Backed by the resounding victory he secured at the Israeli polls in May, Ehud Barak, the Jewish state's new prime minister, has wasted little time in beginning to draw up a plan that would allow him to fulfil his pre-electoral pledge of withdrawing Israeli troops from south Lebanon within a year.
The occupation of south Lebanon has grown increasingly unpopular with the casualty-sensitive Israeli public, who wish to close the chapter of Israel's disastrous involvement with its northern neighbour. The question for Israel now is to how to extract the Israel Defence Force (IDF) from the quagmire of south Lebanon while at the same time ensuring the security of northern and western Galilee. Barak believes the key to a safe withdrawal and quiet on the frontier is held by Damascus.
Syria dominates the political process in Lebanon and provides the necessary facilities to ensure that Hizbullah is able to wage its guerrilla campaign against the IDF and its proxy ally, the south Lebanon Army (SLA). In order to guarantee the peace in northern Israel, Barak believes he will have to negotiate a deal with Syria to decide the fate of the Golan Heights, occupied by the Jewish state in the 1967 war, which in turn will lead to a peaceful withdrawal of the IDF from south Lebanon. On 19 May, two days after the election, the Yediot Aharonot daily unveiled what it said was Barak's five-point plan to re-launch negotiations with Syria and end the occupation of south Lebanon.
Stage one of Barak's plan consists of issuing a carefully-worded statement in which Israel agrees to Syria's demands to resume negotiations on the fate of the Golan Heights. Damascus insists that the talks resume from where they left off in January 1996, with a pledge by Israel to return all the Golan.
Yediot Aharonot quoted an aide close to Barak as saying that the political statement would read along the lines of "Israel agrees to renew the negotiations with Syria from the point at which they were halted, on the basis of the understandings which were already agreed upon formally (i.e. land-for-peace)."
The second stage will witness the resumption of negotiations between Syria and Israel with Lebanon included on the agenda. The United States and the European Union will pressure Syria to rein in Hizbullah in the south for several months as a "confidence building measure".
With the talks on the Golan well under way, the third stage entails the creation of a military committee comprising Lebanese...