THE ISRAEL REPORTMay/June 2000
Golan Quickly Back On Radar Screens(ICEJ News) Even though Bashar al-Assad's official credentials as the new Syrian dictator are still pending, the dispute over the Golan Heights came back to the fore over the weekend when Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said the Israeli government might be willing to discuss giving Damascus some access to the Kinneret, as well as to a strip of shore northeast of the lake, as part of a future peace deal. HA'ARETZ reports that the comments were made in coordination with Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
In comments made to foreign diplomats on Friday and a subsequent interview on Israeli TV, Beilin said that Israel "is ready to pay the price, and we know that the price is the Golan Heights." Beilin called on Bashar to consider the compromise idea put forth in recent months by British journalist and Syria expert Patrick Seale which would give Syria a part of the shoreline and access and rights to the lake itself under UN auspices. Beilin said the plan was "an interesting suggestion" and could serve as "a basis" for future negotiations.
"I think we can talk about it. It is one of those situations in which we appear to have hit a dead end, and then an idea comes up which looks like a bridge." Beilin concluded the TV interview by saying that "the differences between us and them are actually not that vast."
In a statement made during the cabinet meeting on Sunday and published by his office, Barak responded that "there is no change in Israel's position regarding our insistence on Israeli sovereignty over Lake Kinneret and a strip around it whose breadth will also depend on the peace agreements between the two countries." Despite the disclaimer, the statement appears to reflect a new formula on Barak's part. Whereas his mentor, the late PM Yitzhak Rabin, spoke of the equation "the depth of withdrawal equals the depth of peace" offered by Syria, Barak seems to be willing to simply reduce the width of a thin buffer zone along the shoreline in accordance the depth of peace offered by Damascus.
Golan residents and their supporters nationwide were shocked by the comments and the troublesome method of negotiations employed. Golan activists accused Barak of not learning the lessons of previous negotiations held with the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad. "The prime minister is once again proving to the Syrians that they are right in their intransigence and that every Israeli proposal which is described as the last concession is really just the opening stance for the next concession," Golan Resident's Council spokesman Uri Heitner said. "The previous offers made to the Syrians, which were rejected by them, were tantamount to surrender and dealt a severe blow to the national and basic interests of the State. The fact that the government is proposing to add to this by proposing more concessions shows a lack of national responsibility.
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE GOLAN RESIDENTS COMMITTEE: Israeli government's most recent negotiation proposal calls for more concessions to Syria
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