Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said explicitly for the first time Wednesday that he is ready to return some of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace.
In exchange for a treaty that includes diplomatic relations and open borders, "Israel is ready to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 . . . and this means a readiness to some sort of territorial compromise," Rabin told Israel radio.Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war.
The remarks came during a break in the sixth round of Middle East talks. Israeli officials said Syria has presented them with positions containing signs of common ground.
On Tuesday, President Hafez Assad of Syria told a delegation of Druse Arabs from the Golan Heights that he is interested in real peace with Israel.
Rabin said Thursday that Assad's remarks to the Druse showed "a substantive change" in Syria's position.
However, Rabin added, it didn't go far enough.
"So far, Syria is speaking of a peace agreement as opposed to a treaty, without the elements of normalization, without open borders, diplomatic relations and embassies," he said.
"As long as Syria will not say it is ready for this kind of peace we have not entered, we will not enter into any territorial topics, we will not draw maps or lines," Rabin added.
Rabin insisted any withdrawal would be "limited."
Israeli hard-liners accused Rabin of setting in motion a process that would end with the return of the entire Golan Heights, a 556-square-mile plateau overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
"We must not whet the appetite of the Syrians," opposition Likud legislator Eliahu Ben-Elissar told Israel radio. "Which is what the government is doing today, especially Rabin."
Assad has said he would not give up "one grain of earth" of the Golan.
The daily Hatzofeh of the hawkish National Religious Party on Thursday published a map showing alleged Israeli plans for a three-stage total withdrawal from the Golan over six years. The daily said the document was leaked by the Israeli delegation to the peace talks.
Rabin said the map was "not based on reality."
Meanwhile, there were angry reactions to Rabin's declaration among the 12,000 Israelis living in 32 settlements on the Golan.
"We have no doubt that Rabin defrauded us, his voters, everyone who supported Labor in saying that the settlements of the Golan Heights would not be harmed," settler leader Eli Malka told Israel radio.
Rabin rejected the charges.