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Ha'aretz Editorial: "Leave no stone unturned"

This is the moment to tell Olmert: Turn over every stone. Let the investigations continue as if there were no peace talks, and let the peace talks continue as if there were no investigations - and perhaps it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

05/22/2008   

   The official announcement published yesterday in three capitals - Jerusalem, Damascus and Ankara - about the opening of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel, under the aegis of Turkey, is a source of great hope but also suspicion. This is not the first time hope has been ignited. At least three prime ministers - Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak - drew close, to one extent or another, to an agreement with Syria, but were reluctant at the last minute to sign it. Rabin went so far as to place the conditions for peace as a deposit in the hands of the American administration, a deposit that will now serve as an important legacy for continuing the talks.

    Had one of the previous prime ministers dared to sign an agreement, Israel's position today would be immeasurably better, and one unnecessary war, the Second Lebanon War, could have been prevented. Peace with Syria might also have ensured a different kind of relationship with Lebanon. It can be assumed, too, that Hezbollah would not be so dangerous and well-equipped an organization if Syria had stopped supporting it. Israel's northern border would be safer and Iran's presence in the region would be weaker under conditions of peace with its ally. It is permitted also to believe that Israel's ties with the Arab world would improve if a peace agreement were signed with another important Arab country.

   Now, at this blatantly late hour, another historic opportunity is being offered the prime minister of Israel and the members of his government, to try to challenge the peace declarations that have been consistently coming from Syria for some time. The Israeli government is currently headed by a person immersed in criminal investigations and under the most serious suspicions. The fear that this is spin meant to extricate Ehud Olmert from the investigations, which politicians voiced yesterday from the right and left of the political spectrum, is not completely unfounded. Nevertheless, this hour of opportunity must in no way be allowed to pass by.

   Whatever Olmert's motives, it is forbidden to miss historic opportunities. Even if the prime minister promotes an agreement, as he is now doing, but is obliged to resign in the near future because of his personal imbroglios, he will have made a contribution whose importance cannot be overestimated. His heirs will have the task of finishing the job. As long as Olmert is serving in his position, it is incumbent on him to do everything possible to promote peace, and it is incumbent on the public to urge him on.

   In this respect, it is worthwhile remembering that Olmert began the peace initiative a long while before the affair of the envelopes broke. The indirect talks with Syria that were brokered by the Turks started in February 2007, after the prime minister visited Ankara. At that time, no one had heard of Morris Talansky, and the prime minister was not under the cloud of the current serious affair. Since then, contacts were held until they reached fruition and warranted yesterday's official announcement, after the negotiators, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turgeman, held talks in Istanbul.

   This is the moment to tell Olmert: Turn over every stone. Let the investigations continue as if there were no peace talks, and let the peace talks continue as if there were no investigations - and perhaps it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.