Barak Enters Syria Talks
with Knesset Backing
(December 13, 1999)
On December 13, 1999, a majority of the Israeli Knesset voted to support Prime Minister
Ehud Baraks decision to renew peace talks with Syria. The vote,
however, was surprisingly close, 47 in favor, 31 against and 24
abstentions, leading observers to predict a difficult fight for approval of
The vote came after Barak
asked for all parties in the Knesset
to support his efforts to bring an end to the 100-year-old conflict.
"The future of the country is more important than the politics of the
moment," he said.
68-member coalition, Shas and two
Yisrael Ba'aliya MKs abstained, while the five-member National Religious
Party and another two Yisrael Ba'aliya MKs voted against. Opposition
support came from Hadash, the United Arab List, and Roman Bronfman's
Democratic Choice. Shinui decided to
abstain when the party failed to reach a consensus.
Any decision by the government to relinquish sovereign
territory requires a majority of 61 MKs, followed by a majority in a
referendum. The government announced yesterday its commitment to holding a
referendum, which would still require the Knesset to legislate a basic law to
establish the practice.
The Prime Minister had more than a dozen phone
conversations with President Clinton in recent weeks about the prospects
for reactivating the stalled Syrian track. Every conversation between the
U.S. president and the Israeli leader was followed up by one between
Clinton and Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Expectations have now been raised that talks beginning
December 15, 1999, in Washington between Barak
and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa will result in an agreement
within a few months. The outline of that agreement, based on prior
negotiations between Assad and former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to
include the following:
• The Golan
Heights. Israel withdraws almost to the border with Syria that existed
before the 1967 Six-Day War. The
"almost" refers to the section of the Sea of Galilee coastline
that was in Syrian hands before the war. Barak
refuses to restore that situation, insisting that all of the Sea of Galilee
remain under Israeli control. In exchange, he is said to be offering Assad
the hot springs at Hamat Gader, at the southernmost point of the Golan.
• Security guarantees. Israel maintains its presence,
under American or international auspices, at a key early warning station
atop Mount Hermon, located at the northern tip of the Golan. This is to be
accompanied by an extensive Syrian demilitarization on the Golan and all
the way to Damascus. Israel also agrees to cut back its troops, but on a
Israel requires guarantees to protect the integrity of its water supply.
Any Israeli withdrawal on the Golan will have an immediate impact on
Israel's water supply, since it depends on the streams and rivers in the
Golan and the Sea of Galilee for 30 percent of its water.
A commitment from Damascus to shut down Hizbollah and other terrorist
groups in Lebanon and Syria is essential to any agreement with Syria. With
this commitment in hand, Barak
believes that Israel could withdraw from Lebanon without the overriding
fear that terrorists
would have a free hand to attack northern Israeli towns.
• Diplomatic ties. The two countries agree to
full normalized relations, including embassies, trade and open borders.
• U.S. aid.
Both Israel and Syria expect massive infusions of American economic —
and in Israel's case, military — aid to help cushion the effects of
Sources: JTA, Washington Post, (December 14,