Olmert Seeks to Part With Golan

In light of reports that outgoing PM Olmert is seeking an agreement with Syria before he leaves office, a Kadima MK says: Hands off the Golan.

Hillel Fendel ,

Golan on the map
Golan on the map

In light of reports that outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to reach an agreement with Syria before he leaves office, a party colleague, MK David Tal, says: "Hands off the Golan." 

MK Tal, who heads the Knesset House Committee, is a leader of the campaign demanding a popular referendum to approve or reject any agreement to give away the Golan Heights.  These efforts are taking on added urgency in light of reports from Russia and Mahmoud Abbas [see below] that a Golan giveaway may be agreed upon sooner than expected.

Syria has refused any form of direct contacts with Israel unless Israel relinquishes all rights to the Golan.  It is thus considered axiomatic that no peace agreement can be reached with Syria unless the Golan Heights are given up - something that most of the Israeli populace has consistently objected to for years. 

Olmert Seeking Agreement
Now, once again, outgoing PM Olmert is attempting to sign a peace agrement with Syria, and has even succeeded in initiating indirect contacts with Syria.  It was widely reported a half-year ago that this was because Olmert had given his full consent to cede the entire Golan. 

MK Tal, capitalizing on the grassroots love and support for the Golan, continues to promote his idea of a referendum.  "The referendum law has passed its first reading in the Knesset," Tal said on Monday.  "I have agreed to delay its progress in the House Committee [which must prepare it for final-readings presentation in the Knesset], at the request of government representatives so that they can 'study it.'  I agreed to postpone it for a month, but it would be appropriate for the government to express its official position as soon as possible."

Tal: Let the Nation Decide!
Tal is apprehensive over Olmert's latest moves, and warns him not to rush into an agreement: "We have waited 41 years since the Six Day War, so he can wait another few months so that we can hold a referendum.  Let the nation decide this critical issue!"

Israeli Public Objects
Governmental talk of giving away the Golan in 1996 and 1999-2000 was repressed by widespread popular national campaigns opposing Golan withdrawals.  In the mid-90's, thousands of banners and a million stickers reading "HaAm Im HaGolan" (The Nation is With the Golan) graced porches, billboards and cars throughout the country.  In January 2000, some 300,000 people took part in one of the largest demonstrations in Israeli history, calling on then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak not to give away the Golan.

News from Russia and the PA
The Maariv newspaper reported on Monday that in his visit to Russia two weeks ago, Olmert asked Russian President Medvedev to act to convince Syria to renew stalled contacts with Israel.  Syria reportedly wishes to wait for a new U.S. government to be elected, but Olmert says there is no need to delay and that an Israeli-Syrian agreement can be reached even now.

Lame-Duck Olmert Forging Ahead
Maariv's Ben Caspit writes that the reports indicate that Olmert sees no problem with forging ahead with critical agreements that will obligate Israel for decades to come.  This, despite the fact that Olmert is essentially a lame-duck leader forced out of office because of criminal investigations against him.  Olmert has said privately that his positions in favor of an agreement with Syria have long been public.

Another indication that a Golan giveaway may be near comes from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.  The successor to Yasser Arafat told reporters in Ramallah on Sunday night that Syria is interested in renewing direct talks with Israel.

Abbas, however, denied Kuwaiti newspaper reports that said he had delivered a hand-written message from U.S. President Bush to Syrian President Assad.  The message purportedly said that Bush would ensure that Israel gives over the Golan Heights if Syria breaks ties with Iran. Israeli sources also denied any knowledge of such a message from Bush to Assad.

Syria Used Golan to Attack Israel
Between 1946 and 1967, the Golan was a part of Syria, which used it for years to systematically shell and attack Israel's eastern Galilee towns below.  Some 140 Israelis were killed in these attacks, many more were injured, and heavy property damage was also inflicted.  In the Six Day War of 1967, Israel succeeded in liberating the area, thus freeing northern Israel of the Syrian threat - and recovering an area rich in Jewish history.  Israel officially annexed the Golan in 1981, and over the years, built 33 Jewish communities, including the full-fledged town of Katzrin.