THE feeling that Arabs and Israelis may be closer to peaceful coexistence than ever before was enhanced by Israel's conciliatory tone toward Arab negotiators during the current round of Middle East peace talks in Washington. If the Arab-Israeli conflict is to be peacefully resolved, however, Israel must abide by United Nations land-for-peace resolutions.
The land-for-peace equation, embodied in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, provides the foundation on which the negotiations stand. Any deviation from its basic tenets by either side may cause the entire peace process to collapse. Israel is to withdraw its armed forces from Arab territories it seized by force during the June 1967 war in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel. The controversy over Israel's obligation to withdraw from "all" or "some" territories is solved by the key UN principl e of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," a principle emphasized in the preamble of Resolution 242.
In this light, Israel's offer to return portions of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace treaty with that country falls short of meeting the land component of the land-for-peace equation. Israel acquired the Golan entirely by war. Why Israel seriously entertains the notion that Syria, though backed by the international community in its claim over the entire Golan Heights, might accept such an offer is unclear.
What is clear, however, is that Syria is asked to relinquish willingly its sovereignty over portions of its territory in order to allay Israeli fears - fears that are not empirically verified. Israel's alleged victimization by Syrian fire from the Golan's high ground prior to 1967 has been challenged by, among others, such impartial observers as the late Ralph Bunche (who helped write the Syrian-Israeli General Armistice Agreement) and two former UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization) chie fs of staff, Lt. Gen. E. L. Burns of Canada and Maj. Gen. Carl von Horn of Sweden.
NOR is Israel's "buffer zone" argument any more persuasive. Advanced weapons have diminished the strategic importance of the Golan Heights as a security buffer. With advanced Scud missiles in its arsenal, Syria has the military capability to hit targets anywhere in Israel - whether Israel retains "all" or just "portions" of the Heights. Distance, it will be remembered, was not an impediment to the 39 Iraqi Scuds that fell on Israel during the Gulf war. If distance was a criterion, Syrian fears - that Isr aeli guns stand 23 miles away from Damascus - are just as valid.
While the international community patiently awaits the outcome of Israel's painful soul-searching, Syria's acceptance of relevant UN resolutions, its participation in the Madrid peace conference and in the bilateral talks in Washington, and more recently, Syria's acknowledgment of Israel's security interests, all constitute Syria's de facto recognition of Israel's political rights and territorial integrity inside its pre-1967 war boundaries.
If the belligerents are to normalize their relations, as Israel insists, the state of belligerency must obviously end first. And the termination of the state of war is dependent on Israel's implementation of Resolutions 242 and 338. Once the Arab-Israeli conflict is stabilized, the multilateral talks proved a vehicle for normalization, and issues such as arms control, water, and economic development can then be discussed.
Any settlement of the Syrian-Israeli conflict must include Israel's total withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the establishment of a mutual security regime. A total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan and Israel's security interests are not incompatible. Any peaceful resolution of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Golan Heights issue, is contingent upon Israel's willingness to fulfill its obligations, without which a settlement is doomed to failure. Syria's readiness is meeting its obligat ions is a matter of record. Syria is waiting for Israel to follow suit.