Invitation to Intervene
Yitzhak Rabin now faces an extremely difficult task: convincing Israelis of the wisdom of exchanging the Golan, which has been labeled "strategically critical," for peace.
Rabin cannot commit himself to a total or near-total withdrawal from the Golan without first achieving "full peace," including diplomatic relations, open borders and trade, which he can present to the nation as the ultimate security objective.
Syria's President Hafez Assad, for his part, has staked his political fortunes on recovering every inch of the Golan without ever explicitly offering "full peace."
Since from Assad's vantage point the Golan has always been Syrian territory, Syrian sovereignty over the Heights is non-negotiable, regardless of Israeli claims, suspicions or concerns. Assad insists that the Golan be treated like the Sinai, which was returned in its entirety to Egypt in exchange for peace. Unlike Anwar Sadat, however, the Syrian leader has not been willing to make any commitment on the "quality" of that peace.
A further complication is Rabin's insistence that peace with Syria is a separate issue, irrespective of the outcome of negotiations with the Palestinians or the Jordanians.
Sadat was criticized for making peace, even more for making a separate peace with Israel. Syrian officials claim they are ready to reach a separate agreement, but in reality, Assad will not sign a separate peace. Such an act would lay him open not only to Arab criticism, but also to the wrath of the Islamic fundamentalists and others who oppose peace with Israel under any circumstances.
There is one basic requisite for Israeli-Syrian peace: full peace for total withdrawal.
Israel will not return all of the Golan without full peace, and Syria cannot offer full peace without the return of the entire Golan. To make peace, Rabin and Assad must now find a way not only to accommodate each other's requirements, but also to change Israeli and Syrian public opinion, which has been molded by their respective leaders to resist the principle of exchanging the entire Golan for full peace.
Israeli military experts confirm that the Golan serves as an important strategic asset in peace time, and especially in war. Israel's ultimate national security, however, does not depend on territory, but on a full peace of reconciliation and on maintaining a military power second to none in the region. Should Syria be prepared to commit itself to a full peace of reconciliation, the Israelis must grasp the opportunity.
Rabin continues to insist that Israel will withdraw on the Golan (partial withdrawal) but not from the Golan (total withdrawal) even for full peace.
The Syrians too must come to the inevitable conclusion that to recover all of the Golan they must offer full peace to alleviate Israel's security concerns, which are deeply rooted in the Israeli national consciousness, and accept gradualism to allow the Israelis to withdraw over an extended number of years and in numerous stages. Leasing the Golan to Israel for 40 to 50 years, after it has been officially restored to Syrian sovereignty remains a viable option that Syria should seriously consider.
The Israel-Syrian negotiating process has reached a very delicate stage. The modalities of Israeli withdrawal, timetable and measures undertaken to ensure Israel's security and build mutual confidence can all be negotiated.
However, the principles of eventual but total Israel withdrawal (including the Israeli settlements) in return for full and a comprehensive peace will not change. The sooner Israel and Syria accept this reality the sooner they could begin the process of concluding a peace agreement.
Here is where the US must persuade both the Israelis and Syrians that their respective demands represent national imperatives without which neither Rabin nor Assad can deliver the required concessions to make peace.