Netanyahu Confirms That Rabin Agreed To Give Up Golan Heights
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Thursday that his predecessor had tacitly agreed to give back all of the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement with Syria.
``Newspaper reports that the late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, indirectly agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967, lines (if) a number of conditions were met by the Syrians, and that this agreement has been conveyed to the United States, are true,″ Netanyahu told his Cabinet.
Netanyahu’s comments were issued in a Cabinet statement after he briefed ministers on his talks this week with President Clinton, who has sponsored the Mideast peace process and is trying to help restart stalled Israel-Syria talks.
Netanyahu, who was elected in May, said the United States accepts that ``hypothetical statements made by the previous government during the negotiations do not obligate the present Israeli government.″
The revelations about Rabin, published Wednesday in the Yediot Ahronot daily, shocked many Israelis and were denied by several officials who were close to Rabin. Shimon Peres, who was premier from Rabin’s assassination last November until his narrow election loss, was evasive.
``I didn’t see a written commitment, but it was made clear to the Syrians that Israel was willing to withdraw for full peace,″ Yediot quoted Peres as saying.
Syria has demanded that talks pick up where they left off with the previous government. Netanyahu argues they should start from scratch since there were no written agreements and says Israel should hold onto the plateau it captured in 1967.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Israel’s military chief of staff said an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon would be conditional on Syrian troops also pulling out.
``If Lebanon is a sovereign state, there should be no other army there other than the Lebanon Army,″ Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak was quoted by the daily Haaretz as saying.
Rabin had indicated he would withdraw from the narrow strip Israel controls in south Lebanon once assured that northern Israel would not come under attack.
Syria has some 40,000 troops in Lebanon and is the main power there. Netanyahu has offered to talk to Syria about a formula enabling an Israeli pullout. Syria has refused, saying the peace talks must also guarantee an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights
The state-run Syrian newspaper al-Thawra said Netanyahu was not giving Syria any incentives to return to the negotiating table.
The Golan is a politically delicate issue because polls show most Israelis oppose returning the land; it has tremendous strategic value, some of the area’s best scenery and Israel’s only ski resort.
President Ezer Weizman was particularly surprised at Yediot’s claim that Rabin went so far as to accept Syria’s demand to pull back to the so-called ``June 4, 1967, lines,″ that include territory Syria had captured in 1948 on the Israeli side of the border and that Israel recaptured along with the Golan in 1967.
``We could barely deal with even (a withdrawal to) the international boundary,″ Yediot quoted Weizman as saying.
Ephraim Sneh, a retired general and health minister in Rabin’s Cabinet, said he believed journalist Orly Azulai-Katz was misled and quoted Rabin as telling him ``I never specified the line to which I was prepared to withdraw.″
Azulai-Katz stood by her story Thursday, saying that Rabin ``did not inform all his associates when taking an important step for which secrecy is important.″
Azulai-Katz wrote that Rabin even concealed his promise on the Golan from Peres, at the time his foreign minister.
In a new book which focuses on Peres and is entitled ``The Man Who Didn’t Know How to Win,″ Azulai-Katz writes that Peres only found out when he took over as prime minister after Rabin’s Nov. 4 assassination.