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>PD October 3, 1994 V2, #179

Israel and Jordan Meet Today with President Clinton

By Patricia Golan (Jerusalem)

Israel's foreign minister and Jordan's crown prince meet President Clinton in Washington today, where a statement is expected on the final delineation of the border between Israel and Jordan. Also today, talks resume between Israel and the PLO in Cairo on the next phase of Palestinian autonomy. The Palestinians are pressing to hold elections as soon as possible.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Salam al-Majali said Sunday that Jordan and Israel have not reached agreement on any of the key issues in the peace talks. Nevertheless, there are Israeli and American reports that agreement has been reached on border demarcation between the two countries. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Crown Prince Hassan met Sunday in New York to prepare for the Washington meetings.

In an unannounced summit Thursday between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein, there was no apparent breakthrough in resolving the thorny issue of water allocation. Jordan claims Israel is unfairly using too much of the region's water.

Now that the PLO has taken control of most of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, talks begin in Cairo on phase two of Palestinian self-rule. According to the Israeli-PLO agreement, the second stage involves a pullout by Israeli troops from Palestinian population centers in preparation for Palestinian general elections on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians say they want the elections held before the end of the year. The Israelis say that is not enough time to redeploy, and maintain the Palestinians are demanding sovereign powers that go beyond their agreement.

Israel says there are difficult issues that must be negotiated before the army can pull out of Palestinian areas in the West Bank, such as Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and safe roads connecting the self-rule areas. Israel and the Palestinians also differ on the size and nature of the self-rule council to be elected. Israel is proposing a small executive body; the Palestinians are demanding a larger assembly with legislative powers.

Knesset Law May Block Golan Withdrawal

By Daud Majlis (Washington)

Some members of the Israeli Knesset belonging to the ruling Labor Party are pushing a bill to block Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The bill may trigger a confidence vote in the parliament for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The 12 hunger strikers at Gamla on the Golan Heights have decided to end their hunger strike against the government's policy concerning the future of the Golan. The strike lasted for 19 days. The strikers decided to stop their fast after the bill was introduced that would buttress the Golan Heights Law of 1981. The proposed bill states that any peace deal with Syria involving a withdrawal from the Golan Heights will require either a public referendum with 65 percent approval or a Knesset vote with 70 members in support.

Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu, blames Syria for not negotiating in good faith. Netanyahu, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, emphasizes that his party actively pursued peace in the Middle East under the Camp David accords and during the Madrid Conference, and will do so again when his party comes to power. The Likud Party, he says, will seek peace with any Arab country who desires genuine peace.

However, the opposition leader says, in his opinion, Syria is not genuinely interested in peace. Instead, it wants to regain land from which Israel has been attacked many times in the past.

VOA Arabic reporter Hayat al-Khateeb spoke by telephone from Washington with Netanyahu about his party's position on peace talks with Syria. Netanyahu says Syria attacked Israel again and again from the Golan Heights, and as a result it forfeited any right to any automatic claims to the heights.

"We do not see a real commitment (on the part of Syria) to reconciliation and to an end to the state of belligerency, the feverish arming and the thinly disguised attempts to use the territories once they are back in Arab hands for future attacks on Israel. This is why we oppose that kind of a bogus peace and support a genuine peace."

Netanyahu says he would negotiate with Syria for peace only when negotiations start on the question of who will stay on the Golan Heights -- not on the position that Syria should have the territory simply because it makes the demand.

He criticized the current Labor Party government's negotiating methods. "I would not negotiate as prime minister with any Arab government, with any Arab party, very differently from the way the Arab parties would negotiate themselves. I found often in my discussions with the Arab leaders at the UN, and since my service at the UN, that they respect a firm position. They know that they can trust a tough negotiator."

Netanyahu emphasizes that a majority of Israelis, including those who live in the Golan Heights, say they want a real peace with Syria -- a peace that Israel can defend. If Israel unilaterally walks away from the Golan Heights and leaves the north of Israel unprotected, he says, it will not be an enduring peace, either for Israel or for Syria.

Netanyahu argues that the Golan Heights is important for peace because, according to him, Israel's presence there has ensured the absence of war for 20 years.

