Israel believes Syria will attend Annapolis

Israel said on Sunday it believed Syria had decided to attend this week’s U.S.-hosted conference about Palestinian statehood.Syria has said it will only attend Tuesday’s conference in Annapolis, Maryland, if the future of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, is discussed.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters on the plane taking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Washington that, although the Golan was not formally on the agenda, participants could raise “whatever issues they want” in a forum due to discuss “comprehensive peace in the Middle East”.

“As a result of the inclusion of this phrase, I believe Syria has decided to attend the conference,” Livni said.

Speaking about the importance of wide Arab participation, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, Livni added: “There isn’t a single Palestinian who can reach an agreement with Israel without the support of the Arab world. This is one of the lessons we learned seven years ago.”

Bringing in Arab countries at this stage “should force them off the fence”, she said, referring to the last, failed peace talks at Camp David in 2000.

Arab League ministers agreed in Cairo on Friday to attend the conference in the hope of promoting the creation of a Palestinian state and pushing for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a regional peace process.

But Livni made clear that peace negotiations with the Palestinians after the summit would follow only a bilateral track: “The Arab world is not supposed to define the terms of the negotiations, nor be involved in them.”

Commenting on prospects for a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement ahead of the conference, she said: “I think there will be a joint document … this is the statement that will launch the (peace) process, not solve (the conflict).”

The United States wants the conference to relaunch talks about creating a Palestinian state but Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have struggled to agree on a joint document ahead of the meeting.

They are due to hold talks later on Sunday to try to reach an agreement. Major differences on core issues such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees have derailed previous attempts at peacemaking in the region.

Speaking on board the plane as he was about to leave for Washington, Olmert said that Israel would “view positively” Syria’s participation in the conference.

“We have said constantly that we are interested in Syria participating,” Olmert said.

Syria has not definitively said it will attend.

Asked if he believed the United States had promised Syria something in exchange for its possible participation, Olmert replied: “I don’t think so.”

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