After the Madrid conference in 1991, direct talks began between Israel and Syria. Syria’s main demand was for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the plateau overlooking the Sea of Galilee that Israel had captured in 1967. Israel responded that it was prepared to negotiate a withdrawal but the extent and timing of that withdrawal depended on Syria agreeing to a peace treaty and to an extended period of normalisation of relations first. Any agreement would also have to be accepted in a referendum in Israel. Syria claims that in talks in 1995, the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to a total pullback. However, the Israelis say this was only a theoretical acceptance and that it depended on the full normalisation of relations, a condition that Syria, it claims, did not accept. An unofficial agreement between Israeli and Syrian private citizens was reported to have been reached in 2006 but this has not led to talks between the two governments. Israeli talks with Lebanon took place after Madrid but have stalled, complicated by border disputes and, more recently, last year’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. Any Israeli treaty with Lebanon is expected to have to wait until after one with Syria, given Syria’s influence in Lebanon.
[from Global Policy Forum, 21 May 2007]