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Ha'aretz: "Where it could all fall apart" by Akiva Eldar

An item-by-item analysis from the Ha'aretz Political Columnist


   1. Borders: The gap between Syria's demand for Israel's withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines and Israel's insistance on pulling back to the international border line. The difference involves a few hundred meters, but the sensitive issue is the Syrian claim for sovereignty on the north-eastern shores of Lake Kinneret. During the unofficial talks that were held under Swiss auspices - which ended in the summer of 2006 and were driven by former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel - it was agreed that the area in dispute along the 1967 international border will become a Peace Park, which will include the entire Golan Heights. President Bashar Assad asked that Israel renew the commitment made by Yitzhak Rabin to the U.S., whereby if Israel's demands were met vis a vis Syria, it would withdraw to the 1967 lines.

   2. Water: Syria, which suffers from water shortages, told former President Jimmy Carter that it is willing to commit to not drawing water from the Kinneret, but expects help in constructing desalination plants, and promises from Turkey for the supply of water.

   3. Settlements: In past talks the two sides disagreed on the time table for the evacuation of settlements from the Golan Heights, with Israel offering to pull out over a 15-year period and the Syrians wanting this to happen in five. A 10-year compromise is likely.

   4. Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian opposition groups: Israel has insisted that Syria must promise to cut off ties with all the aforementioned, but the Syrians suggested that this be put on the negotiating table with all other issues. Essentially the Syrians refuse to accept preconditions.

   5. American involvement: Syria insists that the U.S. must be involved in the process, and that it changes its attitude toward Damascus.

   6. Demilitarization on the eastern side of the border: Syria in the past asked that Israel also demilitarize equally on its side of the border, but no details have been agreed.

   7. Normalization: Syria has backed the Arab League's March 2002 offer for normalization in relations between the Arab world and Israel, in exchange for a withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967. It is unclear whether Syria will agree to normalization unless Israel pulls out also from the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a deal with the Palestinians.

   8. The Golan Heights Law: The law annexing the Golan Heights in 1981 may make it difficult for the government to gain the support of the Knesset for the evacuation of the area. Former prime ministers Rabin and Ehud Barak promised to bring a deal with Syria to a referendum.