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Netanyahu, Shteinitz Against Concessions to Syria

"From a strategic and military standpoint, there is no way that we can leave the Golan Heights." So said today MK Yuval Shteinitz, Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
First Publish: 1/8/2004, 3:47 PM / Last Update: 1/8/2004, 11:44 AM

"From a strategic and military standpoint, there is no way that we can leave the Golan Heights." So said today MK Yuval Shteinitz, Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He explained that it is "axiomatic" that northern Israel can simply not be defended without IDF control of the Golan Heights.

Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad has recently offered to take up negotiations with Israel "from the point that they were left off" - a code-phrase meaning that Israel would have to agree in advance to give up the entire Golan.

Shteinitz said that Yitzchak Rabin himself said publicly, some ten years ago, that abandoning the Golan is tantamount to abandoning the security of the State of Israel. Reminded that Rabin, as well as other Prime Ministers, reportedly agreed to give away most or all of the Golan, Shteinitz said, "I am talking from a military standpoint."

Various public officials have taken sides as to whether Assad is serious and whether Israel should respond to his call. President Moshe Katzav said today that even though it's uncertain whether Syria is serious, the government should not pass up the chance. Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz took the opposing point of view, saying last night that the signals from Damascus stem "only from the mess that Assad finds himself in as the head of a terrorism-sponsoring country, in light of the American victory in Iraq."

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well, says that given the new situation in the Middle East - "Libya's moves to disarm, Iraq's defeat, etc." - it's unreasonable to expect Israel to have to give away the Golan. "We should have to make major concessions?! The opposite! Syria is the one who has to give in!" He denied that he had ever agreed, when he was Prime Minister, to give away the entire Golan, saying that he had agreed only to withdraw to the Cliffs Line, enabling Israel to continue to defend itself from attack. Netanyahu said that in his opinion, "Israel must continue to hold the areas of settlement in the Golan, even during a time of peace."

On the other hand, IDF Intelligence Chief Gen. Aharon Ze'evi said this week that in his estimation, Assad is in fact serious. MK Shteinitz cynically agreed: "He is definitely serious - about relieving the US pressure on him. He doesn't want to end up as Saddam Hussein did. The question is whether we have to stand at attention in order to cooperate with him... The fact is that when talking about pre-conditions, there *is* one pre-condition that must exist in order for talks to be conducted, and that is the willingness of both sides to live in peace and co-existence. As of now, Syria is clearly not keeping this condition; just a week before his offer to Israel, he said that Israel's existence is intolerable. Negotiations with such a partner are a non-starter."

Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) has also weighed in on the topic. "Syria is a leper country on the international scene," he told Arutz-7 today, "and Israel has no reason to rush and offer assets."

Turkey, whose long-running tensions with Syria have begun to thaw of late, has offered to mediate between Syria and Israel.