JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that indirect peace talks with Syria, a process that began more than a year ago, will be conducted in secrecy and seriously.
“We have no intention to conduct these negotiations through the media or through daily statements or by inventing slogans,” Olmert said before the weekly cabinet meeting.
“We are entering negotiations with seriousness. There has been and there will be very detailed and meticulous preparation that will match our expectations from the negotiations to the reality as it is today, and not as it was 10 or two years ago.”
Both Israel and Syria confirmed on Wednesday that they have launched indirect peace talks, with Turkey acting as a mediator, after an eight-year freeze.
Olmert said the process of establishing the indirect talks with Syria began in February 2007.
The Syrians want the return of all of the Golan Heights which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981, a move never recognised by the international community.
Former Israeli army chief Dan Halutz said on Sunday that Israel can manage without the strategic plateau bordering the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of fresh water.
“We can manage without (the Golan) as we did in the past,” Halutz said on military radio. “In exchange for a real peace we must be ready to pay a real price — if not it’s all a waste to time.
“When we launch discussions with Syria, everyone knows what is on the table and we must explore all possibilities to make peace with our enemies,” he said.
Israel is demanding that Damascus break off its ties with Iran and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the Shiite Hezbollah, which Israel considers to be terrorist organisations.
Syria has said it would reject any preconditions in the talks that call on Damascus to change its relations with other countries or groups.
Polls show that public opinion in Israel opposes withdrawing from the Golan plateau, now home to some 20,000 Jewish settlers and military installations.
Halutz quit as army chief in January 2007 following criticism of his leadership during the 34-day Lebanon war against the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah movement in the summer of 2006.