Settlers from the Golan Heights gathered at the country's main airport Saturday to urge Israel's peace negotiators to reject proposals to return the land to Syria.
The peace talk delegation was scheduled to leave Saturday for Washington for two weeks of negotiations. They were bringing with them an Israeli reply to reported Syria's proposals of a phased Israeli withdrawal once Israel publicly recognizes Syrian sovereignty over the Golan.About 12,000 Jews live in the territory, captured during the 1967 Middle East war.
The Israeli reply is expected to propose Israel and Syria sign a statement of agreements, including a joint declaration that both sides want peace and recognize each other's security needs, army radio said.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said for the first time that Israel was willing to withdraw from parts of the Golan in exchange for true peace with Damascus.
Rabin later clarified the statement, saying he wants to see Syrian sincerity on a total peace before discussing territorial concessions.
Syria has demanded a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.
Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt under the 1979 Camp David peace accord. But the Jewish state has so far refused to offer the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for peace pacts.
"We want to warn the public that we are not talking of centimeters, or meters or kilometers. We are talking of a full return to the borders of 1967," opposition Likud legislator Michael Eitan said on Israel radio.
"The quicker the public understands this . . . I am convinced we will be able to prevent the process," he said.
Golan settler leader Doron Tziomkin said the 32 settlements there acted as a buffer from a Syrian attack and rejected Rabin's reported statements that they served no security importance.
But fellow Golan resident Elchanan Ben-Avraham, who lives in Kibbutz Merom Golan, about a half-mile from the Syrian border, took a more fatalistic approach to the peace talks.
"It's like someone who lives in Miami. They don't worry about hurricanes every day . . . we don't worry about this. We get on with our lives," he told Israel radio.