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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 18:34 GMT
Israel divided over Golan Heights

Israeli troops on manoeuvre on the Golan Heights Israeli troops on manoeuvre on the Golan Heights


By Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem

New opinion polls in Israel show the public is deeply divided over the question of handing back the Golan Heights to Syria.

Middle East
A poll by the Gallop organisation shows 46% against a handover as part of a deal which includes an Israeli troop withdrawal from Lebanon, and 46% in favour.

The poll was conducted after the announcement that Syria and Israel are to resume talks for the first time in almost five years.

It is virtually impossible to imagine a peace deal being signed that does not include a handover of the Golan Heights, an area that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Referendum pledge

Yet a separate poll puts those against such a deal in the majority.

Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has pledged to hold a referendum on any peace deal that is signed with the Syrians.

Political commentators are speculating that in such a referendum the government would attempt to tie the issue of the Golan Heights with that of a pullout of Israeli troops from Lebanon, knowing that many Israelis favour an end to the Lebanese war.

Even so it is by no means clear that the government could easily win a majority.

Residents' fears

Already, some of the 17,000 Israeli residents of the Golan Heights are gearing up for a campaign against a peace deal with Syria, for fear that it might mean the loss of their homes.

The Israeli government has been careful to stress that it does not agree to any handover of the Golan Heights as a pre-condition for next week's talks.

However, for years the Syrians have been insisting that they would not sit down to the negotiations without such a prior agreement.

Once the talks begin, it is possible that Israelis will try to bargain for a peace deal in which they agree to hand over part of the Golan Heights rather than all of it.

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Historic opportunity for peace
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Careful words to kick-start talks
09 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Albright: 2000 'year of peace'
09 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Clinton's speech in full
07 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Golan deadlock awaits Albright
03 Sep 99 |  Israel elections
Israel: History of conflict

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