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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Syria: Negotiations with Israel

negotiations
US President Bill Clinton (C), joined by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (2nd L) and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (2nd R), meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (L) and Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shara (R) in Shepherdstown 07 January 2000. It is Clinton’s fourth visit here since the peace talks started at the beginning of the week. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO-White House. (Photo by WHITE HOUSE / AFP)

The last time (indirect) negotiations took place between Syria (Hafiz al-Assad), and Israel (Ehud Barak) was in 2000 in Geneva, with Bill Clinton acting as a mediator. However, talks were soon suspended after Barak failed to deliver on earlier pledges to completely withdraw from the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the 1967 June War – thus incurring Assad’s anger and Clinton’s great displeasure.

Syrian nuclear plant at al-Kibar, near Deir al-Zor, before and after the bombardment in September 2007 by the Israeli Air Force

Although Syria remains formally at war with Israel, Damascus has repeatedly declared its readiness to sign a peace treaty in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from Syria’s Golan Heights. From the Syrian perspective, this had been the objective of the abortive Madrid peace process and subsequent negotiations with the Israelis during Hafiz al-Assad’s presidency. There has been no change under Bashar al-Assad. From 2004 to 2006, Syria engaged in secret talks with Israel. The President reiterated his regime’s readiness for a negotiated settlement with Israel in a speech to the Syrian Parliament on 17 July 2007, after being sworn in for a second seven-year term as President. Damascus and Israel later pursued indirect peace talks, with Turkish mediation, but these were suspended in December 2008 due to that month’s Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The fragile state of Israeli-Syrian relations, despite the talks, was emphasized by an Israeli air raid on an alleged nuclear facility near Deir al-Zor, in north-eastern Syria, on 6 September 2007.