In Israel, US envoy maps peace with Syria
Frederic C. Hof, author of a March report suggesting an environmental preserve and other initiatives in the disputed Golan Heights, is meeting with Israeli officials.
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A key facet of the deal would involve shared water resources and the creation of a Jordan Valley-Golan Heights Environmental Preserve. While Israeli settlements would be dismantled, the plan envisions both Israelis and Syrians having free access to the territory for the purposes of tourism, among other things.Skip to next paragraph
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"In addition to mitigating Israeli concerns about the return of sensitive territories and providing a venue for informal people-to-people contacts, the Jordan Valley-Golan Heights Environmental Preserve approach would give the parties a good platform for practical bilateral cooperation even as the ink on a peace treaty is drying, allowing for a constructive, confidence-building start to the implementation phase of the withdrawal process," the report says, according to the USIP's website.
Israelis dampen expectations
Israeli officials have tried to downplay expectations over Hof's visit, noting that a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not on the schedule. Officials in Mr. Netanyahu's office have indicated that the emphasis should continue to be placed on reaching a two-state with the Palestinians.
Uzi Arad, Netanyhau's national security adviser, said in a weekend interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Israel would not consider any peace deal that would prevent it from staying "deep into the Golan Heights," a definition sure to be off-putting to Syrian negotiators.
"The Syrians are certainly aware that the Netanyahu government and the majority of the public will not leave the Golan Heights," Dr. Arad said in the interview.
There are more than two dozen Israeli settlements in the area, with 9,000 settlers living there.
Israeli spokesman: It's Syria that's stalling talks
A spokesman for Netanyahu says that Syria should not expect Israel to agree to preconditions – such as recognizing verbal agreements that are said to have been made by the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s. Israel, in return, would be ready to talk to Syria, despite its disinclination to do so, given support in Damascus for Hamas and Hizbullah.
"We are ready for negotiations with the Syrians without preconditions, but it's the Syrians who are putting all sorts of preconditions on the talks that prevent them from happening," says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu. "They're actively supporting both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, not just political support but very tangible support. If we wanted to say no talks until that stops, we could."
The Obama administration decided in June to send an ambassador to Damascus, ending a four-year hiatus in diplomatic ties.