French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to sit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad at the same table when the two attend a Mediterranean summit in Paris next month, according to media reports Wednesday.
While the seating arrangements may change before the July 13 gathering, Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Gueant said France is keen to facilitate a meeting between the two Middle East rivals. Ha'aretz reports that Olmert has offered to hold direct talks with Assad in Paris.
Israel and Syria have been holding indirect talks via Turkish mediators for weeks, and according to some reports, a peace deal that would see Israel surrender all or most of the Golan Heights is coming closer to reality.
In a blow to what many say is a dangerous ploy by Olmert to boost his own popularity at home by being seen as a peacemaker, Israel's Knesset on Wednesday passed the first reading of a bill that would require a national referendum or a special two-thirds parliamentary majority in order to withdraw from any sovereign Israeli territory as part of a peace agreement.
The areas protected by the bill would include the Golan and the eastern half of Jerusalem, both of which were annexed by Israel in the early 1980s.