Israel wants Golan residents to stay


NEW YORK, Jan. 13 (JTA) — Israel wants Syria to allow Jewish residents of the Golan Heights to remain there in the event of an Israeli troop withdrawal from the region, according to a U.S. document published by an Israeli newspaper.

The Israeli position is spelled out in the document, which U.S. mediators reportedly gave both negotiating teams before the talks at Shepherdstown, W.Va., recessed earlier this week.

The document, published Thursday by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, indicates that Israel wants to create arrangements on the Golan “concerning the Israelis and Israeli communities from which Israeli forces will be relocated.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said at a briefing Thursday that he was “shocked — shocked — that there are leaks in the Middle East peace process.”

The leaking of the document was “particularly unhelpful” for the “confidentiality of the negotiations,” he added.

Rubin also cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the document because it “has no official or legal status.”

The document is a “work in progress, and it will change as we receive comments and clarifications from both sides. And so I would caution you against assuming that any particular version is definitive at that particular time,” Rubin said.

During the briefing, Rubin also confirmed that President Clinton had conferred Thursday by telephone with Syrian President Hafez Assad on the status of the talks.

But he would not go into details about the call except to say it focused on how to make progress in the negotiations.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office confirmed that the document published by Ha’aretz had been distributed to the two sides, but, like Rubin, cautioned that it was “preliminary” and had “no binding force.”

Some observers believe the government leaked the document in order to boost support among Israelis — and among residents of the Golan in particular — for an eventual peace agreement with Damascus.

Golan residents leader Yehuda Wohlman was quoted Thursday as saying that thousands of Israelis living in the area are willing to remain there under Syrian rule.

But not all Golan residents feel this way.

“We live in a democracy — no reason why anyone would want to live under Syrian dictatorship. I don’t want to walk out of my door and see a Syrian soldier standing there,” Golan spokeswoman Marla Van Meter told Reuters.

The document indicated that the two sides remain divided over borders, with Syria adhering to its demand for a full Golan withdrawal to the border that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War; Israel just as adamantly insisted that it would discuss a withdrawal only after the talks focused on the “security and other vital interests of the parties.”

This bolstered Barak’s claim from earlier in the week, when he refuted claims that he had already offered to turn over a large portion of the Golan.

The two sides also differed about a monitoring station on Mt. Hermon, with Israel demanding an “effective Israeli presence” there, and Syria saying it wants the station operated by the United States and France.

The document did indicate that the two sides had reached some important areas of agreement:

• Peaceful relations. The two sides agreed to establish “full diplomatic and consular relations, including the exchange of resident ambassadors.” They also agreed to open borders “enabling the free and unimpeded flow of people, goods and services between the two countries.”

• Water. They agreed to “cooperate on water-related matters,” though some differences still remain. Israel wants a “supervision and enforcement mechanism” to ensure Israel’s continued quantity of water use from the Sea of Galilee. Syria wants to reach “mutually agreeable arrangements with respect to water quantities.”

• Hostile alliances. They agreed to refrain from “cooperating with a third party in a hostile alliance of a military character and will ensure that territory under its control is not used by any military forces of a third party.” Israel sees the term “under its control” as referring to Lebanon and considers this a Syrian commitment to reign in Hezbollah.

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