Rabin raises hopes on Golan Heights withdrawal: Israeli PM's proposal for a referendum on draft peace deal with Syria sharply divides public opinion

YITZHAK RABIN, the Israeli Prime Minister, yesterday gave the strongest hint yet that he may consider a total withdrawal from the Golan Heights, telling Israelis to be ready to pay a heavier price than expected for peace with Syria, including the possible uprooting of Israeli settlements.

On Monday, Mr Rabin authorised an announcement that the government would hold a referendum if 'serious' concessions were needed in a future peace treaty with Syria. Yesterday he said: 'If and when we come to a draft peace treaty between Syria and Israel and it demands a painful price - perhaps beyond what the residents of Israel expect - if, and I emphasise, and when, in my opinion it will have to be brought to a referendum.'

He added: 'A significant withdrawal is likely to involve uprooting settlements, and I would like the decision on this to be according to the will of the entire people.'

Israeli reaction to Mr Rabin's referendum announcement yesterday was divided. Some believe the Prime Minister intends to use the referendum proposal to push forward talks with Syria.

Until now Mr Rabin has talked only of withdrawal 'on the Golan'. Convinced now that he may have to make the ultimate concession, some argue that Mr Rabin feels an obligation to seek a new public mandate. At the same time, the Prime Minister knows that he is unlikely to win the parliamentary majority he needs for full withdrawal. An estimated four Labour MPs are likely to vote against such a move, easily removing the government's majority of one.

The sceptics argue that Mr Rabin proposed a referendum to delay the prospects of any agreement with Syria, believing that President Hafez al-Assad is incapable of offering the kind of peace which would make possible an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. They say the ploy is an excuse to give no further concessions on the extent of withdrawal.

In recent months, several senior government officials have privately acknowledged that full withdrawal is a price Israel will have to pay. And before Sunday's summit, two Israeli ministers backed a full withdrawal in return for full peace.

Despite Israel's low-key assessment of the summit, it is clear US pressure was on Israel to react to the new gestures from President Assad.

The referendum proposal has defused the strong political opposition to a Syrian deal, generated by highly organised Golan settlers. Full public debate about the implications of withdrawal from the Golan Heights can now begin. The Prime Minister is hoping that President Assad, in his turn, will understand that Israel cannot move all the way without public support, which depends, in part, on big concessions from Syria. Public opinion polls are firmly against a total withdrawal, but pollsters point out that this could change if the public perception of Syria should change.

Whether Syria and Israel have moved closer to agreement in recent days will become clear when negotiations begin again next week in Washington. Israel is hoping that its hints of concessions may tempt Mr Assad to set out more fully his offer of peace. Discussion could then start on the pace of any Israeli withdrawal, and the nature of interim security guarantees.

The Syrians, however, have expressed surprise at Israel's qualified response to Syria's stand. 'We're surprised by the contradictory reactions in Israel,' the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, said in Amman yesterday after briefing Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan. 'We were expecting a big welcome to what was announced in the wake of the summit between the two presidents. Instead of that we are hearing statements on a referendum and demands for more. All of this makes us doubt the real intentions of the Israelis in achieving just peace.'

The PLO's chief negotiator with Israel hailed Syria's planned return to peace talks with Israel as an important step towards a final settlement of the Palestinian issue. 'Now that Syria is back in the negotiations, we should look for a total peace in the area and not fragmented peace,' Nabil Shaath said at the start of a new round of negotiations on the PLO's self-rule deal with Israel.

Leading article, page 15

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little