Barak Ravid
November 11, 2010 - 1:00am

Israel should not enter peace negotiations with Syria, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a visit to the Golan Heights on Thursday, adding anyone who considered such an option a "political hypochondriac."

Israel and Syria held four indirect rounds of peace talks with Turkish mediation in 2008, but they were suspended following the resignation of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in September that year.

Syria said at the time of the Israeli offensive in Gaza at the end of 2008 that it ruled out a resumption of the indirect talks any time soon.

Speaking during a meeting with U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in Damascus late last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad said he believed there were no indications such efforts would bear fruit as a result of the "presence of an Israeli government which doesn't want peace and doesn't believe in it."

Referring to the possibility to renewing the stalled peace talks with Syria on Thursday, Lieberman said that "better relations between Damascus and Iran and North Korea, and [Syria's] becoming a terror hub are facts difficult to ignore and only a political hypochondriac would think that the current leadership is a partner for peace.

The FM, speaking during a visit to the Golan Heights, also said that Israel's true goal, instead of pushing for peace with Syria, would have to be the further population of the city of Katzrin, the Golan's largest settlement, saying the Golan Heights will always be an inseparable part of Israel.

Lieberman also addressed recent tensions between the United States and Israel over a recently unveiled plan to build more East Jerusalem housing units, saying that he "congratulated and supported the prime minister for his stance on the building issue."

"The demand to cease construction in Gilo and Har Homa are unreasonable. Not for three months, not for one day" the FM said, adding that anyone who was "seeking to pressure into an agreement would be better off pressuring the other side."

"This is a test of Israel's leadership to see if it can take the pressure and defend Israel's interests, the FM added.

Israel announced earlier this week it plans for 1,300 new apartments on land in and around Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War. A further 800 housing units were planned for the settlement of Ariel in the northern West Bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said such plans were "never helpful". A day earlier, the U.S. State department said Washington was "deeply disappointed" by Israel's plans to build in the settlements.

The plans were published in Israel newspapers earlier this week while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in New Orleans, where he met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Following the US criticism, Netanyahu's Jerusalem office issued a statement late Tuesday, insisting that "Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel" and that "Israel has never accepted upon itself restrictions of any kind on construction in Jerusalem."


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