Syria Tops Rabin's List in Visit to White House PALESTINIANS TAKE BACK SEAT

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ISRAEL is adopting a "Syria first" strategy in the Arab-Israeli peace process as the Palestinians remain undecided about whether to return to the negotiating table when Middle East peace talks resume next month.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, visiting the Clinton White House for the first time today, will seek enhanced strategic cooperation with the United States to ease Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Israeli sources say.

President Clinton is expected to press for details on just how much of the Golan Israel is willing to relinquish to Syria as part of a peace accord.

But Mr. Clinton also appears eager to resolve the Palestinian impasse and will seek a new Israeli commitment to expedite the return of the remaining 396 Palestinians deported to Lebanon last December and improve living conditions in the occupied territories.

"There is no question that Rabin's peace strategy has totally changed and it is now Syria first," declares Dore Gold, a strategic analyst at Israel's Jaffee Center for Strategic Affairs.

"Things are moving positively ahead with the Syrians, less so with the Palestinians," says Oded Ben Ami, Mr. Rabin's media adviser. "We really hope that we will achieve an agreement {with Syria} by the end of this year or the beginning of 1994."

Such statements contrast sharply with those made last spring during the Israeli election campaign when Rabin predicted an accord with the Palestinians within a year, but said that the peace process with Syria would take much longer.

Rabin apparently is holding out for a Syrian commitment for full peace and normalization of ties before he presents any concrete proposals for either partial or total withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Syria will not consider a normalization of diplomatic relations prior to a full Israeli withdrawal, Israeli sources say.

That remains the Israeli-Syrian deadlock that the US will address in today's meeting and in upcoming talks. If US mediation succeeds, the framework for an Israeli-Syrian settlement could be forthcoming in the next one or two rounds of peace talks. The next phase is scheduled to open in Washington April 20.

One of the main issues Rabin will raise with Clinton will be direct Israeli access to US military satellites and US AWACS radar aircraft based in Saudi Arabia to compensate for the ground-based early warning systems Israel now has in the Golan Heights to monitor troop and air force movements deep inside Syrian territory.

Syrian leaders and press commentators also reflect an eagerness to resume the peace talks. …