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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      May 26, 1995, V3, #98
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Israel to Drill for Water in Jordan

Israel will soon begin drilling for water in Jordanian territory in the Arava region. The operation is intended to supply water to Israeli settlements in the Sapir area. The water project is being carried out in accordance with the Oct. 26 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Once Amman completes a new pipeline Israel will transfer to Jordan 30 million cubic meters of water from the Sea of Galilee.

Syrian/Israeli Talks Scheduled for June

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem) and Laurie Kassman (Cairo)

Israel says its new understanding with Syria, announced in Washington on Wednesday, includes an important concept that will make further talks possible, but does not eliminate any of the significant differences on many practical issues which existed before.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor says the understanding which will enable the resumption of talks between Israeli and Syrian military experts is very general and leaves plenty of room for further disputes about the details. He says that is particularly true because the agreement is not written down and signed, but rather is a verbal understanding.

But Palmor says this is the first Israeli-Syrian agreement of any kind since the Middle East peace process began in Madrid four years ago. And he says the understanding is significant because it implies that Syria might accept security arrangements on the two sides of a future border which are not geographically equal, something Syria has so far refused to do.

"The formula that was agreed upon refers, among other things, to the fact that the security arrangements between Israel and Syria will be mutual, balanced and will take into consideration the geographical situation. So, in this sense, this is a first step. On the other hand, of course, this is far from solving all the many, many issues that are still separating us. And it does not yet solve all obstacles that we will have to face in the forthcoming negotiations."

Still, by agreeing to take the geographical situation into account, Syria appears to have abandoned its demand that any demilitarized areas on either side of a future border be the same size -- a concept Israel rejected. Israel says any demilitarized areas must be smaller on the Israeli side because Israel is a smaller country and regaining the high ground of the Golan Heights would give Syria a significant tactical advantage. Syria says that would be compensated for by Israel's stronger army.

The dispute might continue in future negotiations. But Palmor of the Israeli Foreign Ministry says at least negotiators have a basis

on which to proceed. "For the first time, we have agreed upon terms
of  reference.  We know what we're going to talk about.  We  have
a common concept of the security arrangements.  Of  course, if you
ask me about technical details about who will stand where, this is something that is impossible to be forecasted at this point. This will have to wait for the military experts to agree on."

Those talks are expected to begin next month, after another visit to Israel and Syria by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Israeli officials say the talks might be at a lower level than the military chiefs of staff who met once last year, and whatever talks result from this understanding will continue to have US mediation. One official says the understanding announced Wednesday was based on language formulated by the mediators, after several attempts. This official, who requested anonymity, says the Israel-Syria peace talks will likely continue to move slowly, but he says at least now the two sides can get down to business.

Syria is considered the key to a comprehensive Middle East peace. Sluggish progress on that negotiating track will hold up any final Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

So, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the PLO have all welcomed the latest step forward. It is mostly procedural -- described as an understanding of the general terms of reference for future security arrangements. The details have not been publicized.

But the agreement is enough to open the way for Israeli and Syrian military officials to resume their talks, which were suspended at the end of last year.

Negotiations have snagged on the timing and extent of an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights and about arrangements for a demilitarized buffer zone. Syria has argued that Israeli security proposals have not been balanced enough.

Syria wants Israel to withdraw completely from the Golan Heights. Israel captured the 775-square mile area in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But Israel wants Syria's commitment to normal relations first. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has always talked about a pullout on but not from the strategic border area.

Syrian President Hafez el-Assad has shown little interest in hasty decisions and has criticized both Jordan and the PLO for rushing to sign peace deals with Israel without first clarifying all the details. The PLO in particular has spent the past two years trying to resolve differences about the interpretation of the 1993 autonomy deal it signed with Israel. Some diplomats close to the peace process have suggested that Assad's reluctance to speed up the Syrian track now could backfire. They fear the outcome of US and Israeli elections next year could change the negotiating atmosphere and make a peace deal more difficult to achieve.

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