Olmert’s bid to revive Syrian track runs into blank walls
Israeli caretaker prime minister Ehud Olmert has been warned that the trip he booked to Ankara for next Monday will be an exercise in futility. Damascus let it be known Friday. Dec. 19, that acceptance in advance of its “borders document” was the pre-condition for direct peace talks. This six-point document covers Israel’s withdrawal -not only from the Golan but also from another slice of territory, the northeastern bank of the Sea of Galilee and Hamat Gader region, which is part of pre-1967 Israel.
This maximalist approach, say debkafile‘s sources in Washington, Jerusalem and Ankara, aims at notifying US president-elect Barack Obama and designated secretary of state Hillary Clinton that Damascus’ “borders document” is a take-it-or-leave it proposition. Syrian leaders appear to believe that after he takes office, Obama will assign American partners to the negotiations who will tilt their tenor against Israel.
Israeli opposition leaders from right and left say that, as a provisional head of government until the Feb. 10 general election, Olmert has no moral or public mandate to go ahead with the initiative. He therefore has no valid business in the Turkish capital. This view was shared even by his own Kadima party colleague, Tzahi Hanegbi.
Opposition Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu said the post-election government he expects to lead next year would not be bound by any “Olmert-Livni concessions to Syria” or abandon the Golan.
Syria put forward the “borders document” Tuesday, Dec. 16, three months after indirect talks with Israel brokered by Turkey were bogged down: The Israeli side refused to define in advance the limits of its territorial withdrawal, while Syria withheld a prior commitment to break with Tehran, Hizballah and the Palestinian terrorists, for the sake of a peace accord.
It was published shortly before the arrival in the region of Dennis Ross, one of Obama’s senior Middle East advisers. The sense in Damascus is that Ross will have an important role in putative Syrian-Israeli-US negotiations in the future. However, debkafile‘s sources in Washington say his future assignment is still unknown, as is the Obama team’s perception of the US role in the talks.