The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 24, 1996
Israel's Vision of Syrian Pact Is Ambitious: Foreign Minister Defines 'Full Peace'
by Thomas W. Lippman
With peace negotiations between Israel and Syria set to resume today, Israel Foreign Minister Ehud Barak yesterday offered a tough, ambitious definition of the "full peace" Israel would demand as the price of a complete withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights.
He said Israel wants diplomatic relations, an open border, trade, tourist exchanges, "a free flow of goods, services and people," communication and transportation links, joint water projects and even integration of the two countries' electricity grids.
This formulation goes far beyond anything Syrian President Hafez Assad has offered publicly and beyond what any Arab state even among those at peace with Israel has delivered. But it is consistent with the message Israeli officials have been delivering recently: that they will not be satisfied with the chilly, minimum-contact peace they have with Egypt.
When Egypt agreed to a peace treaty, in 1979, it was the first Arab state to do so and Israel was happy to take what it could get, Israeli officials said. The two countries are at peace and work together on some issues, but there is relatively little commercial or touristic contact.
In the Israeli view, Assad may be prepared for an "Egypt minus" peace agreement something less than what Israel has with Egypt. But Israel wants "Jordan plus," a reference to the rapidly developing friendly links between Israel and Jordan.
Barak, a career military officer, was in Washington for his first working visit as foreign minister. In his previous position, as Israel's chief of staff, he participated in negotiations with Syria that broke up without success last summer.
In a conversation with Washington Post editors and reporters, Barak offered little reason to believe that peace between Israel and Syria is imminent.
He said the current round of talks, at the Wye Plantation conference center on Maryland's Eastern Shore, is "exploratory" and no decisions are being made. Even if Syria is persuaded to offer a peace agreement of such scope that the Israeli government could "persuade our people it's the right thing to do," Barak said, "I cannot make a prediction as to how long it will take. Three months, 13 months, 23 months, I don't know."
Barak said the issues of withdrawal from the Golan, a promontory overlooking Israel's heartland, "goes to the profound vital interest of the state of Israel." He said his country would demand security arrangements sufficient to ensure that Syria could never undertake a surprise attack.
Describing Israel as "a villa amidst the jungle," he said no treaty could overcome the "suspicion and mistrust" built up over half a century. Even with a peace agreement, he said, it might take decades before Israel felt as secure with its neighbors as the small countries of Europe do with theirs.
Barak expressed satisfaction with the way Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip conducted their first elections last weekend.
The results "legitimized" Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinian people, Barak said, "but they also confer responsibility" for carrying out the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He said he did not believe planned negotiations on the "final status" of the territories and Jerusalem could begin until the Palestinians have fulfilled the commitment to rewrite the charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization to eliminate calls for the destruction of Israel.