THE stop-and-go Mideast peace process received a forward jolt
with Syria and Israel reaching a first-ever framework agreement on
security in the strategic Golan Heights.
But an apparent concession by Syria may not be enough to ensure
a complete agreement for a partial or full Israeli withdrawal from
the 18-mile-wide strip, which Israel seized as a military buffer
zone in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.
Still, with talks set to resume by the end of June, both sides
are under pressure to seal a deal before scheduled November 1996
Israeli elections, in which the right-wing Likud Party could win
and halt the peace process.
The United States-brokered accord, announced Wednesday, helps
restart talks that have been suspended for six months. Negotiations
between Syria and Israel first began in 1991. The breakthrough
follows recent visits to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara, plus
several exchanges between the ambassadors of the two countries.
Syria dropped its demand that the two sides pull their troops
back an "identical" distance from the Golan -- a symmetry Israel
rejected because it is a far smaller country.
Instead, both sides will now seek "mutual" security zones.
"Syria has pressed for equality in the entire package and in
each element," says Robert Satlof, executive director of the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington. "Israel
says equality is not necessary in each element, but you can still
end up with an equal package."
Israel's acceptance of a formula that accommodates its concerns
opens the way for a new talks between Syria and Israel. The
agreement follows Mr. Rabin's decision to halt a planned
confiscation of Arab land in East Jerusalem for Jewish housing,
which has sparked strong US and Arab reaction.
In Jerusalem, Israeli leaders echoed statements by US Secretary
of State Warren Christopher calling the agreement an "important
But both Israel and Syria are operating with the knowledge that
unless some agreement is reached soon, any chance for peace could
fall victim to domestic politics in 1996 Israeli national elections.
Mr. Rabin knows that a peace with Syria based on full diplomatic
recognition of Israel by Damascus could be crucial to his own
Syria's President Hafez al-Assad is also mindful of the
ancillary benefits of peace: better relations with the US, the
belated removal of Syria from the US list of terrorist states, and
possible US economic aid. …