JERUSALEM, (AP) – Israel’s foreign minister said Sunday he would be willing to immediately hold peace talks with Syria, but only without preconditions.
Syria recently said it would be willing to resume indirect peace talks with the new Israeli government, which broke off last year after Israel called early elections, as long as they focused on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the June 1967 Mideast war.
“I’d be glad to negotiate with Syria this evening, but without preconditions,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio.
“They say, first go back to ’67 lines and give up the Golan. If we agree to that, what is there to negotiate?” he said.
Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is in the process of formulating his government’s foreign policy. But he and Lieberman both have said they would not be willing to cede the territory Syria wants.
Israel has held several rounds of talks with the Syrians, most recently indirect negotiations mediated by Turkey last year.
Talks in 2000 broke down over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal, with Israel insisting on keeping disputed land around the Sea of Galilee, its main water source.
In talks last year, Israel also wanted Syria to end its support for Lebanese and Palestinian militants opposed to Israel’s existence.
In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung published this weekend, Lieberman said he “cannot see Syria as a genuine partner to any sort of agreement” because of its links with Iran and support for militant groups.
Lieberman, who has been critical of U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians, also said Sunday there’s no reason to begin with negotiations on a final accord, saying the Palestinians “shouldn’t be freed from their obligations” to rein in militants.
Under the internationally backed “road map” peace plan of June 2002, Israel and the Palestinians were to embark on a three-phase process toward a final deal. But the talks broke down because neither side met their obligations under the first stage: Israel did not halt settlement construction and the Palestinians did not clamp down on militants.
When the talks resumed in 2007, in Annapolis, Maryland, the road map was the basis for negotiations, but the phased approach was jettisoned and the two sides went directly to negotiations on a final accord.
Talks were suspended after Israel called early elections, which were held in February.
“I don’t think it’s right to immediately agree to negotiations on a final accord,” Lieberman told Army Radio. “The political process must begin at the beginning, not the end.”
Netanyahu has resisted pressure to declare support for the creation of a Palestinian state, and Lieberman has said Israeli concessions have only brought more violence.