Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin opened the summer session of the Knesset this week, vowing to take a tough stand in its negotiations with Syria.
Israel would not sign a peace agreement with Syria “under any conditions or at any price,” Rabin said Monday.
His remarks came as Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa concluded talks in Washington aimed at moving the Israeli-Syrian negotiations forward.
Sharaa will apparently return to Damascus with proposals to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Syrian visions for security arrangements in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
In meetings with the Syrian foreign minister, President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher pressed him to make peace with Israel.
However, the meetings failed to resolve the major issues dividing Israel and Syria, including the extent of a presumed withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the time frame and the security arrangements.
“There are serious gaps,” Christopher told reporters.
After meeting with Clinton, Sharaa said, “The next step is to reach an understanding on the terms and principles of security arrangements. If we are able to, the negotiations will move ahead quickly.”
Sharaa argued that security arrangements must be “reciprocal, equal and balanced.”
Citing the size of the Jewish state and the advantage of holding the strategic plateau, Israel has opposed the notion that all security arrangements have to be equal.
The recent decision by Israel to confiscate Arab land in Jerusalem and congressional initiatives to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem obscured Sharaa’s visit.
“The general picture in the Arab world is not a good one especially regarding the confiscation of land by Israel” in eastern Jerusalem, Sharaa said he told Christopher during their meetings.
Jerusalem was also high on Rabin’s agenda during the Knesset session.
At the heart of the day’s debates were the bards traded between Rabin and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
While Rabin said Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, Netanyahu retorted that despite government claims that Jerusalem is not up for negotiation, it is busy negotiating the city’s fate with the rest of the world.
The sparring came in the wake of Sunday’s Cabinet decision to approve the expropriation of the land in eastern Jerusalem.
At the United Nations on Monday, Arab states circulated a draft resolution sharply criticizing Israel’s planned confiscations. The resolution calls on Israel to immediately rescind the confiscation order.
Israel sought to ease the outcry on the matter, presenting members of the U.N. Security Council with copies of Sunday’s Cabinet decision, which stressed that no further lands would be expropriated for building housing in the city.
Prior to Rabin’s address, the Knesset debated a no-confidence motion that had been submitted by the National Religious Party over an Israeli law implementing the Palestinian self-rule accord.
Rabin’s governing coalition defeated the motion by a vote of 57-48.
Both Rabin and Netanyahu gave their spin on negotiations with Syria at respective caucus meetings earlier in the day.
Rabin said there are problems in the negotiations with Damascus, which is asking more from Israel than any other Arab country had in previous peace talks.
Netanyahu warned at a Likud caucus meeting that the government is getting ready to sell out on Jerusalem, as well as on the Golan Heights.
The statements came as the Labor Party faced its own internal division on the Golan issue.
After a stormy Knesset Committee meeting, Labor Party member Avigdor Kahalani said he would present his Golan bill before the Knesset plenum, no matter what other party members said.
Kahalani has been calling for a law requiring a special majority of 70 Knesset members to approve any territorial concessions on the Golan as part of an eventual peace deal with Syria.