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Ex-GSS Chief Causes Uproar With Call for Golan Withdrawal

Cabinet Minister Dichter: "After all, we paid similar prices for peace with Jordan and Egypt." Just last week, Syrian Pres. Assad said, "Each generation hates Israel more than the preceding one."
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 8/21/2006, 3:22 PM / Last Update: 8/21/2006, 3:19 PM

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter [pictured], a former head of the General Security Service, says that Israel should give up the Golan Heights in exchange for "true peace" with Syria. Israel annexed the Golan, from which Syria often attacked Israel prior to the 1967 Six Day War, in 1982.

Dichter joined the Kadima Party shortly after its formation late last year.

Speaking with Army Radio today, Dichter did add that the "question of water rights and Lake Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee] are matters that I would not cede so easily." But he said that Israel should initiate a diplomatic move to talk with Syria.

"We know the prices," Dichter said. "We are experienced in paying the prices; we faced Egypt and Jordan, and we arranged things. We tried to do this with the Palestinian Authority, but to our sorrow, it did not work. But this doesn't mean that with other countries such as Lebanon or Syria it won't work, and perhaps this will make it clear to the Palestinians that there is no chance for any country to make gains by warring against us." Dichter did not explain how this principle applied to the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

Dichter's remarks drew a storm of outcry, even within his own party. "This is pure amateurism," one unnamed Kadima member said. "No discussion has been held on our diplomatic goals. It sounds like a close-out sale, precisely when Assad sounds such firm threats."

Kadima MK Otniel Shneller said, "Everyone has his own personal agenda, but we have one country, and we are facing a storm; we must first of all abandon our personal agendas and stabilize our ship."

Likud MK Yuval Shteinitz, former Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that to cede the Golan Heights is utter foolishness: "Minister Dichter's proposal is a reward to the Syrians for the speech that Assad just delivered and the hundreds of Katyushas they gave Hizbullah with which to strike Israel... The Golan is critical for the existence of the State of Israel."

Some left-wing MKs, as well as the radical left-wing Peace Now, came to Dichter's defense. Education Minister Yuli Tamir opined that Israel must begin negotiations with Syria, and MK Zahava Gal'on of Meretz said that this would remove Syria from the Iranian "axis of evil."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "We will be happy to talk with Syria once it stops supplying rockets and weapons to those who use them against Israel."

The Gush Katif Residents Committee expressed strong opposition to Dichter's approach. "In light of the deterioration of our national security in the year following the retreat from Gush Katif," Chairman Lior Kalfa said, "we now must face the shocking idea that our sacrifice was for naught. How can it be that our ostrich-like government leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand as they consider replicating the failure of the Disengagement? Will they then sacrifice, as well, our brothers in the Golan or Yesha (Judea and Samaria), just because they are afraid to climb down from the tall tree they climbed and admit to the public they made a mistake?"

MK Effie Eitam (National Union), a resident of the Golan and a former IDF Northern Formation Commander, said that Syria cannot be a partner for dialogue. "Our dispute with Syria is not just territorial," Eitam said today, "and therefore a retreat from the Golan would endanger Israel's security. Syria has allied itself with the axis of evil of Hizbullah and Iran, whose goal is to destroy Israel, and cannot be a partner for negotiation."

"The government refuses to learn the lesson of our retreats from Lebanon and Gaza," Eitam said, "which merely increased the danger to Israel."

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union):
"Using Dichter's logic, he would probably offer to give the Galilee to Iran, if Iran would deign to shoot 4,000 Katyushas at us. Whoever doesn't understand that 'territories for peace' never worked and has brought us only bloodshed, would be advised not to give advice on security matters."

Former MK Yehuda Harel, who served one term in the Knesset for a party (Third Way) whose raison d'etre was essentially to oppose a retreat from the Golan, said he fears that the Golan Heights residents do not realize the danger inherent in Dichter's remarks.