Barak Feels Heat From Home Over Syria Deal

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If Ehud Barak thought dealing with the Syrians was hard, wait till he faces the Israelis. The Israeli prime minister returned home from peace talks with Syria and the U.S. Tuesday to news that up to 100,000 Israelis had taken to the streets of Tel Aviv Monday night to reject any withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Worse still for Barak was the fact that two of his own cabinet ministers and several senior military officers were among them. The Israeli leader not only has to keep his own coalition together through negotiating a deal with Syria that involves exchanging control of the Golan for peace and security; he has also pledged to put the issue before his electorate in a referendum. Although opinion polls show that only 41 percent of Israelis currently support handing over the territory, Mr. Barak could take heart from the fact that only 20 percent supported handing back the Sinai Peninsula at a comparable stage in the 1978 peace negotiations with Egypt. "Whether it be to the Egyptians, the Palestinians or the Syrians, Israelis are always opposed to giving away land," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "But then when a leader whose security credentials they trust presents it to them as part of a package that will bring peace, they ultimately go for it. Because in the end, they're a peace-loving people."

Peace talks are to resume on January 19 after a tortuous week of negotiations in Shepherdstown, W. Va., wrapped up Monday without getting much beyond establishing an agenda. "Most of the first week was spent arguing over what would be negotiated first," says TIME State Department correspondent Doug Waller. "The Syrians wanted to begin with discussing new borders; the Israelis refused to talk borders until negotiations were well under way on security arrangements. They didn't get down to substantive talks until the last day, so they still have a lot to do." And judging by the fact that President Clinton had to personally intervene four times in a week that only produced an agenda, Israel-Syria talks may take up much of his last year in office.