A recent meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and a longtime friend, has somewhat rattled the Syrian authorities, Ynet learned Tuesday.
Netanyahu and Lauder's meeting, which took place shortly before the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva a fortnight ago, was not an unusual occurrence, but nevertheless, it prompted Damascus to declare it had no interest in having Lauder serve as a mediator in its peace talks with Israel.
But Jerusalem had not as much as hinted that Lauder – who served in a similar capacity a decade ago – may be asked to assume that task once again.
Presuming Syria's statement was prompted by the wish to have US officials tackle the complex task, there may be an underline reason as well: The Syrians want nothing to do with the shrewd businessman, who 11 years ago was able to manipulate President Hafez Assad into agreeing to all of Israel's security demands – in return for concession on the northern border.
Eleven years ago, it seems, Assad senior gave a consent in principle to pull his ground troops 80 kilometers away from the Golan Heights and the Israeli border, with the exception of one division, meant to observe the peace.
He also reportedly agreed to have one deterrence post on Mount Hermon – manned by "American Jews" – and was susceptible to the idea of Israeli presence "to the extent of a few miles."
Was an agreement reached? (Illustration: Reuters)
Uzi Arad, who was Netanyahu's security advisor in 1998 and has been named to the post in his current government as well, said that back then Assad did not reject the notion of an Israeli presence in the area, but demanded to see an Israeli map outlining the area Israel would withdraw from.
Netanyahu refused to supply the map, which terminated the talks, said Arad.
Did he or didn’t he?
Nevertheless, Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who was privy to the negotiations, claims in his upcoming book that despite the official reservations Netanyahu was, in fact, willing to consider returning to the 1967 border.
Mordechai says a map to that effect was drafted by Brigadier-General Yaakov Amidror, then the defense minister's military secretary, but it was never completed and was later tucked away in the ministry vault. According to Amidror and the book, all the potential borders drawn on the map would have allowed Israel to withdraw from the Golan without compromising its security needs.
According to Arad, Netanyahu never agreed to cede the Golan Heights, and had a peace deal been struck, 80% of the Golan's communities would have been left under Israeli sovereignty.
However, senior Israeli and American officials, the likes of former Mossad Chief Danny Yatom and US diplomats Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, who were heavily involved in the negotiations, claim that once Lauder relayed the Syrian's agreement to security arrangements, the prime minister was willing to return to the 1967 border.
Lauder does not deny the existence of the letter, but in a statement made three weeks ago, he said that the prime minister "never agreed to withdraw to these lines and never authorized me to make any such offer. The memo simply outlined my personal view of an offer Syria may find acceptable, but it was never approved by Netanyahu."