Rabin edges towards Golan compromise

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The Independent Online
JERUSALEM - The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, hailing a 'significant change' in Syria's tone, said yesterday that Israel was prepared to cede occupied land for a comprehensive peace with its arch foe. But he said Damascus must commit itself to reaching a peace treaty with Israel before he would discuss territorial compromise in the Golan Heights.

However, his remarks were dismissed by the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Shara, who insisted that a complete Israeli withdrawal from the area was a prerequisite of any agreement.

Mr Rabin told Israel Radio: 'We have said that in exchange for a peace treaty that promises an end to war and opens the borders between Syria and Israel, diplomatic relations and normalisation, that Israel is ready to implement (UN resolutions) 242 and 338 . . . This implies of course some sort of territorial compromise.'

It was the clearest public statement by Mr Rabin that Israel was prepared to swap some of the strategic Golan Heights for peace with its neighbour. Mr Rabin declined to say what land might be given back. He said land would be discussed only after Syria showed it wanted a peace treaty.

In another radio interview, he said: 'I can only welcome any progress toward peace. I think that in the expressions of Syria, the words of President Assad, I see important progress. But they still do not respond to our interpretation of peace.'

He also said talks with Syria could not be linked to progress in the the Middle East peace talks which adjourned in Washington last week and will reconvene on Monday.

Mr Rabin won the Israeli general election in June promising to accelerate the Arab-Israeli talks but he virtually wrote off chances of progress with Syria. He revived talks after taking office by accepting the principle of returning part of the Golan Heights.

Officials in Damascus quoted President Assad on Wednesday as saying Syria wanted every inch of the Golan Heights as part of any peace pact with Israel.

'Syria will never give concessions on its land and rights,' they quoted President Assad telling 200 Druze, the largest such group allowed into Syria from the heights since the 1967 war.

Mr Rabin has said he intends to keep at least part of the Golan, which towers over Israel's Galilee in the west and above the plain leading to Damascus in the north, but he praised Mr Assad's tone.

He said: 'I have no doubt there has been significant change, at least in the content of words.'

But Mr Shara, speaking in the Qatari capital, Doha, said: 'This (Mr Rabin's position) is completely unacceptable and contradicts the substance and the spirit of the peace talks . . . that aim for a full withdrawal.'

JERUSALEM - Jewish settlers cheated Arabs of their homes in east Jerusalem under former Israeli leader Yitzhak Shamir, a member of parliament said yesterday, quoting a report by the new Labour government. Dedi Zucker, head of parliament's legal committee, said the settlers skirted laws to evict the Arabs and then moved in.