Yoav Stern
September 23, 2008 - 8:00pm

President Shimon Peres on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart President Abdullah Gul that Israel "is not willing to take painful steps and return territories in exchange for rocket fire," referring to peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.

The two heads of state met on the sidelines of the opening of the 63rdl United Nations General Assembly in New York. Turkey has been acting as a mediator in the recently relaunched indirect talks between Israel and Syria.

Peres reiterated to Gul that "the Israeli public wants to see with its own eyes that Syria has changed." During their meeting, the two also discussed the possibility of expanding the peace talks between Israel and Syria, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian threat. Gul told Peres that "Syria has serious intentions for peace with Israel" and that "the more the negotiations advance, the less doubts the Israeli side will have."

Gul went on to say that he hoped that the establishment of a new government in Israel will prompt "both sides to return to the negotiating table."

Earlier Wednesday, Syria's state-run daily Tishreen reported that Syrian officials believe that the newly elected Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, who will be attempting over the next six weeks to put together a new government which she will lead, will stall the ongoing talks between Israel and Syria.

For the second time since Livni's victory over Shaul Mofaz in the Kadima primary, the paper's chief editor, Issam Dari, has devoted an article to sizing up the woman who will likely become Israel's next prime minister. Dari wrote that the initial signs of Livni continuing the peace process with Syria are not encouraging.

"The indications and the signs do not lead one to the assumption that the next prime minister will desire peace," Dari wrote. In his previous column, Dari wrote that peace can be achieved if Livni so desires. President Bashar Assad said on Tuesday that the indirect talks between the two sides "demand more time and effort." Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether Livni will push ahead with the talks if she succeeds in forming a coalition.

"Recently, we have seen those who are trying to whitewash Livni, who is charged with the task of forming a government, and to depict her as a moderate and someone who is acting to advance the peace process on both [the Syrian and Palestinian] tracks..." Dari wrote. "We know from the outset where Livni will go, what her policy is and what her plans are, and how far she is from the path of peace. These are axioms."

Diplomatic officials told Haaretz that Syrian officials are frustrated over the political turmoil in Israel and its impact on the negotiations.

"In Syria, one person can negotiate with Israel for decades without being replaced," said one source. "In Israel, the negotiators are replaced every so often, and none of them can reach any arrangement."

The fifth round of indirect talks between Israel and Syria had been postponed due to the resignation of Yoram Turbowicz, the former chief of staff in the prime minister's bureau who also led the Israeli negotiating team.


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