The strategic Golan Heights
The strategic Golan HeightsIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The strategic Golan Heights is negotiable, but Israel will not hand it over to Syria while it continues its ties with Iran and its proxy Hizbullah terror group, President Shimon Peres told visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday.

"Assad must make a strategic choice. There is no way that Assad will get territorial concessions from Israel while at the same time maintaining ties with Hizbullah and Iran in a package deal," said Peres.

Steinmeier is on a 40-hour trip to Jerusalem, Damascus and Beirut as part of an effort to persuade neighboring Arab states to take a more active role in diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict. He said that he considered maintaining Israel's security a precondition, and that it is Europe's job to boost the moderate forces in the Middle East.

"[Syrian President Bashar] Assad must understand that he will have to sit at the negotiations table if he wants real peace. He should not depend on mediators; he should sit at the table without any preconditions," said Peres when asked if he had a message for Assad.

"If Hizbullah wants to be Iran's missile carrier against Israel – we cannot allow that," added Peres, whose bold policy statements are more typically heard from the prime minister or cabinet members who determine the Israeli government’s policies.

Discussion of the Golan Heights follows threats last month from a Syrian group to take back the area by force if a peace agreement involving its return is not reached. The "Syrian Committee for the Freedom of the Golan" said it would take steps to regain control of the territory, and it accused Israel of not showing a willingness to achieve peace or to return what it called "Syrian land."

Syria controlled the Golan Heights frm 1948-1967 and used the area to terrorize Israeli civilians in the Hula Valley below. Israel turned back invading Syrian troops and restored the area to the Jewish state during the 1967 Six-Day War. Following the surprise Israeli pre-emptive attack and Arab defeat in 1973, Syria signed a disengagement agreement that left the Golan in Israel's hands.