Israelis Divided Over Prospects of Peace With Syria

Israelis Divided Over Prospects of Peace With Syria

Take a seat at one of the many waterfront restaurants bordering the Sea of Galilee in the Israeli city of Tiberias and nature immediately gives you a lesson in history, geography and military strategy. The lapping waters of Lake Kinneret, as it is known in Hebrew, shimmer placidly at your side, evoking images of biblical history. But what really grabs your eye is the soaring terrain rising ominously on the other side of the water, the Golan Heights. The land rises sharply from the eastern side of the lake. Sitting in the Golan's shadow, there remains little doubt that control of the Heights means control of security for much of Northern Israel.

For now, Israel has possession of the Golan Heights. But the matter is far from settled. Israel captured that territory from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. The shooting is over, but the two countries remain technically at war, and the status of the Golan remains in limbo, with Syria demanding its return. Israel has not annexed the territory, but Israeli hawks maintain the land is crucial for the country's defense against a dangerous and determined enemy in Damascus. Doves, meanwhile, argue that no defense is better than real peace.

The diverging opinions came into even sharper focus after Jan. 16, when the Israeli daily Ha'aretz revealed a leaked account of secret peace talks conducted between the two countries. Both governments emphatically denied the report. As details emerged, however, it seemed clear back channel dealings did occur. What was less clear is how much official weight the discussions -- and the draft agreement -- carried in the eyes of the countries' leaders.

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