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Olmert Confidant: 'If Syrian President Bashar Assad Is Serious About Peace, Let Him Show It's Not A Trap To Weaken Israel'

Syrian Middleman Dr. Suleiman: 'Israel & Syria Can Make Peace In Six Months'

Labor MK Avital: 'Israel Should Explore Syria's Peace Overtures'

Dr. Ibrahim Suleiman and Alon Liel

In an unprecedented step, Dr. Ibrahim Suleiman a Syrian citizen who now resides in Washington, briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee. In the years 2004 - 2006, Suleiman and Alon Liel, a former director-general of the Israeli Foreign ministry conducted informal private contacts under the auspices of Switzerland. Although not officially authorized they updated their respective governments on understandings they have worked out in the private talks. Meretz Knesset Member Zehava Gallon initiated a move for Suleiman to go to the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee to present the Syrian position. Later committee members told IsraCast they differed on whether Assad is really interested in peace.

Dr. Suleiman and MK Hanegbi

'Israel and Syria can make peace within six months' - that was the message from Dr. Ibrahim Suleiman. He was certain all that was needed was for  Israeli and Syrian officials to go to the negotiating table and a deal could be worked out. However, committee chairman  Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert  was skeptical. The Kadima MK said Syrian President Bashar Assad must first prove he was not setting a trap for Israel by sending some signals of good faith. It could be that Assad was simply conducting PR to ease international pressure on his regime. But Labor MK Colette Avital of Labor called on the government to explore Syria's offer of peace talks. She acknowledged that Jerusalem would first have to coordinate such a move with Washington. In any case, Prime Minister Olmert showed his position by not meeting with Suleiman.

During the committee hearing, Dr. Uzi Arad who was also involved in the contacts charged at a private meeting in Washington a month ago Suleiman had made a surprising admission. Arad quoted Suleiman as saying: ' It breaks my heart to say that the Assad family is not really interested in making peace'. Suleiman categorically denied making any such statement. In any case, Prime minister Ehud Olmert showed where he stood by not meting with Suleiman.  During his brief stay in Jerusalem, the Syrian-American visitor went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial were he wept openly at seeing how the Nazis murdered six million Jews during World War Two.


Transcripts of interviews

Dr. Ibrahim Suleiman

I am very very happy that I came here. I met with the committee, they heard my ideas and I heard theirs, and I think, I'm hoping, that the officials in Israel and the officials in Syria will start meeting one another, and we, as a private channel here talking together, we should disappear and let the officials work together.


MK Tzachi Hanegbi

A: I hope that the message that will be taken back to Damascus by Dr. Suleiman is that Israel and Israeli politicians from various parts of the political map want peace, and want to take the chance that derives from this negotiation. But what has to be done at the moment is that Syria must convince us that these peace talks are not a trap to save themselves from international isolation, and when they talk about peace they really mean business, they mean peace with Israel and not just tactical maneuver.

Q: How, Sir, can Syria do this, to prove to Israel that it's really interested in peace and not just the faзade of peace talks?

A: There are practical ways to prove to us that it is not some kind of a trap. It can be in a situation where they expel Khaled Mashaal and other terrorists from Damascus, or disassociate themselves from Iran in many ways, that's possible, and stop the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon to the Hezbollah. There are ways that we can be sure that we are not doing a mistake. Sadat, the Egyptian President at the time went all the way up to appear in the Israeli Knesset. That was some amazing move that broke the psychological burrier. We don't expect Asad to do that, to go so far, but what I just mentioned are possibilities that he can take into his account.


MK Colette Avital

Q: Labor Knesset Member Colette Avital, I would like to ask you as a former senior Israeli diplomat, we saw the angry Bush reaction to the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Damascus. Is it conceivable that Israel would enter negotiations with Syria at this time, when the Iranian nuclear issue is the big issue in the Middle East today, and anger the Bush administration?

A: I don't think that Israel should anger the Bush administration, but I do think that the Israeli government should coordinate its actions and its possibilities or intentions, with the American government. It is hard for me to believe that if the Prime Minister of Israel would sit down with President Bush and would say: "We would like to explore with our own channels the seriousness of what we have heard", it is very difficult for me to think that the Bush administration, or that the President himself, would say to Mr. Olmert "No, you can not explore". And what I mean is that it is important for us, at this time and age, to explore. Especially if we want strategically to bring a division at the end of the day or at the end of the talks, between Syria and Iran. I think Iran must be isolated, I don't see any reason why we should not continue to fight to isolate Iran, and one of the best ways to isolate Iran is to remove Syria from the sphere of influence of Iran.

Transcript by Dar Translations
972-2-6414722 | dar_doc@smile.net.il



David Essing

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