debkafile Exclusive: The Golan Heights at issue between Israel and Syria is tagged onto the Annapolis peace conference agenda – over Israel’s head

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak made welcoming sounds about Syria’s possible presence at the conference, as though they had come up with the plan after careful consideration. In fact, debkafile‘s Middle East and intelligence sources report, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice presented them with a fait accompli.
The invitation she handed to Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualem on Nov. 3 came from President George W. Bush, after he accepted Damascus’ condition that future negotiations on the Golan be mentioned in the conference’s final paper, as well as the Palestinian issue.
Rice and Mualem initially agreed that the Golan talks between Israel and Syria would be delayed for a while so as not to interfere with the Palestinian track. It will also be necessary to prepare Israeli opinion for the step. But Tuesday, after winning one point, Damascus raised the ante.
Syrian deputy prime minister Abdullah Dardari announced that if the restoration of the Golan to Syrian hands is not laid out at the peace conference, Syria will not attend. His statement aimed at pinning Rice down to making Israel go along with the deal, or risk being accused of derailing the conference.
The Syrians are demanding furthermore that their delegate, possibly vice president Farouk a-Shara, or Moualem, be given the floor for a speech calling for the handover of the Golan which Israel has controlled since Syria was defeated in the 1967 War. And if president Bashar Assad decides to attend, Damascus wants him to be formally received by his opposite number in rank, namely Vice President Dick Cheney.

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