JERUSALEM, Jan. 28 (JTA) — Several Knesset members from the Likud Party announced this week that they would consider an Israeli withdrawal on the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria. The parliamentarians, some of them considered hawks, suggested that Israeli flexibility regarding the Golan could provide leverage to make fewer concessions to the Palestinians in upcoming negotiations regarding the West Bank. Likud Knesset member Reuven Rivlin, who voted against the Hebron agreement in the recent Knesset vote, told Israel Radio that he would support a Golan withdrawal if it would enable Israel to retain large portions of the West Bank. Rivlin also proposed that Israel could consider leasing the Golan from Syria for a period of time necessary to prove that a peace with Damascus would hold. Likud parliamentarians Meir Sheetrit and Yehuda Lankri said Tuesday that they would back a Golan withdrawal if it furthered the cause of peace, according to Israel Radio. Golan residents expressed shock at the remarks by the Likud lawmakers, whose party platform describes the Golan as essential to Israel’s security. Golan regional council head Yehuda Wallman said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had clearly stated before and after the elections in May that two principles were essential to Israel’s future: no concessions on the Golan and no concessions on Jerusalem. The Knesset members’ remarks came a day after Netanyahu said he was optimistic that the negotiations with Syria would resume soon. “There are contacts through the United States, and efforts by the United States, to renew the talks,” Netanyahu said Monday during a tour of Haifa. Earlier Monday, Netanyahu responded to an opposition request to explain to the Knesset his government’s approach to resuming negotiations with Syria. Netanyahu told the Knesset that Israel was making an effort to renew the stalled talks — but that it could not force Syrian President Hafez Assad to do anything he did not want to. Negotiations between the two countries were suspended last March, after Assad refused to condemn a wave of Hamas suicide bombings that targeted Israel, claiming 59 innocent lives. In recent months, Syria has demanded that the negotiations resume where they left off and include the verbal assurances of the previous Labor government to consider withdrawals on the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Netanyahu has said both sides can raise whatever demands they want at the negotiations, but they must come to the table without any preconditions. On Monday, the premier said the two sides were now “looking for a bridging formula between these two opposing positions.” Last week, Foreign Minister David Levy confirmed an Israeli newspaper report that he had been in touch with his counterpart, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, via an unnamed senior European official. Netanyahu appeared before the Knesset after 40 members of the opposition signed a petition asking him to appear before Parliament to clarify his government’s position regarding the long-stalled talks with Syria. Under Israeli law, ministers must appear before the Knesset to address a specific issue if a minimum of 40 Knesset members sign a petition calling them to do so. Shai Bazak, Netanyahu’s media adviser, said Monday that the petition was not necessary, adding that Netanyahu was always available to address the Knesset when requested to do so.
Some Likud Knesset members may back withdrawal on Golan