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During his first term in office from 1996 to 1999, Mr. Netanyahu conducted secret talks with Syria’s then-President Hafez Assad through U.S. businessman Ron Lauder.

Though Mr. Netanyahu later acknowledged the talks, he denied agreeing to give up the Golan Heights. As prime minister in the final year of the Clinton administration, Mr. Barak also negotiated with Syria.

More recently, the government of Ehud Olmert conducted indirect talks through the Turkish government, but those negotiations ended with Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip.

“We’re back at the beginning,” said Alon Liel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official who conducted exploratory talks with Syria several years ago.