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Minister’s Call for Ceding Golan Creates an Uproar in the Cabinet

Environment Minister Yossi Sarid has created an uproar in the Cabinet by calling explicitly for Israel to cede the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

Sarid, a member of the left-wing Meretz bloc, made the proposal Sunday, triggering a volley of arguments among Cabinet ministers and dissension within the governing Labor Party.

Tourism Minister Uzi Baram of Labor told reporters he emphatically agreed with Sarid, though he did not necessarily approve of the timing of the outspoken minister’s call.

“If I were in negotiations with Syria and this was the choice I faced, I would cede the Golan for peace,” Baram said.

Agriculture Minister Ya’acov Tsur, who is close to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, termed such statements “irresponsible.”

Tsur said Rabin supports withdrawal “on the Golan, not from the Golan,” presumably meaning that he would accept a partial withdrawal but not a complete pullout.

Sarid’s statement was the most forthright made so far by a government figure in favor of trading the Golan for peace.

Sarid said that peace with Syria, anchored in a full normalization of relations and adequate security arrangements, was more of an asset to Israel than sovereignty over the strategic plateau.

Politicians of the right-wing opposition Likud and Tsomet parties demanded Sarid’s immediate ouster from the government as a result of his remarks. But given Meretz’s pivotal position in Rabin’s coalition, those demands are unrealistic.

The opposition reaction, however, was designed to underscore the divisions that exist not only within the nation but within the Cabinet over Israel’s position on the Golan.

Sarid’s move is doubly significant, and controversial, coming as it does just weeks before the next round of Middle East peace talks are due to resume in Washington.

Itamar Rabinovitch, Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria as well as Israeli ambassador to Washington, said Sunday that the territorial question of the Golan would be discussed in the forthcoming round — if the Syrians took a satisfactory position on the nature of the proposed peace and normalization between the two countries.

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