Israelis and Syrians working toward peace Deal would involve Israelis surrendering Golan Heights land

September 11, 1992|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- Israel and Syria are negotiating the terms of a joint document setting forth the principles for working out a peaceful settlement between the two countries, Israeli officials say.

The negotiations are the latest in a series of signals by the two countries that they are moving to ease more than four decades of enmity through a settlement involving an Israeli return of at least part of the Golan Heights captured by Israel in the 1967 war in return for Syria's acceptance of a peace treaty with Israel.

Such a joint document would be the first paper negotiated by the two sides directly. A 1974 agreement formalizing the current borders was worked out through the mediation of then Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger without the Syrians and Israelis actually talking together.

But there are major obstacles to an actual peace treaty, the foremost being Syria's insistence that Israel must return all of the heights and Israel's reluctance to make such a commitment. In 1979, the only time Israel signed a peace treaty with an Arab state, the Israelis returned all of the captured Sinai to Egypt in return for peace.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday and in interviews with the army radio and the Israeli radio yesterday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explicitly stated, for the first time since he became chief of government two months ago, his country's willingness to give up parts of the Golan Heights.

In 1981, the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin in effect annexed the Golan Heights to Israel by extending Israeli law to the occupied area. The Israel radio said yesterday that the Israeli delegation in Washington would present Syria with a position paper that will say for the first time that Israel is willing to change the situation on the Golan Heights and will try to put together a common position paper that will touch on the $H framework for a peace agreement. The English-language Jerusalem Post published a similar account yesterday.

There was no official reaction from the Syrian president, Hafez Assad, to the Israeli statements about a joint document, but the Syrian ambassador in Iran, Ahmad al-Hassan, told Al Abrar, an Iranian daily, in an interview published in Tehran yesterday that "we are positive about recent Israeli interpretations on the Golan Heights," adding: "Israel has recognized that the Golan is a Syrian land."

Syria's recent gestures toward Israel have included allowing some of Syria's Jews, who total about 4,000 people, to leave the country after years of monitoring their movements and limiting the right of departure. Some reports say as many as 1,000 have left.

On Wednesday, Mr. Assad told a visiting delegation of Druse residents of the Golan Heights that Syria sought "the peace of the brave" with Israel.

One of the Druse delegates, Sheik Nabil Abu Saleh, told the Israeli radio yesterday that Mr. Assad "assured the delegation of his interest in bringing peace to the region and ascertained that peace will, God willing, come sooner or later."

Yesterday, Mr. Rabin praised Mr. Assad's willingness to speak openly to the Syrian people of peace with Israel and described this as a "positive" development.

Speaking for the second day in a row about Israel's willingness to withdraw its troops from some of the heights, Mr. Rabin told the Israel radio yesterday that, in return for Syria's willingness to sign a peace treaty that fully normalizes ties, Israel was willing to apply to the Golan the concept of land for peace inherent in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

The Rabin government appears to be taking the view that some territory should be returned to Syria. The issue of the West Bank taken from Jordan is more complicated because Palestinians want that land given to them for a Palestinian homeland and Jordan has agreed to this.

Asked if the 13,000 Jewish settlers of the Golan Heights should feel deceived in case they are asked to leave their homes, Mr. Rabin answered: "I don't think they have been deceived. We never said that this issue of territorial compromise, which must be of limited dimensions, is not applicable to the Golan Heights."

He stressed that Israel was contemplating only a limited withdrawal from the heights and only in return for a full normalization of political, commercial, and diplomatic ties with Syria.

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