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Israel Proposes Testing Period after Partial Golan Pullback

By Caryle Murphy
The Washington Post

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Thursday that Israel proposes a three-year "testing period" of normal relations with Syria after an initial, "very partial" Israeli pullback on the Golan Heights before proceeding to a fuller withdrawal as part of an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.

Rabin's declaration, issued by his office, marked the first time he has publicly described in such detail Israel's position in U.S.-fostered peace talks with Syria, including the proposed time frame for the first step of an accord. Two government spokesmen said it was a shorter period than earlier Israeli proposals.

Syria has demanded that Israel commit itself to a complete evacuation of the heights, captured by Israel in 1967, before any accord can be reached that commits Syria to normal relations with Israel. It also wants to see that evacuation occur in much less time than Israel foresees.

Asked at a news conference in London Thursday about Rabin's idea of a three-year waiting period after an initial Israeli withdrawal, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa said: "We think from a realistic point of view and a logical point of view, and because of the small size of the Golan Heights, that there is no need for a long period to conclude the withdrawal. It does not need years to pull out." Charaa declared, however, that Syria is ready for a "warm peace" with Israel.

Rabin's statement said, "We are not prepared to commit ourselves regarding the depth of the withdrawal before the Syrians agree to the number of years over which it will continue - and this must be more than three years, because three years is for the first line only, and the Syrians have not yet agreed."

Speaking to his cabinet, he said that "our position is a slight" Israeli withdrawal initially on the Golan "without the dismantling of a single (Israeli) settlement, if possible." The three-year testing period, he added, should involve "full normalization in relations with Syria, including embassies."

Rabin was describing just part of a broader package deal that Israel presented to the Syrians several months ago through the Americans, two government spokesmen and an independent Israeli academic said.

That proposal was based on an Israeli military study that laid out a three-stage withdrawal from the Golan Heights without defining the final line of a full evacuation, according to Dore Gold, a specialist on Syrian-Israeli relations at Tel Aviv's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

Government spokesman Uri Dromi said that in that package, Israel had sought a five-year "testing" period after its first pullback before retreating further.