Monday, July 13, 2009

Syrian Track Reopened?

Shimon Shiffer in Yedioth Ahronoth:

"The American administration has decided to discreetly examine ways to resume negotiations between Israel and Syria.

It was learned last night that senior American diplomat Fred Hoff, a member of the team of special US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, will meet today with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and top officials in the political and security echelon. The goal is to examine the possibility of resuming the talks between Israel and Syria, closely accompanied by the US.

Hoff will continue from here to Damascus, to talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. As of now, the Israeli side is sticking to the position whereby the talks with Syria can resume, but without preconditions. According to this position, the Syrians will be able to demand the return of the Golan Heights, while Israel will make it clear that it demands to remain on the Golan Heights in any arrangement.

That said, the Israeli intelligence community advocates resuming the negotiations with Syria and an agreement that entails the return of the Golan Heights with it being demilitarized on both sides of the border, in return for Damascus cutting its alliance with Iran.

Orly Azulai of Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Fred Hoff has already written a proposal for an Israeli-Syrian agreement:

The American administration has already begun to draw up a plan for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. It is based on a detailed document written by Dr. Fred Hoff, a member of George Mitchell's team, who will arrive today for talks in Israel.

Hoff recently completed writing the document that forms the initial draft for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Mitchell adopted this document as the basis for the peace between Israel and Syria.

The document suggests solutions to the complicated problems
that are the bone of contention between Israel and Syria, and even suggests a route for the border line between the two countries that the American administration is already calling the "Hoff line." Hoff suggests that the peace process between Israel and Syria take place in two stages: in the first stage the sides would build trust by sharing parks, nature reserves and water sources on the Golan Heights. He says that this way the two peoples will learn to live together and could bring down the walls of suspicion. In the second stage, he proposes, Israel would withdraw from the Golan to the line that he suggests.

He does not say how much time should elapse between the normalizationagreement and shared use of these reserves to the beginning of the withdrawal. However, based on sources close to Mitchell, this would be aprocess that would last for several years. Hoff's proposal provides for a solution in which there are only winners for a problem that for years was considered a zero sum dynamic, says Scott Lasensky."

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