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Talks with Syria Back on Track, While Palestinian Talks Flounder

Israeli peace talks with Syria appear to be back on track and those with the Palestinians seem to be floundering as the negotiations continue in Washington.

The minicrisis that erupted with Syria at the end of last week may have been designed to convince the United States to intervene directly in the talks, Israeli Cabinet ministers said Sunday after receiving a report on the negotiations.

They seemed less sanguine about negotiations with the Palestinians, who appear to lack both authority and clarity.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reiterated that Israel would decline to enter into territorial negotiations with Syria in the absence of a signal by Damascus that it is ready for a full, contractual peace with the Jewish state, involving both security arrangements and normalized relations, the ministers said.

Rabin’s implication, though, was that in exchange for such terms, he would indeed be prepared to trade land on the Golan Heights.

The talks are now in their fourth week. They will adjourn before the Jewish New Year, which starts next Sunday night. No date has been set for their resumption.

The Israeli news media reported Sunday that Jerusalem is proposing a round in October, but the Arabs seem reluctant to reconvene before the U.S. presidential election in November. There was no official confirmation of this report, however.

The negotiations with Syria are continuing in the absence of any new American presence, Interior Minister Arye Deri, the Shas party leader, told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

“They have found a formula to resolve the crisis,” he said.

Israel is insisting on clarity regarding the “nature of the peace” before entering into any territorial dimension of the dispute, he said.

Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a confidant of the prime minister’s, spoke of the prospect of arrangements under which “the Syrians pull their army back to Damascus, in addition to full, normal relations with Israel.”

Education Minister Shulamit Aloni, who heads the left-wing Meretz bloc, said the domestic dispute over the future of the Golan Heights is “premature.”

“We still don’t really know what the Syrians want,” Aloni said. She envisaged a scenario in which Israel would recognize Syrian sovereignty over the Golan and lease back sections of it for a long period of time.

Aloni referred specifically to areas “where our people are living” as those which Israel would wish to lease.

Rabin said in an interview with army radio that the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership in Tunis is playing a “harmful role” in the peace process.

Similarly, Deri said there is “no clear address” on the Palestinian side.

“The leadership is not united,” he said. “We have evidence that the PLO in Tunis is actively seeking to block certain members of the delegation and certain other leaders in the territories.”

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has strongly attacked the Rabin government’s readiness to concede land on the Golan for peace.

Speaking over the weekend to army radio, Shamir said: “We should do everything possible for peace, but without prejudicing the vital interests of the State of Israel.

“No one on Earth rushes to give up territory under his control. Nothing has been said by Syria that attests to a significant change of its positions regarding Israel. Everything has come from our side,” he said.

“We should be talking about peace and about the conditions for peace, but why rush with declarations about readiness to give up territory on the Golan Heights? If we do not give up the Golan Heights they will remain in our hands.”

Shamir said the Likud had left the country in a good condition which the present government “has not yet succeeded in spoiling, save for spreading fear and despondency among our own people, and heightening expectations among the Arabs regarding territorial concessions in the Golan, and in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”

Shamir repeated his pledge to quit as party leader and to quit political life altogether once the Likud embarks upon a process of selecting a new leader.

So far, Knesset member Binyamin Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister David Levy have thrown their hats into the ring in a bid for the party leadership.

Other party figures expected to join the fray include Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin, former Transport Minister Moshe Katsav and Knesset member Meir Sheetrit, the outgoing treasurer of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Shamir himself has not yet indicated a preference for any candidate.

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