As Israeli and Syrian negotiators continued their talks in Maryland this week, officials in Jerusalem doubted that the current round of negotiations would result in a declaration of principles for a framework of peace between the two longtime foes.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, addressing members of his Labor Party, said the focus of the current round of talks was to “formulate the terms of a dialogue.”
He said none of the disputed issues – including the scope of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and security arrangements that would follow it – had yet been raised.
Peres expressed satisfaction with the atmosphere at the talks, adding that the American mediators also were impressed with what he called the unprecedented openness demonstrated by the two sides.
But not all members of Peres’ Labor Party are behind his decision to push ahead on the Syrian track.
Labor Party Secretary-General Nissim Zvilli said this week that the Labor Party might have to pay a political price for pushing ahead with peace talks with Syria.
Zvilli said that the party should focus on building public support for a peace treaty with Syria.
He added that Peres should consider putting off the negotiations until after Israel’s general elections, scheduled for late October.
After meeting for three days last week at the Wye Plantation in eastern Maryland, Israeli and Syrian delegates returned Wednesday to the secluded conference center for a second three-day session.
No breakthroughs were reportedly achieved in an informal round of contacts held over the weekend in Washington between the formal sessions in Maryland.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was scheduled to join Israeli and Syrian negotiators Thursday evening in a bid to advance the negotiations.
Foreign Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio that Christopher was trying to “extract the maximum from this meeting and perhaps give it an additional push.”
Israeli officials said this week that a round of shuttle diplomacy next week by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to jerusalem and Damascus would be crucial in determining the direction of the talks.
Meanwhile, potential Israeli-Syrian economic cooperation has emerged as a key piece of the negotiations.
Last week, Israeli negotiators presented to their Syrian counterparts a number of proposals for bilateral and regional economic development projects.
Reports surfaced this week that the United States is working to set up an international forum to provide economic backing to an Israel-Syria peace deal.
Washington is reportedly attempting to convince European countries, Japan and the World Bank to invest in projects aimed at spurring Israeli-Syrian economic cooperation.
Saudi Arabia expressed its interest in participating in the economic forum, according to Israeli sources in Washington.
In its efforts to expand the circle of Arab states that are signatories to peace accords with Israel, including the opening of an interest section in Tele Aviv.
Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to travel to Tunis next week.