak told his associates.
"We must conduct extensive work which would determine all of Israel's crucial interests in the region. We must examine this opposite Syria, opposite the Palestinians, opposite the Jordanians and opposite any other Arab country. Israel must push for its own initiative and not be dragged by initiatives from the other side," the defense minister said in closed talks.
He stressed that with Syria, "the price is known and the outcome important."
According to Barak, in the negotiations with the Palestinians "we have been talking with the same people for 15 years, and the demands from Israel only change depending on their interests."
The defense minister estimated that the situation in which Israel only responds to initiatives such as the Arab peace plan – which includes a return to the 1967 borders, a recognition of the right of return and conceding the Golan Heights – harms crucial Israeli interests.
"Why not have an Israeli initiative?" Barak asked his aides. "Why shouldn't we stipulate out interests, what we want, what we are willing to give, and then launch our own peace plan as a starting point for negotiations?" he added.
Part of the defense minister's stance was presented a week ago at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Barak said at the meeting that "there is room for Syria to take part in the Annapolis conference. We can find a formula which will lead to Syria's participation in this conference."
Barak estimated that Damascus' participation could, under certain conditions, lead to the resumption of the negotiations with Israel.
The defense minister seeks an Israeli initiative due to the difficulties in the negotiations with the Palestinians. He believes that only a comprehensive Israeli outlook on its needs opposite the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Arab world may lead to a creative solution for the ongoing conflicts in the region.
Israeli team leaves for Washington
Meanwhile, the preparations for the Annapolis peace conference continue in full speed. On Monday night, three members of the Israeli negotiating team left for Washington in order to coordinate expectations with the Americans ahead of the summit.
The three senior representatives are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz, Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovich, and the prime minister's diplomatic advisor Shalom Turgeman.
Simultaneously, the negotiation teams from both sides have met again in order to exchange ideas on the joint statement for the Annapolis conference.
According to the Palestinians, the meeting was difficult, but Israeli officials rejected this claim.
"Presenting the negotiations as difficult is a Palestinian interest, which does not necessarily reflect reality. The talks inside the room are being held in a calm and positive atmosphere," a senior Israeli official said.