Israel has offered to withdraw its troops from the Golan Heights over four years as part of a peace treaty with Syria, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said in an interview broadcast Wednesday.
It was the first time Israel went on the record with a timetable for a troop withdrawal from the Golan, captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.
“Eighteen months is what the Syrians are recommending and we are suggesting four years,” Peres told the U.S. television network PBS. Portions of the interview were aired by Israel radio.
Syria demands that in exchange for peace, Israel give back all of the plateau overlooking northern Israel.
Israel has never said publicly how far it is willing to withdraw. But over the past few days, Peres has said the Golan is Syrian territory and that Israel will have to give back the heights if it wants comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
In the PBS interview, Peres said the withdrawal was among several issues being negotiated. The two sides are also talking about security arrangements after a pullout.
Israeli-Syrian peace talks began in 1991, but there was no progress until earlier this month, when the two sides agreed on the broad outlines of security arrangements.
Israeli and Syrian military officers are expected to resume talks in mid-June in Washington. Dennis Ross, Washington’s Middle East coordinator, was expected in the region next week for preparatory meetings.
Meanwhile, Palestinian general elections may be held as soon as September if Israelis agree to a recent PLO proposal.
The two sides have set July 1 as a target date for agreeing on the logistics of an Israeli troop pullout from West Bank towns and Palestinian general elections - phase two of Palestinian autonomy, which began with selfrule in Gaza and Jericho last May.