Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu is juggling. As he reaches out to potential coalition partners to form the next Israeli government, he is also reaching out to the Arab world.
On Thursday, he said he believed he could continue peace negotiations with Syria, without getting stalled over the issue of the Golan Heights.
“I think there are additional ways to advance confidence – building between Syria and Israel and alleviate the tension and existing situation of hostility ahead of full peace and a peace treaty,” he told reporters in Haifa.
Netanyahu has previously said he believes Israel and Syria could try to pursue sub-agreements on such areas as water and economic arrangements.
The Likud leader, who opposes returning the Golan Heights to Syria, said no one should question his intention to conduct negotiations with Damascus.
“We have already had talks. We started at [the 1991] Madrid peace conference and we made it clear to Assad that we will remain on the Golan Heights.”
Syria has called on Israel to resume peace negotiations, which were suspended by the outgoing government following a series of suicide bombings by Islamic militants in February and March.
This weekend, Syrian President Hafez Assad is to host Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to discuss the future of the peace process in the wake of the Israeli political shake-up.
Officials in Jordan said King Hussein would travel to Washington next week to meet with President Bill Clinton. The officials said the trip was “personal” and had been planned prior to the elections.
Meanwhile, American officials said Netanyahu would travel to Washington at the end of the month.
Aides to the new prime minister denied Israeli media reports that the visit had been set for June 25, pending formation of the new government.
Efforts to form that government continued on Thursday, as members of the Likud’s negotiating team met with representatives from the religious parties and the centrist Third Way Party.
Legislation on the religious status quo is shaping up to be one of the toughest issues the Likud will have to tackle.
The religious parties have presented a list of stringent demands – giving the Orthodox establishment more influence over daily life – which the Likud must balance against its other potential coalition partners, which are secular.
The religious parties’ request to limit the creation of secular cemeteries, for example, is a sore point for the immigrant party, Yisrael Ba’ Aliyah, which supports their construction.
Netanyahu remained tight-lipped about the nature of his government, saying only that he would try to meet the interests of all sectors of the population.