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-UPDATE- Peace tready with Isreal?


Assad: We were within reach of peace deal

Syrian president tells Italian newspaper La Repubblica Turkish-mediated talks with Israel brought countries very close to agreement after PM Olmert expressed willingness to withdraw from Golan Heights. ‘The Israelis’ turn to the right is the greatest obstacle to peace,’ he says
Nir Magal

Syrian President Bashar Assad says that the Turkish-mediated talks between his country and Israel brought the two sides very close to a peace agreement.

In an interview to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, published Wednesday, Assad expressed his concern over Israel’s future right-wing government.

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“I see the finishing line becoming distant. I’m not worried about (Prime Minister-designate Benjamin) Netanyahu, but about the Israeli society’s turn to the right, which is reflected in Netanyahu’s rise to power. This is the greatest obstacle to peace. And this is after we were already within reach of an agreement,” he said.

Assad spoke of how the talks began: “(Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert informed Turkish Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan that he is willing to return the Golan Heights. We entered negotiations. The only thing missing was the final details in regards to the 1967 line.”

He also spoke of the long talks with Erdogan, with Olmert in the room. “Erdogan was on the line from Istanbul, Olmert was having dinner with him in another room, and I was here in Damascus.

“He wanted to talk to me urgently. There was only one obstacle in the direct talks: An Israeli acceptance of a document marking the 1967 border line, which passes in six geographical points along Lake Kinneret and the Jordan River.

“We were on the phone for hours and hours. Olmert was avoiding the issue. I asked him, through Erdogan, for a clear answer. He suggested delaying the decision by several days, in order to consult his government. But after that, four days later, the war in Gaza broke out. Another missed opportunity. And then Turkey stopped playing by the rules with Israel. It felt deceived.”

‘We’ll wait for an Israeli partner’

Asked whether he saw a possibility of resuming the negotiations with Israel, the Syrian president replied, “In principle I must say yes. We in Syria don’t rely on the type of government in Israel.

“The conditions for peace are clear to everyone: The Madrid Conference, the UN resolutions, starting with 242, the ‘territories for peace’ formula – meaning, returning the Golan Heights to Syria. They must simply want to implement it. We are ready.

Is the 2002 Arab peace plan still on the table? “This will be discussed at the Arab League summit in Doha at the end of the month. It’s likely that the plan will be suspended, like with a switch, as we wait for a partner in Israel,” Assad said.

He went on to mention the United State’s role in the negotiations. “America has an important role, being a superpower. Only Washington can pressure Israel,” he said.

He noted, however, that “there are other players in the world”, including Turkey, which he said “nurtured relations with the region’s states. It acquired their trust as a mediator where the US and Europe failed.

“I think Sarkozy’s France plays an important role today. It opened channels to the most influencing elements, understood the changes in the region and jumped on the train on time.”

The Syrian leader praised US President Barack Obama, but remains suspicious in regards to the future: “Obama will have to restore the reliability of the US. The first steps he has taken are encouraging: The withdrawal from Iraq, the desire for peace, closing Guantanamo. He seems to be a man of his word. It’s premature to say whether this is a historical change.”

As for the Iranian nuclear threat, Assad believes that “only a dialogue can solve the dispute with Iran. Iran, whether everyone likes it or not, is an important country.”

Will Syria mediate between the US and Iran. “If we are talking about an Iranian influence in Iraq, we must distinguish between an influence which is not negative and based on mutual respect and an intervention.

“If we are talking about promoting a dialogue with Iran, we need a concrete offer to submit to the government. So far I have only received an invitation to play such a role. I agree, but it’s not enough. We’re missing a plan, rules and specific mechanisms.”

He also called for talks with Hamas and Hizbullah and added that his country was involved in the intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks.

Last update – 22:37 28/03/2009

Netanyahu peace plan will prolong occupation

By Haaretz Service Tags: Occupation, Netanyahu
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan for “economic peace” will only prolong Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, the chief Palestinian negotiator wrote in an opinion piece published Saturday.”Rather than ending the occupation, Netanyahu has proposed an ‘economic peace’ that would seek to normalize and better manage it,” wrote Saeb Erekat in the Washington Post.

“Instead of a viable Palestinian state, his vision extends no further than a series of disconnected cantons with limited self-rule.”

Netanyahu has said that instead of talking about contentious issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the first step to a lasting peace needs to be the fostering of the Palestinians’ economic situation.

Under outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Palestinian Authority held negotiations with Israel over a final-status peace accord.

Erekat, however, said Palestinians have not engaged in years of negotiations to see them fail, warning that their patience was not “unlimited.”

