Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in September 2006 that "the Golan Heights will remain in our hands forever." He made the statement in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon after a ceasefire failed to win the release of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose kidnapping by Hizbullah terrorists ignited the Second Lebanon War.
The Prime Minister announced Wednesday he is conducting indirect peace talks with Syria, which repeatedly has said that Israel's surrendering the strategic Golan is a conditon for peace.
After the Second War in Lebanon two years ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad stated he "wanted to make peace with Israel" but warned "if this hope disappears, then war may really be the only solution." Prime Minister Olmert dismissed talking with Syria despite pleas by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) who said, "Imagine a new alliance with Syria. It is possible. Should we miss it?"
I am the last person who will say I want to negotiate with Syria... We are not going into any adventure when the other side sponsors terror.
In a speech to the Knesset the following month, Prime Minister Olmert, under fire for the government's mismanagement of the war, set out conditions for talks with Syria. "Israel will consent to making peace with the President of Syria only if he makes a genuine strategic decision to renounce terrorism, and not with a leader who uses the language of peace as a tactic to divert the world’s attention from other issues," he stated.
He told the Knesset at the time that Israel wants a peace accord with Syria but added, "One makes peace with those who eschew terrorism and not those who host the headquarters of terror organizations. [Hamas headquarters are located in Damascus –ed.] You make peace with those who have made a strategic decision to advocate a moderate policy and not those who assist in the arming of a terror organization which threatens regional stability."
After the Second Lebanon War, the Prime Minister also told angry residents of Kiryat Shmona, who were bombarded with hundreds of rockets during the 34-day war, "I am the last person who will say I want to negotiate with Syria. When Syria stops supporting terrorism, when it stops giving missiles to terror organizations, then we will be happy to negotiate with them…. We are not going into any adventure when the other side sponsors terror."
He also promised that Israel would not enter talks with Syria "until basic steps are taken which can be the basis for any negotiations."
The Prime Minister at the time blamed previous governments for allowing Hizbullah to become strong enough to wage a war against Israel. "We knew for years that there was a great danger, but for some reason we didn't translate that understanding into action, like we just did," he said. "We knew what Iran was doing, what Syria was doing, in arming Hizbullah, but we acted as if we didn't know."
Prime Minister Olmert announced this past Wednesday, two days before he was to testify in criminal proceedings against him, that Israel is conducting "indirect" talks with Syria through Turkish government mediators. Labor Knesset Member Danny Yatom, a former head of Israeli intelligence, said in response to the announcement that the talks are insignificant.
He told Voice of Israel government radio that it is known that there have been indirect talks for more than a year and that Syria would never agree to secret negotiations. MK Yatom declared that "there is no significance" to the statement and that it was made solely to deflect attention from the latest criminal probe of alleged fraud and breach of trust by Prime Minister Olmert.