JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel and Syria have been in contact through third parties for “some time,” but the mediators have been unable to get the two sides to resume peace talks, an Israeli official said Wednesday.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Turkey, European countries and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have relayed messages to Syria. He said Syria has not responded seriously to the Israeli overtures and accused Damascus of exploiting the talks to improve ties with the West.
“Different parties have been used to send messages. This is not new. It has been going on for quite some time,” Regev said. “The problem is not the lack of good people offering their good offices. The problem appears to be with the policy goals of the regime in Damascus.”
“While it is possible that they talk about peace, that’s all it is talk. They are in fact playing the Israeli card cynically in attempts to solve their diplomatic problems with the countries of Europe and North America without any real intentions to change their relationship with Israel,” he said.
In a speech Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar Asad said a third country had recently offered to serve as a mediator with Israel. The country, which he did not identify, has mediated in the past, “but there was nothing serious and clear,” he said. Israeli media speculated Asad was referring to Turkey. “In recent weeks this side and this country stepped up its contacts on the same subject,” he said. Asad said he would be willing to send someone to the country, but not hold direct talks with Israelis. «They might ask for an Israeli person to be in another hotel. This is the maximum we are willing to do,” he said.
Peace talks broke down in 2000 after Syria demanded that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau it captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel refused to make such a pledge until issues of security and normalization of relations were settled.
Asad has urged Israel to restart talks with outside mediation and demanded guarantees that Israel would promise a full Golan withdrawal.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week offered to hold direct peace talks, but the offer was rebuffed by Syria. Asad also has not publicly addressed Israel’s demand that Damascus scale back its ties with Iran, its main ally in the region, and stop supporting Lebanese and Palestinian groups sworn to destroy Israel.
In Damascus, Syrian political analyst Imad Shueibi, who often reflects the government’s position, said Asad, in his speech Tuesday, gave a “road map” for how he envisions sees peace talks with Israel should proceed. He said Asad was not convinced that Olmert can be a peace partner. “There is no trust,” he said. “There is a feeling in Syria that Israelis want the peace process as a waste of time, just to keep Olmert afloat,” he said.