Daily Israel Report

MK Chides Netanyahu for Syrian Feelers

Netanyahu’s broaching of the Golan/Syria withdrawal/negotiations channel has aroused objections in Syria, Israel, and his Likud party itself.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/16/2009, 11:24 AM / Last Update: 11/16/2009, 11:43 AM

Netanyahu’s broaching of the Golan/Syria withdrawal/negotiations channel has aroused objections in Syria, Israel, and his Likud party itself.

Tzipi Hotobeli, a rookie Knesset Member in the Likud party, says she plans to ask for “clarifications” at Monday’s Likud Knesset faction meeting about reports that Netanyahu has agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights. "The Prime Minister must remember that most of the Likud opposes a withdrawal from the Golan," she told Arutz-7, “and the proof is the strong support in the Likud for the latest Golan bill.”  

Hotobeli, whose candidacy for the Knesset Netanyahu himself personally recruited, was referring to legislation that would require a Knesset majority of 80 MKs – and not just 61, as the current law demands – for any diplomatic agreement that includes a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The bill passed its first reading in the previous Knesset, and supporters intended to proceed with its final readings in the current Knesset. However, a left-leaning Likud member, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor, was able to thwart this bid, and the bill may have to restart its legislative trek from the beginning.

Referendum Still Needed
The 1999 law requiring a national referendum on any government decision to withdraw from the Golan Heights still stands.

MK Hotobeli told Arutz-7, “There is no reason at all to start talking with Syria when it is clear to all that the price that we would have to pay – the Golan Heights and its 20,000 Jews – is simply not worth it. At present, and ever since 1967, our border with Syria has been very quiet, and there is a de facto peace. Neither is Lebanon under Syrian control any longer, so there is nothing to gain there. So what do we need negotiations with Syria for?”

Hotobeli did not mention that Syrian control of the Golan would also bring along with it Syrian “participation” in the waters of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), Israel’s largest – and often diminishing – natural reservoir.

When Do You Want Peace?
Arutz-7’s Shimon Cohen asked the MK, “If you are not willing to make an agreement because the border is quiet, and you’re also not willing to make peace when there’s terrorism because then you say that we would be giving in to terrorism, then when are you willing to make peace?”

Hotobeli responded, “There is one principle, and that is that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel. The Land of Israel is not something over which we wage negotiations. That is the basis for my diplomatic stance. On top of that principle, we have seen over the past 16 years that withdrawals do not lead to peace, and therefore it is clear that my principled stance is the correct one in realpolitik as well."

She also reminded the listeners that Netanyahu himself promised, before the elections, that he was committed to retaining the Golan Heights under Israeli sovereignty.

Netanyahu and Syria
Arab news sources reported over the weekend that Netanyahu had relayed a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad during his recent meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Israel was willing to withdraw from the Golan. The Prime Minister's Bureau said in response that the report was totally groundless and that nothing of the sort had happened.

At the same time, Assad rebuffed Netanyahu’s offer of direct peace talks with Syria, saying he was ready for peace but not direct negotiations. He said that Israel and Syria should resume indirect negotiations via Turkish mediators. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained in recent weeks, in light of Turkey’s support for Iran, cancellation of military exercises with Israel, anti-Israel declarations, and more.