Sarkozy told: Fresh Israel-Syria talks unlikely
France seeking to mediate between Jerusalem, Damascus; Syrians imply they prefer Turkey as go-between.
A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.
Israeli diplomats and senior Jerusalem officials told Haaretz that the authors of the report were Patrice Paoli, director of the North Africa and Middle East desk at the French Foreign Ministry, and Nicolas Gallas, a special adviser to Sarkozy on Middle East affairs.
The two senior French diplomats visited Israel during the second week of March, which coincided with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit. They met with Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, and individuals who had been involved in the indirect negotiations with Syria conducted by the Olmert government through Turkish mediation.
In their report, the French diplomats told Sarkozy that they believe meaningful negotiations between Israel and Syria are not possible in the near future due to the two country's considerable mutual suspicion and lack of readiness to make any kind of compromise. In their opinion, Israel is not ready to fully withdraw from the Golan Heights, while Syria is not prepared to cut ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
The meeting held with Arad, who holds the Syrian portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office, seemed to have the strongest impact on the diplomats. A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Arad stressed to them that Israel will not fully withdraw from the Golan, and even discussed ideas for land exchanges between Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel - at the conclusion of which Israel would retain the Golan.
"After listening to Arad, they realized they were wasting their time and there was no genuine desire in Israel at that stage to progress on the Syrian track," the official said.
The diplomats, however, do not put all of the blame on Israel. They also met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other Syrian officials, who made it clear to them that Syria had no intention of cutting off its close relationship with Iran. They also denied that Syria was delivering munitions to Hezbollah. The Syrians implied that they would prefer Turkey, rather than France, to mediate.