Will Israel Leave Ghajar?

Washington is pressuring Israel to withdraw from the village of Ghajar, which straddes Israel's northern border with Lebanon, says a US source.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 10:47

The village of Ghajar
The village of Ghajar
Israel news photo

According to a highly-placed U.S. official, Washington is pressuring Israel to withdraw from - and thus divide - the village of Ghajar, which straddles Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in an interview published Saturday in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat newspaper. He said the U.S. was "exerting diplomatic efforts to pressure Israel into pulling out of the northern side of the village."

The source said Washington was urging Israel to withdraw from the village "and other controversial areas" so that Hizbullah would no longer have any excuse to keep its weapons.

However, the residents of Ghajar, all of whom hold Israeli citizenship, are not cooperating with the plan, and several Israeli Knesset Members are fighting it as well.

Residents Protest the Plan

On Friday, the residents of Ghajar held a demonstration to protest any plan to divide the village. The head of the Ghajar municipal council, Ahmed Fatli told Arutz Sheva that the village has been part of the State of Israel since 1967, and that any change in that situation would be completely unjust.

"We were a Syrian village that was conquered by Israel," he said. "We have in the village 2,200 people, and we are part of the State of Israel. We won't agree to be refugees in any other place, and we won't allow anyone to divide our village into two parts, either."

Another spokesman, Najib Khatib, told the AFP news agency that the vast majority of the residents participated in the protest. "We would be like refugees in Lebanon," he said, explaining that the plan to divide the village would leave 1,700 people living in Lebanon, with which they have no connection, and 500 villagers in Israel.

In 1967, Ghajar was part of the Golan Heights that was taken from Syria by Israel during the Six Day War.

Plan Revisited

Last May, it was reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was expected to announce that Israel was willing to withdraw from the northern part of the village and transfer its control of that area to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

A diplomatic source close to the prime minister attributed this to pressure from the U.S. and a desire to bolster the government of Lebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora prior to the national elections scheduled for June. Ghajar residents called on the Israeli government at that time as well not to abandon the village.

At that time, Druze MK Majalli Whbee (Kadima) also called on the prime minister not to carry out the plan, saying that "returning a village with its residents to a country which never controlled it should not be done. Just as Israel expects loyalty from its residents, it must also be loyal to them."

Last month, Knesset Member Ayoud Kara (Likud), another member of northern Israel's Druze community, vowed to "fight with my last drop of blood" against any plan to hand the village over to the control of the United Nations and Hizbullah terrorists who control southern Lebanon.

Kara, who serves as Deputy Minister for Development of the Galilee and the Negev, told Arutz Sheva last month that the area is included in the Golan Law that requires an absolute Knesset majority for ceding of land.

Plan Up in the Air?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last Wednesday at an evening he sponsored jointly with his Italian counterpart, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, that in his opinion a good agreement can be reached on the matter of the village of Ghajar in a short time, and that most of the issue depends on the new Lebanese government.

During the Olmert administration, the village of Ghajar called on the Israeli government not to implement a similar plan for the IDF to withdraw from the northern part of the village and for it to be attached to Lebanon.