Parliament Debates Bill to Block Golan Concessions
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s parliament took up a bill today that would block territorial concessions on the Golan Heights. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres warned that if the bill passed, it would kill chances for peace with Syria.
The bill would require a special majority of 70, instead of 61, in the 120-seat parliament, or 51 percent approval in a national referendum, for any pullback from the plateau Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.
The requirements would make it difficult for the government to promise a full withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for peace with Syria.
``This will do great damage to Israel,″ Peres said on Army radio. ``Instead of giving Syria the right to refuse, we will be taking it upon our own shoulders needlessly and senselessly. This will be another obstacle to a process of full peace in the Middle East, a peace that is vital for the future of Israel.″
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, meanwhile, came under fire for reportedly lobbying right-wing parliament members to vote against the bill.
Aryeh Deri, head of the religious Shas party, said Ambassador Martin Indyk told legislators that if the bill were approved, Syria might use it to slow down the peace process, the Haaretz newspaper reported. Deri said Indyk said Israel would be blamed for stalling negotiations, even if Syria were responsible.
Richard Scorza, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, said the ambassador met with legislators but did not lobby against the bill.
``In no way did the ambassador engage in anything that can even remotely be described as lobbying. That is false,″ Scorza told The Associated Press.
There has been overwhelming opposition in Israel to a return of the Golan, which Israel annexed in 1981. But recent surveys show that opposition softening.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government has indicated it is willing to give back the Golan in return for a peace agreement and security guarantees from Syria. But Rabin’s Labor party commands only a narrow majority in parliament, and three Labor legislators are joining with the right-wing opposition in support of the bill.
The bill must be approved in three votes to become law.
The Knesset was reported split 60-60. A tie vote would defeat the bill.
Earlier this month, Washington failed to get Syria to agree to further meetings between Syrian and Israeli military chiefs, who had been negotiating the security arrangements for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.