Components of unofficial Israel-Syria peace talks included Syria’s reorientation to the West, an Israeli negotiator said. “They understood they cannot get the Golan Heights as long as they are allies of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas,” Alon Liel said Tuesday in a conference call organized by the Israel Policy Forum, a U.S. Jewish group. Israel would return the strategic plateau, captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, but “only once we realize Syria is out of the axis of evil. We introduced a time span of five years.” Liel and a former Israeli security figure negotiated for two years under Turkish and then Swiss auspices with Ibrahim Suleiman, a Syrian American businessman. Swiss diplomats said they regularly checked Suleiman’s agreements with top Syrian officials, who confirmed them, according to Liel, a former ambassador. Liel did not formally represent Israel, but kept the government informed of the proceedings. Israel repeatedly rejected the Syrian overtures, Liel said, because of pressure from the Bush administration, which seeks to isolate Syria because of its backing for terrorists in Lebanon and insurgents in Iraq. Under the proposal, the Golan Heights would have become a park under Syrian sovereignty with no permanent residents of either nationality and free access for both sides. Israeli agriculture and tourism businesses, including the Golan’s famed wineries, would remain, Liel said in the conference call.
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