Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited unhappy settlers on the Golan Heights on Tuesday and told them Israel must give back some land to secure a peace treaty with Syria.
While reiterating that he did not want a complete withdrawal from the strategic plateau, he pointed out that there is a vast range of possibilities between a full pullback and giving up no land whatsoever.
“It is my moral duty, as prime minister and as Yitzhak Rabin, to make every effort to reach peace,” he said.
But leaders of the settlers said Rabin “has no mandate” to negotiate any withdrawal at all, and they pledged to oppose government plans to do so.
One leader, Knesset member Yehuda Wollman of Rabin’s own Labor Party, said government plans to return land to the Syrians “take the taste out of our lives.”
Rabin compared his record favorably with that of the Likud government, which returned all of Sinai to the Egyptians and demolished the Jewish settlement of Yamit.
He said he would not repeat the Likud “precedent” of total withdrawal. And he noted pointedly that he had “not destroyed or withdrawn a single settlement anywhere” in the course of his public career.
He said Israel awaits a response from Damascus on its vision of the contents of a peace treaty between the two countries before considering a pullback of any kind.
Moreover, Jerusalem insists a treaty with Syria remain independent of Israeli negotiations with other Arab partners in the peace process. Syria has so far failed to satisfy Israel on either of these cardinal points, he said.
Settler leaders appeared especially hurt by the prime minister’s statement that the number of jobless in Israel is 10 times the number of Golan settlers, and that unemployment is the government’s top priority.
Before visiting the Golan, Rabin visited the Kiryat Shmona home demolished last week in a Katyusha rocket attack. He was accompanied by Interior Minister Arye Deri and senior officers.