'PM willing to cede Golan for peace'
JPost.com staff and Gil Hoffman , THE JERUSALEM POST
Apr. 23, 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert passed a message to Syria through Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying he was willing to fully withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace with Damascus, a Syrian Web site, Champress, reported Wednesday.

The Web site is the Internet arm of an independent news agency but operates under the aegis of the Syrian regime; the veracity of the report could not be confirmed.

The report Wednesday, based on a Syrian source of doubtful reliability, drew instant fire from Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum.

Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said "Olmert's readiness to cede the Golan Heights constitutes an act of unprecedented abandon in political and defense issues."

"(Likud chairman and opposition leader Binyamin) Netanyahu should announce that he will not be committed to any suicidal concession made by Olmert," he added.

A surprising reaction came from Ze'ev Elkin, Olmert's colleague in Kadima, who said "unfortunately the prime minister, as usual, is playing games with the Israeli public and the international community by releasing trial balloons and scattering promises that he cannot keep." Elkin, who is one of Olmert's toughest critics inside Kadima, said "just like he did when he spoke of dividing Jerusalem, haphazard withdrawal from the Golan is also something the PM doesn't have support for, either in the Knesset or within his party."

"It's very unfortunate that Olmert is raising expectations and the State of Israel will have to pay a heavy price in years to come, [a price] that will harm its security and not bring peace," Elkin added.

Eitam (NU-NRP), himself a resident of the Golan Heights, said "Olmert is abandoning the security of Israel in an attempt to present voters with some kind of diplomatic achievement and to do so he is willing to concede our rights to security on the northern border which we have enjoyed for more than 40 years."

"I advise Olmert to use his current vacation in the Golan to meet and talk to the people who live there and those visiting and to hear from them that the people of Israel are with the Golan and will not let him return it to Syria."

Yossi Beilin (Meretz) called upon Olmert "to take advantage of the opportunity and conduct quick and intensive negotiations with the Syrians according to the guidelines of an agreement that was already reached between Ehud Barak and Hafez Assad in Shepherdstown, Virginia." Beilin said that he hoped that the story as published was correct and that the PM will not deny it.

Nissim Ze'ev, a Shas MK, said he was surprised by the report and demanded that the issue be raised in both the cabinet and the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "It is neither responsible nor serious for Olmert to talk to Syria without updating the government," Ze'ev said, adding that Olmert "needs to tell the government what he is offering Syria and how he will guarantee that Syria would not attack Israel form the Golan with missiles and tanks."

Several days ago Syrian President Bashar Assad confirmed that Israeli-Syrian talks were taking place through a third party, but seemed not to attach special significance to the contacts. "This is not a new thing, we have been talking in the past as well," Assad said. Syria insists that any negotiations with Israel be made public and opposes contacts in secret channels.

Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Spokesman Mark Regev said the Prime Minister's Office did not generally comment on reports published by the media, and referred the Israeli public to interviews Olmert gave the Hebrew press over the weekend.

In an interview to Yediot Aharonot given over the weekend, Olmert was asked whether he was willing to stand by the "deposit" given by former prime ministers Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak to Assad and to his father Hafez Assad before him, that Israel would eventually withdraw from the Heights in return for peace.

"What I can say is that I'm very interested in peace with the Syrians, I'm working on it and I hope my efforts will ripen into significant progress. I promise that in issues between us and Syria, they know what I want from them and I know well what they want from us," Olmert said.

Original article: Jerusalem Post
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