JERUSALEM (Jun. 23)
Published comments by the leaders of Israel and Syria are giving political observers new evidence that peace negotiations between the two countries are poised to resume.
Syrian President Hafez Assad and Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak made favorable comments about each other in separate interviews published in the London-based, Arab-language newspaper Al Hayat.
In his first public comments on Israel’s new leadership, Assad described Barak as “strong and honest.”
“As the election results show, he obviously has wide support, and it is clear that he wants to achieve peace with Syria,” Assad added in the interview.
For his part, Barak said of Assad, “his legacy is a strong, independent, self- confident Syria.”
Using a term often used by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to describe the Oslo accords, Barak added that he was truly excited to find out if there was a possibility for a “peace of the brave” with Syria.
The comments, which were seen as signals that the two are ready to revive peace talks, came after Assad’s biographer, journalist Patrick Seale, shuttled between Damascus and Tel Aviv to get the interviews.
One Israel Knesset member, Yossi Beilin, a member of Barak’s One Israel bloc, said Assad’s comments were “an important expression of public diplomacy.”
Professor Moshe Maoz of the Hebrew University, an expert on Syria, also expressed the belief that the interviews were important.
Maoz added that Assad’s comments were particularly significant because Syria had not liked Barak’s tough positions when, as head of the Israel Defense Force, Barak negotiated in Washington with his counterpart in the Syrian military, Hikmat Shihabi, prior to the suspension of bilateral talks in 1996.