Politicians and the state-run media have begun to respond to PM Olmert's official acknowledgement of Golan withdrawal talks. The public remains squarely opposed to the idea.
A large majority of 70 percent of the Israeli public answered "no" when asked if Israel should give Syria the Golan Heights in return for promises of peace, a poll carried out for Channel 2 TV found. Only 22 percent answered "yes."
Additionally, 57 percent of the public thought the negotiations with Syria were "completely connected" to the investigations against Ehud Olmert. Thirty-two percent did not see a connection.
Fifty-eight percent of the public was of the opinion that Olmert had "no legitimacy" to conduct talks with Syria at this time, while thirty-three percent said they thought the talks were legitimate.
Another poll, broadcast on IDF Army Radio and carried out by the Geocartographic Institute found 65 percent against the withdrawal, even for true peace with Syria. Sixty-four percent were firmly against even a partial withdrawal.
Asked what the results meant for the Olmert government if it was serious about a withdrawal, Professor Avi Degani of the Geocartographic Institute said: “The people's answer was ‘no.’ 65 percent are against it. That is how the nation feels today.
"But will those be the results in a referendum?" asked interviewer Razi Barkai.
"Absolutely not, Prof. Degani answered. "Once the process continues and people see positive results it will be different. We saw this with the Disengagement."
Barkai: "Yeah. It began one way, but ended another."
Olmert Chooses His Audience
Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chose a crowd certain to applaud talk of withdrawal on Wednesday, members of the Kibbutz Movement from Golan Heights collectives did not clap along with their colleagues at the announcement of talks over evicting them from their homes in exchange for an agreement with Syria.
"It was sad for me to hear my colleagues clapping at this populist attempt to jeapordize our life's work for nothing," one resident told a correspondent for IDF Army Radio.
The Council of Golan Communities, a body that attempts to convey a moderate image politically, went as far as to say that Olmert is unfit to serve. "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is acting against the national interest and against the nation's wishes, and endangering the State of Israel, and therefore is not worthy of his office," a statement following a meeting of the leaders Wednesday night read.
The head of the Golan Regional Council, Eli Malka, said at the meeting: "We will not let a Prime Minister who is motivated by foreign considerations to hand over a stretch of land to the Axis of Evil and endanger our very existence."
The Likud faction accused Olmert on Wednesday of carrying out "a cynical and transparent stunt in order to deflect attention from his personal problems. Olmert is up to his neck in investigations against him and has no moral and public mandate to hand over the Golan and bring the Syrians back to the Sea of Galilee, as Syria's foreign minister announced," the party's statement added.
The Depth of the Investigation Dictates the Depth of the Uprooting
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) repeated the allegation leveled at then-PM Ariel Sharon prior to the Disengagement, that "The depth of the criminal investigation dictates the extent of the withdrawals. Olmert thinks that if Sharon was spared from trial due to pushing through the Disengagement he can escape his by executing a withdrawal and handing parts of the land to someone who was just a short time ago seeking nuclear weapons."
The implications of Eldad's claim are that Israel's High Court and State Prosecution are able to push through their political agendas through threatening politicians with prosecution.
Shas To Remain in Coalition, Opposes Giving Away Golan
The Shas party will remain in the government coalition even though it is against surrendering the Golan Heights to Syria, party chairman and Industry Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said. "At the moment when we see that there is real danger of giving the Golan to the axis of evil, Shas, of course, won't be in the government," he said. The decision guarantees survival for the Prime Minister unless members of his own party bolt.
The Shas position is similar to that it has taken on the status of Jerusalem. It opposes dividing the capital but has said it will support Prime Minister Olmert so long as the issue is not discussed at senior levels. The government has denied Palestinian Authority claims that senior negotiators have brought the issue to the negotiating table.
Netanyahu Admission Aired
IDF Army Radio played a tape of former PM Binyamin Netanyahu admitting to carrying out talks with Syria about a Golan withdrawal. Netanyahu was asked about the talks, which were conducted through American Jewish philanthropist Ron Lauder.
“I told Ron 'I have one condition – Mt. Hermon.' Why? Because we are also threatened by Iran and I need eyes eastward," Netanyahu said.
Media Ramps Up Support
Veteran Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar published a piece Thursday morning entitled: "Small Piece of Land Could Scupper Israel-Syria Talks."
Eldar, referring presumably to the parts of the Golan Netanyahu and subsequent negotiators seek to retain and not to the entire Jewish state, says "the sticking point is Syria's demand for land reaching the northeastern shore of the Kinneret."
Eldar goes on to outline everything he knows about the deal that the Olmert government seeks to use as a jumping-off point for negotiations:
* Israel told Jimmy Carter it would be willing to relinquish pumping rights to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in return for the funding of desalination plants and money to buy water from Turkey.
* Israel and Syria disagree on whether to give the Jews of the Golan ten or fifteen years to relocate. In return, Jews will be allowed to visit the Golan during daylight hours.
* There is no agreement on demilitarization.
The day's Haaretz editorial opeined: "Let the investigations continue as if there were no peace talks, and let the peace talks continue as if there were no investigations--and perhaps it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise."
Kaspit vs. Yatom
Labor MK Danny Yatom, who formerly headed the Mossad, was brought into an interview with journalist Ben Kaspit on IDF Army Radio. Kaspit had a column on Maariv's front entitled: "Investigate as Though there is no Peace and Make Peace as Though there Were no Talansky," referring to the American Jewish businessman who admitted to handing Olmert cash-stuff envelopes.
Yatom said that the public should understand that the situation does not even come close to talks, but involves simply sitting down and preparing preliminary steps toward negotiations. Yatom, who would support a Golan withdrawal, aimed to convince listeners that PM Olmert had not advanced talks any further and was just using the issue to distract from his legal problems.
Kaspit accused Yatom of obscuring the issue and of being a 'kashkeshan' - one who is all talk - enraging the MK. The two proceeded to launch personal attacks on one another. "You've done nothing with your life other than engaging in idle chatter," Yatom told the veteran Maariv journalist. "You obviously have a connection in the Prime Minister's Office and are doing their work of misleading the public!"