JERUSALEM (Sep. 8)
In the wake of a new Israeli proposal for peace with Syria, opposition leaders are pressing for the immediate dissolution of the Kneset and for early elections.
For the first time, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin this week outlined a two-phase proposal for peace with Syria that would involve withdrawal on the Golan Heights in exchange for normalized relations.
Syria, for its part, immediately rejected the proposal. At the same time, however, the Syrian possible for Israel and Syria to reach a peace agreement by the end of this year.
The Israeli premier broke new ground in an interview Wednesday with Galei Zahal, the Israel Defense Force radio station, saying the proposed first phase of the withdrawal should span a three-year period. A peace agreement would be finalized, he said, after a three-year interim period during which Israel would test security arragements and relations with Syria.
In the past, Israel reportedly was insisting on a five-year interim period.
Rabin compared the proposal to the phases of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. He recalled that in 1980 Israel pulled back in the Sinai to a line midway across the peninsula — from el-Arish in the north to Ras Muhammad in the south.
The IDF maintained that line for more than two years, while normalization — including the creation of embassies and the free flow of goods and persons — went into effect between the two countries.
In the interview, Rabin said he had conveyed to Syria, via the United States, his basic view that a peace agreement must “stand on four legs, like a table.”
The components he outlined included: the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a timetable for the duration of the withdrawal, provisions for a multistaged pullback and security arrangements.
Rabin emphasized that the first phase of the withdrawal would be “limited,” and would be accompanied by security provisions, on the one hand, and by a steady normalization of relations, on the other.
Responding to strong public reaction to the new proposal, Rabin sought to backpedal on Thursday, telling his Cabinet ministers that the first phase of the withdrawal he had proposed was to be “minimal” and was not to involve dismantling settlements “if possible.”
Minister of Agriculture Yakov Tsur, a Labor hard-liner, said the prime minister had not given “clear answers” regarding the withdrawal, but he had assured the ministers that “he is not talking about dismantling settlements” in the first phase.
But the Likud and other opposition parties were not assuaged. They demanded a special recess session of the Knesset — which was immediately scheduled for Tuesday — and said they would press for early elections.
Leaders of the Golan Heights settlements, meanwhile, sprang into emergency action. They announced the start of a public campaign, “Oz (Strength) 94″ designed to persuade public opinion against withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Representatives of all the settlements are scheduled to convene on Saturday night for the formal kickoff of the campaign.
Parallel to their planned actions in the public sphere, the Golan settlers are working feverishly within the ruling Labor Party to drum up opposition to the evolving accord.
A group of Labor Knesset members is urging legislation requiring a special majority of 65 percent of the nation, or 70 out of the 120 Knesset members, to approve any Golan-for-peace deal with Syria.
Rabin has pledged to hold a referendum on the Golan once an agreement with the Syrians has been worked out. In Rosh Hashanah interviews in the Israeli media, Rabin conceded that he had no mandate from the nation to undertake a deep pullback on the Golan and, therefore, needed the endorsement of a plebiscite.
The prime minister did not discount the possibility that this plebiscite might ultimately take the form of regular elections for prime minister and Knesset — with Labor and its allies running on a Golan-for-peace ticket.
Syria’s foreign minister, meanwhile, rejected the Israeli plan for a limited withdrawal.
In a television interview broadcast here Thursday, Farouk al-Sharaa said, “We think from a realistic point of view, from a logistical point of view, and because of the small size of the Golan Heights, there is no need for a long period to conclude the withdrawal.”
Israel Television said it received the tape of the interview from a Dutch television station.
Despite the rejection, Syria’s foreign minister took on a conciliatory tone toward Israel on Wednesday. At a news conference in London, al-Sharaa spoke of “a warm peace” between Israel and Syria and, for the first time, answered questions from journalists who identifed themselves as Israelis.
At a separate briefing for Arab journalists, the Syrian official said he could envisage an agreement before the year’s end but that depended on Israel.
He also said a summit between Rabin and Syrian President Hafez Assad was “inevitable.”