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Peres Happy About Tone Of Talks Optimistic About Prospects For Israeli Peace With Syria

Israel’s prime minister expressed growing optimism Tuesday at the “good music” that is increasing prospects for peace with Syria on the eve of renewed negotiations with Damascus.

Shimon Peres said he was he was “happy about the new tone” in public statements by Syrian officials, telling high school students in Haifa, “We have never had such good music from the north.”

“I know that, with Syria and Lebanon, we will have to make tough decisions. We cannot run away from them.” Peres said.

Israel-Syria talks, which began in 1991, are to resume in Washington, D.C., today after a six-month hiatus.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV said Uri Savir, the head of the Israeli delegation to the talks, had permission from Peres to discuss a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights - Syria’s central demand.

Israel has never officially agreed to a full return of the strategic plateau. Polls indicate the prospect is unpopular among Israelis, though the majority against a pullout appears to be shrinking.

A leading lawmaker in Israel’s ruling Labor Party suggested the government begin preparing to uproot the 13,000 Israelis living on the Golan, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

“I don’t see Jewish settlements remaining on the Golan Heights in the event of a withdrawal,” said Hagai Merom, head of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He said the government must compensate the settlers.

In Damascus, President Hafez Assad is revealing little about Syria’s own peace plans.

“There are general ideas and general views which indicate the desire to push the peace process forward,” Assad said Saturday.

During a meeting in the Jordanian port of Aqaba on Tuesday, Jordan’s King Hussein and Mubarak expressed optimism that Syria would make peace with Israel.

Egypt’s state-run Middle Eastern News Agency quoted Hussein as saying that “all of the concerned parties were determined to proceed in the direction of peace.”

Asked whether he thinks Israel and Syria can reach an agreement in 1996, Hussein “expressed his optimism,” the Egyptian news agency Mena reported.

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