Golan Regional Head: Olmert Endangering Israel's Existence

Shas leader: Syria still in axis of evil; Labor MK Yachimovich: Olmert using spin to deflect from probe.

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The chairman of the Golan Heights, Eli Malkha, blasted Wednesday the decision to resume negotiations with Damascus, saying: "Olmert is endangering the existence of Israel. Israel's citizens will never allow such a ridiculous and irresponsible action."

Earlier on Wednesday, Syria and Israel announced that they were ready to launch indirect talks for the first time in eight years.

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said that resuming negotiations would be a dangerous move.

"Syria is still the foundation of the axis of evil, and I'm not sure it's appropriate to transfer Israel's northern front to the axis of evil," Yishai said.

He added that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said in the past that so long as Syria maintains its geopolitical stance it would be wrong to conduct with it negotiations.

"It's not clear what has changed now. I don't see a place for negotiations, and certainly not to forfeit our security into Hezbollah's hands. I assume we're talking about futile talks," he said.

The announcement comes as Olmert finds himself mired in yet another corruption probe - the fifth investigation into his conduct since he took office in 2006.

MK Shelley Yachimovich (Labor) called the announcement a "meaningless spin," saying that Olmert was using the declaration of negotiations to try to steer public attention from the corruption scandal embroiling him.

"Olmert is cynically trying to fool decent, peace-advocating citizens to deflect attention from the cash envelope," she said.

MK Zahava Gal-On said that while she supported withdrawing from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, she is "concerned about Olmert's initiative as he does not have the moral validity to advance political process aimed at distracting" public opinion.

MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) slammed the announcement, declaring: "He who receives cash envelopes won't touch the Golan. Olmert's announcement proves there is no limit to his cynicism and games with the property of Israel for the sake of his own survival."

Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said that, "It is saddening to see that the prime minister is ready to quickly sell off the Golan to save himself from the investigation."

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union - National Religious Party) called the planned negotiations a betrayal, saying: "Olmert thinks that if Ariel Sharon managed to avoid a [corruption] sentence with the help of the disengagement, he will manage to escape with the help of these negotiations."

Labor, Meretz MKs praise Olmert's initiative

Labor MK Etan Cabel praised Olmert's initiative to relaunch negotiations, saying "I hope this is not an attempt to cover up the investigation. The negotiating process is what is important and it should continue even if Olmert does not remain prime minister.

Meretz chairman Haim Oron joined Cabel's praise and expressed hope that the talks would spur negotiations with other Arab states.

Political scientist Efraim Inbar suggested the new announcement might be linked to Olmert's current political woes and the apparent deadlock with the Palestinians.

"He might be using it as a ploy to divert public attention from his troubles and perhaps bring forward elections," said Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

"He has failed with the Palestinians and he might be romancing the Syrians to pressure the Palestinians to reach an agreement," he said.

President Shimon Peres also welcomed the news: "Those are preliminary contacts, and I think every contact that leads in the direction of peace should be welcomed. Yet the value of it is still too early to judge, it's a beginning, we have to see how it's going to be developed and proceeded in the future."

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