Rabin survives vote on Golan

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The Independent Online
The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, won a narrow victory in parliament yesterday for his peace negotiations with Syria. MPs voted 59-59 on first reading of a law that would have required a majority of 70 in the 120- seat Knesset for any agreement to withdraw from the Golan Heights. The Speaker declared the bill defeated, and Mr Rabin could breathe again.

The division underlined the precarious state of his coalition. Three rebel backbenchers from Mr Rabin's Labour Party sponsored the legislation. One of the three MPs from Yi'ud, a breakaway right-wing faction now in the government, voted for it. So did the six Shas (Sephardi religious) MPs, who normally support the Prime Minister from outside. Only a last- minute vote against the bill by another Yi'ud MP, Alex Goldfarb, a deputy minister, prevented its passage.

The right-wing Likud opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, said afterwards: "This proves that Mr Rabin has no majority for giving up the Golan Heights, in the Knesset or among the people." The Prime Minister dismissed the proposed law as "nonsense". Israel had gone to war without a majority of 70 MPs, he insisted and it could make peace without a majority of 70.

The United States ambassador, Martin Indyk, had earlier warned a number of waverers that the law would deter the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, from negotiating with Mr Rabin. It would undermine American mediation efforts. In return for peace, Syria demands the return of all the territory captured by Israel in 1967.

A counter-argument floated last night by the Shas leader, Aryeh Deri, suggested that the Knesset vote signalled to Mr Assad that a Golan agreement had to command a national consensus.

Mr Deri said he favoured territorial concessions, but he had to be satisfied that Israel would not be exposing itself to danger by withdrawing. Ministers yesterday reiterated their commitment to submit any Golan agreement to a referendum.