He urged the incoming government to enforce a complete halt to settlement construction and publicly back the Palestinian bid for statehood.

“The new Israeli government must unequivocally affirm its support for the two-state solution and the establishment of a viable, independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, and it must commit to past agreements between Israel and the PLO,” he wrote.

“Without these commitments, Palestinians have no partner for peace.”

Netanyahu did in fact vow on Wednesday to engage in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, while stressing the importance of Palestinian economic development.

In the op-ed, Erekat also praised the United State’s renewed commitment under president Barack Obama to brokering “a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

He called on the U.S. to serve as an honest broker capable of creating a level playing field between Palestinians and Israelis during talks.

Related articles:

  • PA negotiator Erekat: Netanyahu is closing the door to peace
  • Israel’s UN ambassador: Netanyahu committed to peace
  • Netanyahu: No PA partner for peace, PM’s partner is virtual
  • Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu refused the demands of two coalition partners to insert a clause against a Palestinian state in the coalition agreement, sources close to Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.

    They added that there is no great substantive gap between Netanyahu and the international community regarding the issue.

    According to the sources, while Netanyahu has not yet uttered the phrase “two states for two peoples,” he has made it clear that he doesn’t want to govern a single Palestinian, though he doesn’t want them to have powers that could threaten Israel.

    The sources said that Netanyahu would make his views clear to US and European leaders. They added that it would be possible to find a formulation on the nature of a Palestinian state that everyone could live with, though Netanyahu would not agree to a state that would be able to threaten Israel’s security.

    Netanyahu, in a Washington Post interview earlier in the month just after getting the nod from President Shimon Peres to form a coalition, said, “Substantively, I think there is broad agreement inside Israel and outside that the Palestinians should have the ability to govern their lives, but not to threaten ours.”

    In recent weeks Netanyahu has been telling international leaders that the Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves, but not the handful of powers that could endanger Israel’s security, such as an army, the right to make defencive treaties, or full control over its air space, water supply or electromagnetic spectrum.

    The sources’ comments came as the EU, for the second time in two weeks, sent a strong warning to Netanyahu that EU ties with Israel could take a turn for the worse if he rejected a two-state solution.

    Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said Friday that if the new Israeli government does not commit itself to establishing a Palestinian state, “relations would become very difficult indeed.”

    “At one of our next ministerial meetings we would have to discuss what consequences the EU would draw from that,” he added, after chairing the opening day of a two-day EU foreign ministers meeting.

    “Both parties must stick to their commitments from the past: A two-state solution and all agreements reached over the past few years,” Schwarzenberg said.

    Earlier this month, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana warned that the bloc may reevaluate its ties with Israel if the incoming government isn’t committed to a two-state solution.

    “Let me say very clearly that the way the European Union will relate to an [Israeli] government that is not committed to a two-state solution will be very, very different,” Solana said.

    Both US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made clear in recent weeks that a two-state solution was a cornerstone of their Israeli-Palestinian policy, although – unlike the EU – they did not threaten any overall reassessment of relations with Israel if the Netanyahu government does not fall into line.

    Meanwhile, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote, in an op-ed that appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post, that “Israel’s own commitment to peace is in doubt after the formation of a right-wing coalition government.

    “Peace is not a word that sits comfortably with the Israeli right, which will dominate Israel’s new government, even with Labor’s decision this week to join it,” he wrote. “Among its ranks are those who have long opposed peace with Palestinians, no matter the cost; who use the cover of religion to advocate extremist views; and who have supported the expulsion of Palestinians or now devise loyalty tests designed to achieve the same result.”

    Erekat wrote that “rather than ending the occupation, Netanyahu has proposed an ‘economic peace’ that would seek to normalize and better manage it. Instead of a viable Palestinian state, his vision extends no further than a series of disconnected cantons with limited self-rule.

    “Palestinians have not engaged in years of negotiations to see them fail,” Erekat wrote. “But neither is our patience unlimited.”

    Sources close to Netanyahu said in response that the burden of proof in the peace process remained with the Palestinians, and that the Palestinian leadership must show that they were not only able to mouth words in English, but also educate their public toward making the ideological compromises that would be needed for any agreement.

    That this has not happened, the sources said, was evidenced by the fact that the Palestinians were not able to accept the huge concessions – including unprecedented concessions in Jerusalem – that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week that he had offered.

    The sources, who pointed out that the words “terrorism” or “Kassam rockets” did not appear once in Erekat’s piece, said that Netanyahu would surprise his skeptics because he had a realistic assessment of what could and could not be achieved at this time.

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