Friday, March 09, 2007

Syrian to testify before Knesset foreign affairs panel on secret peace talks

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

United States-based Syrian businessman Abe Soliman, who represented the Syrian position in the "Swiss channel" secret talks on a peace agreement with Israel, will testify before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on April 12 in order to update lawmakers on the discussions.

Knesset committees generally do not hear testimony from foreign nationals, and this is the first time that the representative of a hostile state has been called to testify.

The Israeli representative to the talks, former Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel, will also testify during the committee hearing.

Roughly two weeks ago, Meretz faction head Zahava Gal-On received a brief letter from the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, who informed informed Gal-On that following her request, he had decided that the committee would hold a special April 12 session on the chances of a peace process between Israel and Syria.

Hanegbi, a senior Kadima member, added in his letter: "In the framework of the discussion, we will be happy to receive an update on the contacts made, with the participation of Dr. Alon Liel and Mr. Abe Soliman."

Hanegbi asked Gal-On to confirm the participation of Liel, the man who initiated the talks via the "Swiss channel," and of Soliman.
Liel and Soliman informed Gal-On that they would be happy to report to the committee on the understandings reached in those talks.

Despite reports of an American ban on Israeli contacts with Syria, the United States also has taken an interest in the talks.

Not long after Haaretz broke the story on the Swiss channel, Liel was invited to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to report on his contacts with the Syrians. The meeting was attended by the embassy's entire political staff, apart from the ambassador.

But that was just the beginning. Nicholas Lang, the Swiss diplomat who acted as the contact between the Israeli participants and the Syrian regime, was summoned to Washington and updated senior State Department and National Security Council officials on the details of the talks and their results.

He arrived in the U.S. shortly after a farewell visit to Damascus, and prior to taking up his new posting as the Swiss ambassador to several African countries.

1 comment:

William said...

Very interesting Davis. We have been contacted by a number of people about this and about the "what next" question. Alon Liel is, by the way, a lead member of our "Peace with Syria" committee in Israel - I spoke alongside him at the recent Jaffa meeting.