- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2000

Israel, in peace talks with Syria, is calling for 17,000 Jewish settlers to remain in the Golan Heights even after it is handed back to Syria, according to the text of a U.S.-drafted peace accord drawn up at the peace talks last week in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Syria wants them out and refuses to promise Israel continued access to the water draining off the Golan Heights.

Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper detailed these and other particulars of the once-secret U.S. proposal Thursday by publishing the full text of the seven-page document purportedly leaked by Israeli officials on the Internet.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the release of the text to the press, a diplomatic source told The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.

The text was released to prepare the Israeli public to accept the concessions needed to complete a final peace treaty, said analyst Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

However, the draft treaty "is colder than Camp David" he said, referring the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel. Among other things, it shows that Syria wants to block Israeli visitors and trade.

"The Syrians use weasel words such as 'normal' to describe future aviation policy with Israel," Mr. Clawson said in an interview Thursday. "What is 'normal' for a country that does not allow its neighbors to fly over its airspace?"

Even a pledge to stop incitement by groups threatening Israel's security was pruned from versions in peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

The U.S.-authored text included sections in brackets marked with an "S" or an "I" to indicate views that were not accepted by the other side.

Everything else could be assumed to be generally accepted by both.

Israel, for its part, refuses to specify what border it will withdraw to and thus Syria still does not know how much of the Golan Heights it will get back.

At issue is whether Israel will allow Syria to return to the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

President Clinton spoke Thursday with Syrian President Hafez Assad about the peace process and the upcoming resumption of talks Jan. 19 but no details of their conversation were disclosed.

Diplomatic sources told The Washington Times the talks would almost certainly resume back in Shepherdstown and State Department mediators were being told to pack for another week in the rural college town.

The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center there remained booked for the rest of the month by the State Department, a source said.

The hotel security staff has already been told that a delegation from a "third party," most likely Lebanon, would be attending the talks either next week or in a likely third round later on.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin would not confirm Lebanon's attendance at the talks, and he criticized the leak of the draft peace accord as "unhelpful" to the peace process.

"It is damaging and harms the cause of peace," said Mr. Rubin. Negotiators from the two old enemy states need to be isolated from public pressure to make concessions, said Mr. Rubin.

Israeli Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who was at the Shepherdstown talks, confirmed that Israel wants to give Golan settlers the option of staying, even under Syrian sovereignty.

"I assume it is one of the issues on which there will be a debate between us and the Syrians," Mr. Lipkin-Shahak, a former army chief, told Israeli radio.

Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem Thursday called the proposal "Machiavellian."

"The head of government knows perfectly well it will be impossible [for Israelis] to live under a Syrian regime," Mr. Sharon told Israel radio.

Mr. Barak leaked the document, according to analysts, to show Israelis what the core of the peace deal requires concessions from both sides.

Many Israelis simply do not trust Syria, an isolated and dictatorial state that has attacked Israel three times: at Israeli independence in 1948, when it occupied a narrow strip of land along the Sea of Galilee; in 1967, when it lost the Golan Heights; and in 1973, when it lost a bloody offensive aimed at recapturing the Golan.

Distrust of Syria was reinforced last week during the Shepherdstown peace talks when Syrian delegates and reporters refused to talk to Israelis, and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa refused to shake hands or make eye contact with Mr. Barak.

Syria said Thursday that recent large protests in Israel against withdrawing from the Golan Heights were designed to extract more U.S. money and weapons for the Jewish state.

"Demonstrations inside Israel are likely to have erupted just to raise prices in the bazaar," said the ruling party's newspaper, Al-Baath, which reflects the views of the Syrian government.

In Israel, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, the head of a five-member congressional delegation, said he supports U.S. aid for the peace process.

"It will be very difficult for us to fund enormous amounts on a moment's notice but if we can work them into our budgets over the years I am certain that we can meet whatever objectives that the administration and the Congress agree to," said Mr. Stevens, Alaska Republican.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and a committee member who has for years urged peace between Israel and Syria, said Japan, European countries and oil-rich Persian Gulf states would need to help foot the bill.

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