Secret Israeli-Syrian talks revealed

Haaretz has revealed that secret talks to end the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights have been taking place since 2004. See the story, the document drafted during the talks, and how the secret talks started, first with Turkish mediation and then through a mysterious European mediator. The deal has described seems fairly favorable to Israel, especially concerning the establishment of a large "park" accessible to both Israelis and Syrians, on military arrangements, and perhaps most importantly in granting a lot of water rights to Israelis. On the other hand, of course, Syria gets back land it would probably otherwise only get back by force.

Haaretz outlines the main points:

The main points of the understandings are as follows:

An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.

As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.

At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.

Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.

The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.

According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.
This, combined with economic aid and political guarantees, could be enough to draw the Syrians away from the Iranian camp -- which perhaps would make it worth it for Israel to face the domestic opposition to returning the Golan Heights.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.