Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has angrily denied reports that Israel is holding out to Syria the possibility of full withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Rabin labeled untrue a report that Israeli negotiator Itamar Rabinovich told the Syrians Israel “does not rule out” a full withdrawal from the strategic plateau.
The prime minister told the Cabinet on Sunday he spoke after telephoning the professor-turned-diplomat in Washington overnight to double-check the story in the Labor-affiliated newspaper Davar. He labeled the report by diplomatic correspondent Menachem Shalev “irresponsible.”
As Rabin spoke, scores of Golan residents demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Office against the land-for-peace proposals offered by the Israeli delegation at the peace talks in Washington.
The seventh round of talks opened last week with a new Israeli signal of willingness to be flexible on the Golan issue. A document presented by the Israelis for the first time used the word “withdrawal” rather than vaguer formulations in indicating readiness to trade land for peace.
The offer was rejected the following day by chief Syrian negotiator Mouwafak al-Allaf as “nothing new.”
Rabin told the Cabinet in a prepared statement that Israel is ready to withdraw to secure and recognized boundaries, after negotiation, as part of a peace package with Syria. His often stated conditions for such a package include open borders, trade and full diplomatic relations.
He said the Israeli formulation does not specify where the borders are to be and does not imply total withdrawal.
Davar correspondent Shalev said he stood by his story, which was attributed to “sources in Washington.”
According to his report, Rabinovich told Allaf that Israel rejects the demand for the total withdrawal called for under the Syrian interpretation of the land-for-peace formula in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 – which was careful to exclude reference to the return of “all” lands taken by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967.
But the Israeli negotiator went on to say that the formulation now proposed by Israel as the basis of a joint statement by the two sides could accommodate the Syrian interpretation.
The Israeli formulation of the withdrawal clause, as cited by Davar, reads: “A withdrawal of Israeli forces will be carried out to agreed and recognized boundaries following negotiation between Israel and Syria.”
Settlement leaders from the Golan have accused Rabin and his aides of selling them out and violating election campaign promises. They pledged tougher public action to fight a government policy that, they said, was a “withdrawal from Zionism.”
But Health Minister Haim Ramon, a Rabin confidant, went out to meet the demonstrators and insisted that the position of the prime minister was entirely consistent with his election platform, which called for some territorial compromise on the Golan, but not total withdrawal.
In a television interview Friday night, Rabin spoke carefully of “withdrawal in the Golan, not from the Golan.”
He said there would be no talk of withdrawal unless and until the Syrians spelled out the nature of the peace they envision.
In other recent statements, Rabin has insisted there must be face-to-face summit talks with President Hafez Assad before a peace treaty can be signed, in order to demonstrate to the Syrian and Israeli people that Damascus has genuinely embarked on the road to peace with Israel.