The US State Department confirmed on Friday that it attempted to renew peace talks between Jerusalem and Damascus in 2010, before the outbreak of violence in Syria.
“Our goal has always been to have a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of her neighbors,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland in a press briefing. “Prior to the eruption of all of the violence in Syria, there were efforts to try to support contacts between Israel and Syrian officials. This was part of the mandate of George Mitchell. But obviously, in the current environment in Syria, that’s not something that one can continue to work on.”
Nuland went on to express hope that “we will have a new day in Syria and there will be another opportunity for her to make peace with her neighbors.”
The information partially confirmed an article in Friday’s Yedioth Ahronoth that stated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed in principle to withdraw from the Golan Heights during indirect talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2010.
The newspaper cited documents written by Special Coordinator for the Middle East Frederick Hoff, an assistant to the then-US Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell, claiming Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak opened secret negotiations with Assad over a full withdrawal from the Golan to the shores of the Sea of Galilee in exchange for a peace deal. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967.
The article claimed Netanyahu had Israeli officials who were involved in the negotiations sign confidentiality agreements in order to guard the secrecy of the talks, of which the rest of the Israeli government was apparently unaware. The negotiations reportedly ended in early 2011, with the outbreak of the popular uprising against the Assad regime.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report, saying the suggested withdrawal had been a US initiative and that Israel had never accepted it. Netanyahu’s office dismissed the report as “politically motivated,” aimed at harming him ahead of the upcoming elections.