JERUSALEM (AFP-EJP)---Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office denied a Friday report that he had offered to quit the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria in US-mediated negotiations last year.
According to Yediot Aharonot daily which broke the story, talks fizzled out without any agreement as domestic protest that erupted in mid-March 2011 against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule spiralled into civil war.
"This was one initiative among many proposed to Israel in recent years. At no stage did Israel accept this American initiative. It is an old and irrelevant initiative," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
Netanyahu's office dismissed the report as "politically-motivated", citing the fact that it was published just days after the Netanyahu announced he would move up national elections to early next year.The Israeli Premier will be seeking the votes of rightwingers opposed to a Golan pullout.
Veteran diplomatic correspondent Shimon Schiffer wrote that late last year etanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak began indirect negotiations with the Syrian president, through US envoy Fred Hoff, who was at the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's special representative on Syria.
"The negotiations were held through American mediation, cloaked by a level of secrecy rare even for the security establishment," Schiffer wrote, adding that Hoff had since stepped down but had left a written record of the negotiations.
"According to the documents, the negotiations between the sides were based on consent to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and turning them over to Syrian sovereignty, in exchange for a full peace agreement including an exchange of embassies," Schiffer said.
"A senior source in the US administration said a few days ago that the negotiations had been serious and far-reaching, and it could be presumed that if not for the Syrian civil war they would have ended in an agreement," the paper added.
In 2008, Israel and Syria engaged in Turkish-brokered peace feelers but they were broken off when Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip that December.
The Golan is now home to some 20,500 Jewish settlers and about 18,000
Druze, most of whom have retained Syrian citizenship.