Mitchell: Peace plan to include Syria, Lebanon

Ijaz Inayat
Rt. Rev. Ijaz Inayat

The regional agreement that the Obama administration is trying to push forward is not only about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also peace between Israel and both Syria and Lebanon, local daily The Jerusalem Post cited U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell as reporting Thursday. 

Mitchell made the remarks during his meeting Wednesday with opposition leader Tzipi Livni that concluded two days of meetings in Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. 

After meeting with Livni, the Kadima chairwoman, Mitchell flew to Cairo. From there he will go to Lebanon on Thursday, and then continue on to Damascus Friday and Saturday for his first meetings there since taking up his position in January. 

While the State Department’s Jeffrey Feltman and the U.S. National Security Council’s Dan Shapiro have traveled to Syria twice since U.S. President Barack Obama was sworn into office in January, this will be Mitchell’s first visit to Damascus and — according to diplomatic sources — indicates an interest in involving Syria in the new U.S.-propelled process. 

Though the Bush administration appeared not too keen on encouraging Israeli-Syrian ties, it seems U.S. President Barack Obama thinks differently. 

Before Mitchell’s visit, Syrian President Bashar Assad sent out signals that he was interested in renewing negotiations with Israel through the Turks, said The Jerusalem Post. 

After Israel launched military offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in late December, Syria formally suspended indirect peace talks with the Jewish state which began last May under the mediation of Turkey. 

Syria has said it would resume indirect peace talks with Israel’ s Netanyahu government as long as they focused on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel seized in 1967 and annexed in 1981 with no recognition of the international community. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had appeared cool to the idea of resuming stalled peace talks with Syria and has repeatedly voiced opposition to withdrawing from the Golan Heights, said on May 20 that his country was ready to immediately open peace talks with Syria without preconditions. 

Netanyahu made the remarks to reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport after three days of talks in Washington, including meeting with Obama. 

“I said I was ready to immediately open peace talks with the Palestinians, by the way, with the Syrians as well, of course, without preconditions,” said the prime minister, adding “But I made it clear that any peace settlement there must find a solution to Israel’s security needs.” 

Despite the U.S. interest, the Syrian signals and Netanyahu’s words, the Syrian track is not expected to play a prominent place in Netanyahu’s anxiously awaited speech on Sunday at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. 

It is not yet known whether the indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria could be resumed anytime soon. 

“Between Israel and Syria it’s all about confidence-building measures, ways to break the ice, because there is a large element of distrust and as long as there is no real belief in the true intentions of the other side, it’s impossible to negotiate,” Ronen Hoffman, an expert in strategy and tactics in political negotiations, told Xinhua.




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