Israel has cautiously welcomed a Syrian statement expressing willingness to establish “total peace” between the two countries.
The statement was made Wednesday by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who met in New York with acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Both are attending the U.N. General Assembly’s opening session.
The remark came a day before peace talks were to recess here Thursday for the Jewish High Holidays, which begin Sunday night.
Sharaa said: “We are willing for total peace, for total withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories.”
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has demanded Damascus agree to a “full peace,” including open borders, exchange of ambassadors and normalization of relations, before discussing territorial compromise on the Golan Heights.
Sharaa’s statement appears to be the furthest the Syrians have gone toward meeting that condition.
Israeli negotiators here said they looked forward to an elaboration of the Syrian foreign minister’s statement.
“My curiosity has certainly been aroused by the word “total,’ particularly when applied to the word ‘peace,’” said Itamar Rabinovich, chief of the Israeli team negotiating with Syria.
“But we don’t need to always hang on to a couple of words,” he added. “Both parties have ways and means of amplifying, and I look forward to further amplification of what might be a positive direction.”
The Syrian chief negotiator, Mouwafak al-Allaf, seemed to reinforce a positive tone in defining the concept of total peace.
“All that contributes to make the peace genuine and complete – not partial peace, not a peace that is only on paper, but peace which is in reality between the two sides, and also for all other states and peoples in the region.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Wednesday that talks with Damascus should be upgraded to the summit level.
“I believe the time has come for Syria’s leaders at all levels to meet Israel’s leaders at all levels in the light of day,” Peres told Israel Radio from New York, where he is attending the General Assembly session.
Peres was echoing an assessment made Tuesday by Prime Minister Rabin, that talks with Syria should be stepped up to a higher level.
The has been speculation in recent days about a possible summit meeting between the Israeli prime minister and Syrian President Hafez Assad, though both Israeli and U.S. officials have denied that any such plans are in the works.
In the talks with the Palestinians, meanwhile, Israel has reportedly affirmed that the exchange of land for peace called for in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 applies to an eventual settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although not to an interim accord on self-government.
This would represent a change from the policy of the previous Likud government, which never accepted the application of 242 to all the territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel’s position was conveyed verbally to the Palestinians by Elyakim Rubinstein, chief of the Israeli delegation to the talks in Washington, according to Chemi Shalev, diplomatic correspondent of the Labor-affiliated Davar newspaper.
But Jerusalem has not agreed to spell out this position in writing, Shalev reported Wednesday.
If true, the move represents a significant step by the Rabin government in the direction of implementing positions it espoused in its election platform.
Arab negotiators have complained that Israel has been less forthcoming than the positions laid out in that platform.
Israel’s willingness earlier this month to apply Resolution 242 to the Golan Heights was seen as a breakthrough in the talks between Israel and Syria.
But that position has created a storm of public controversy in Israel over the future of the Golan Heights.
Four settlers from Moshav Neveh Ativ in the Golan ended a 175-mile march from home Wednesday at a meeting in Jerusalem with Rabin, where they registered their opposition to territorial concessions on the northern plateau.
The settlers said Rabin received them warmly and told them he cared about the Golan. But he made no promises, at least not for the record.
Nevertheless, the settlers said they came out of the meeting encouraged. They presented the prime minister with a New Year’s gift of apples and honey produced in the Golan.
Immediately after the meeting, they prepared to return home, this time by car.
Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, who often takes stands sharply at odds with his own Likud party, has repeated his belief that withdrawal from the Golan Heights is “inevitable.”
He told Israel Radio on Tuesday: “In return for a peace agreement, with guarantees, and in a gradual manner rather than at one blow, with mutual trust, I am certainly in favor of the return of territories for peace.
“That has been my belief since the Six Day-War, and my views have not changed.
“I understand the feelings of the residents” of the Golan Heights, he said. “But despite that, if there is a chance for us to achieve peace, avoid victims and casualties, and start dealing with our own economic problems and the fundamental issues facing the country, I think it is worthwhile and essential” to withdraw.
“And it should be done sooner, rather than later,” he added.