Change Your Life!
Israeli leaders consider possibility of renewed talks with Syria
June 3, 2000
JERUSALEM, JUNE 2 (AP) - Syria may be signaling that it wants to resume peace talks with Israel, an Israeli Cabinet minister said Friday, after Prime Minister Ehud Barak made an overture to Damascus.
Communications Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Syria is suddenly praising Israel after it pulled its army out of Lebanon. He said there are nuances in Syrian statements in Arabic that might indicate a new attitude. Ben-Eliezer, born in Iraq, understands Arabic.
At a Lisbon news conference following a summit Thursday with U.S. President Bill Clinton, Barak said: "We respect the dignity of Syria and its sovereignty."
After meeting Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, U.N. special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Syria would accept U.N. certification that Israel has fully withdrawn from Lebanon. Syria is the main power in Lebanon.
Peace talks broke down in January after two rounds of meetings near Washington. Syria demanded that Israel return all of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured during the 1967 Mideast war. Israel agreed in principle, but rejected a Syrian demand for control of part of the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Syria called Barak's gesture "meaningless" unless Israel agrees to pull back to the prewar line. In an editorial Friday, the government newspaper Al-Thawra also charged that Israel was responsible for the stalemate in the talks.
However, Foreign Minister David Levy also noted the possibility of resuming talks with Syria. After Israel's pullout from Lebanon, he said, "Syria will not be interested in international isolation and in taking unnecessary and fateful risks." A ministry statement said he warned Syria not to back guerrilla attacks on Israel from Lebanon.
Ben-Eliezer said the Syrian foreign minister, who refused to shake Barak's hand during the Washington talks, praised Israel after it ended its 18-year occupation of south Lebanon last week.
"Suddenly we are hearing sounds that we never heard from there before," said Ben-Eliezer. He added, however, that he is not sure the Syrians intend to resume the talks.
"I wish it were so," he told Israel radio, but "our experience with the Syrians tells us: be careful."
The territorial dispute is over a narrow strip of land next to the Sea of Galilee. Syria controlled the strip, including part of the shoreline, before Israel captured the territory in 1967. Syria demands that Israel pull back to the prewar line.
Israel counters that a 1923 international border gives Israel control of all of the lake, which is Israel's main source of fresh water. Israel claims Syria took control of the shore by force during the two-year war that followed creation of Israel in 1948.
The 1923 border, drawn to divide French-controlled Syria and Lebanon from British-administered Palestine, is the key to another front, Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. The United Nations is verifying that Israel pulled back behind the old frontier, a condition for deploying an expanded U.N. peace force in the border zone.