JERUSALEM (Nov. 17)
Labor Party leader Shimon Peres has come out publicly in favor of “territorial compromise” on the Golan Heights and is urging his party to endorse that position at its national convention, which opens here Tuesday night.
His unequivocal stand on the issue comes at a time when the party is faring worse than ever in the public opinion polls and is sharply split on territorial compromise, the Palestinians and peace.
Peres gave his backing to a policy statement hammered out by the party’s Platform Committee after lengthy, acrimonious debate. It advocates both “territorial compromise” on the Golan Heights and “strengthening existing settlements” there.
That essentially means Labor would be willing to freeze settlement-building on the Golan during negotiations with Syria, a concession the Likud-led government has so far refused to make.
In media interviews Sunday, Peres said Israel “must not go down from the Golan,” but that does not mean it has to retain the entire territory, which it captured in 1967 and annexed in December 1980.
The Likud position, backed by the Knesset last week, is that the Golan is not negotiable and that Syria will get only peace in exchange for peace, not territory.
Peres claimed that “as every child knows,” it is “nonsense” to oppose any withdrawal whatsoever. But according to the latest polls, that is what a majority of Israelis do.
In another compromise plank, the Platform Committee called for recognition of the “national rights” of the Palestinians, but stopped short of endorsing a Palestinian state.
The recommendation omitted a specific ban on talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, as demanded by hawks within the party. It endorsed continued talks with the delegation of Palestinians the Israelis met with in Madrid.
BITTER FIGHTS EXPECTED
Political observers predicted bitter fights over the platform during the three-day convention. The 1,200 convention delegates must adopt the platform and vote on a new system of party primaries to select its leadership and its Knesset slate for elections that are still a year away.
While Peres said he was pleased with the platform as is, Labor’s No. 2 leader, Yitzhak Rabin, said the party must adopt clear positions on the peace issue which differentiate it not only from Likud but also from the “leftist extremists.”
Rabin, who speaks for the hawkish or “centrists” wing, says the party has veered too far to the left and blurred its differences with the “peace alliance” comprising Mapam, Center-Shinui and the Citizens Rights Movement.
“What matters is how to bring the party back into power,” he said.
At the moment, Labor is weathering its lowest public approval rating ever against the Likud, according to the latest public opinion surveys.
Peres dismissed the polls Sunday. He claimed they “reflect the government’s transient popularity” after the Madrid peace talks and will change “down the road, when the real issues will have to be faced.”