Limited Room for Withdrawal

Commentary by Elisha Efrat (Ha'aretz)

If, indeed, no Jewish settlement on the Golan Heights is to be dismantled, a minimal withdrawal of a few kilometers in order to test Syria's intentions should not be ruled out.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's declaration regarding a minimal Israeli withdrawal on the Golan Heights without dismantling any settlements, parallel to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Syria and normalization, which would be tested over the course of three years, until the stage of the final withdrawal, naturally raises the following question: where would such a withdrawal be possible, without substantially altering Israel's strategic position on that piece of land?

If we act on the assumption that, indeed, no Jewish settlement on the Golan Heights is to be dismantled, and that there will be a minimal withdrawal of a few kilometers only, then we are left with a very limited range of possibilities. A close examination of the geography of the Golan Heights shows that the number of areas in which there will -- in all likelihood -- be no withdrawal for various reasons, is much greater than the number of areas which in which there could be such a withdrawal.

For example, there is no reasonable logic which would suggest a withdrawal from the Golan Heights' southeastern border, near Hammat Gader and parallel to the Yarmuk River -- about which discussions are now being held regarding water-allocation arrangements between Israel and Jordan. Also, it can not be assumed -- under present circumstances -- that land for a possible withdrawal could be found along Nahal Rukad, near the bloc of settlements on the southern Golan Heights, along the Mevo Hamma-Ramat Magshimim road, since they are located a mere 2-5 kilometers from Israel's forward line. There is little likelihood for a partial withdrawal along the Ramat Magshimim-Alonei Bashan-Ein Zivan road, due to the topographical importance of this parcel of land (comprising the peaks of the Mt. Peres, Mt. Yosephon, Mt. Shifun and other ridges) lying opposite Syrian territory; moreover, only a few dozen meters separate the 1974 disengagement lines between Israel and Syria here. There is also no possibility for any withdrawal whatsoever opposite the demilitarized town of Kuneitra, lest it be repopulated by Syrian residents and thus constitute a threat to the settlements of Ein Zivan and Merom Hagolan, which are very close to the border.

On the Golan Heights' northern border, there is also no likely tract for a withdrawal at this stage, not even a minimal withdrawal, due to the great strategic value of Mt. Hermon and Mt. Dov -- 'the country's eyes' -- opposite the Damascus Plain, and also due to the great importance of lookout points on the various peaks, which often rise to more than 1,500 meters above sea level. Not even the divided village of Rajar is a possible site for such a withdrawal, due to the importance of the nearby waters of Nahal Snir, which flow into Israel.

.By eliminating various tracts of land for either topographical or strategic reasons, or due to the proximity of Jewish settlements, only one parcel of land -- in the northeastern Golan Heights -- is left as a potential place for a limited withdrawal: the area between Kuneitra and the Druze village of Majdal Shams, which also contains the Druze villages of Bukata and Massada. This area, east of Mt. Varda and Mt. Ram, extends for 15 kilometers and is 4-5 kilometers wide. Topographically, it is overlooked by Mt. Hermon, Mt. Odem and other peaks. It is very possible that a concession over this piece of land, in which 2-3 Druze villages -- with national, cultural, and social links with Syria which find public expression at every opportunity -- have remained since the Six Day War, would be the relatively easy solution on this issue. The Syrian villages of Khan Aribane, Ofna, and Jabta al-Hashav, which lay opposite, are no significant danger to Israel.

If it becomes clear that, indeed, this is the designated area for a minimal and symbolic withdrawal from the Golan Heights, designed to test the seriousness of the Syrians, it would appear that there would be no reason for the kind of protest activities being organized today by residents of the Golan Heights; and there may be no objective reason for outraged reactions regarding this parcel of land, or others, that are likely to encompass a total of about seven square kilometers, and which comprise no more than 6.5% of the Golan Heights total area.

Except for the view that there can be no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, as presented by the Golan Heights' residents, such a minimal withdrawal is worthwhile in order to achieve some larger step, which could lead to peace between Israel and Syria.

[Professor Efrat is a planner and geographer.]

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