FM: Take Serious Look Into Syrian Signals

Israel should carefully examine the Syrian proposal for renewed peace negotiations, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday. Such an evaluation already appears to be taking place at the Foreign Ministry by the Political Research Center headed by Nimrod Barkan, who also presented the MKs with a report on the issue.

"A sustained evaluation of the purpose of the Syrian signals must be carried out," Livni said, adding that "we must examine whether the Syrians have made a strategic decision to go for peace, or whether they would like to hold negotiations in order to lift international pressure against them and continue backing terrorism."

The Foreign Minister said that the examination of the Syrian offer must be done discreetly and far from the public eye. She also said that "there is no point of making any declarations in favor or against at this time."

Livni mentioned that the Foreign Ministry's Political Research Center prepared a document assessing Syria's diplomatic goals.

According to center director Barkan, Syria aims for "cold" peace with Israel, of the sort that will not harm its interests in Lebanon or its ties with Iran.

"Syria's happy smile campaign toward Israel and the West is meant to lift threats, which they believe to exist on the Syrian regime and state, posed by Israel and certain countries in the West," the Foreign Ministry report states.

According to Barkan, "If Israel accepts to enter negotiations, they [the Syrians] assess that it could start from where it was left off in 2000, which is a convenient point of departure for them."

Negotiations between the two sides, headed by then-prime minister Ehud Barak for Israel, broke down over the issue of control of a narrow strip of land on the shores of Lake Kinneret.

At the time, Barak agreed to pull out from all the Golan Heights in return for security arrangements and extensive defense-related aid from the United States.

"If the Syrians see - and they do not believe that this will occur - that the negotiations are indeed beginning, they will be willing to agree to a cold bilateral peace, that differs from the way Israel defines peace," Barkan adds.

"The Syrians have not expressed willingness to include their position in Lebanon in this context, which they have not shown any willingness to relinquish, nor their links to Iran," the Foreign Ministry official said.

From the Prime Minister's office a statement was issued yesterday saying that nothing has changed on the matter of talks with Syria.

"There is no point in making statements devoid of content to the international press, or even to the Syrian press," a source in the Prime Minister's office said.

The Prime Minister is of the opinion that Syria must undertake serious steps to terminate its support for Palestinian militant organizations, end aid to Hezbollah and sever its alliance with Iran, as proof of its serious intentions for peace with Israel.