Rabin reportedly would have given up the entire Golan

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JERUSALEM — How much of the Golan Heights was the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin willing to offer Syria in return for peace? This was the question again circulating in Israel after the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported last week that Rabin was ready to discuss a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the border that separated Israel and Syria before the 1967 Six-Day War.

The paper cited secret protocols of conversations between Rabin and then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher that said the late Israeli leader had agreed in principle to discuss Syria's demand for a withdrawal not only from the Golan Heights, but also as far as the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Israel code-named Rabin's offer to discuss such a withdrawal the "Pocket Plan" after U.S. officials said they would not hold Israel to the offer or raise it with the Syrians before Syrian President Hafez Assad agreed to Israeli terms regarding security arrangements and peace, Ha'aretz reported.

In discussions during 1993 and 1994, Rabin reportedly told Christopher he would need four to five years to implement any plan once an agreement was reached.

The paper added that Rabin had briefed Israel's then-ambassador to the United States, Itamar Rabinovich, about his discussions with Christopher.

Rabinovich said Thursday that Rabin had never made any commitment to an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 border, but that he had expressed a willingness to discuss the matter.

Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who as then-chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force met with his Syrian counterpart at the time, said last week that Israel had never made any promises to Syria.

"During Rabin's tenure as prime minister, the Syrians were never told anything whose meaning was a prior agreement by Israel to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines on the Golan Heights in exchange for Syria's meeting Israeli terms," Barak said.

He added that Rabin believed that after the Syrians made clear their intentions regarding a number of issues — including water rights, Lebanon, terror and normalization of ties — Israel would make clear its intentions.

Barak said that the Syrians' unwillingness to enter accelerated negotiations with Israel at the time was proof that Damascus had received no promises on the Golan.

Barak said that after Rabin realized there were no chances for serious negotiations with the Syrians, he decided to focus on the Palestinian track.

Israeli-Syrian negotiations were suspended in March 1996 after Assad failed to condemn a series of terror attacks Hamas launched at the time against Israeli targets.

With the subsequent election of Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prospects for resuming the talks dimmed, given Netanyahu's stand that the Golan would not be returned.

Commenting Thursday of last week on the Ha'aretz report, Netanyahu repeated his stance that Israel would not accept any oral agreements reached by Syria and the previous Israeli government as the basis for resuming negotiations.

"Let's not talk about past discussions; let's talk about future discussions which could bring us to serious negotiations with the Syrians," Netanyahu said at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea.