Reports that both the United States and Russia are willing to support a return of the Golan Heights to Syria prompted a first ever Israeli Cabinet meeting on the Golan on April 17. Prime Minister Netanyahu was unequivocal in stating that the Golan would forever remain in Israeli hands, and that any attempt to end the Syrian conflict would not come at Israel’s expense.
If the reports are true, which the Cabinet meeting near the historic site of Gamla would seem to confirm, then it is time to swing into action.
So, where is the American Jewish community? Where is AIPAC, where are our friends in Congress?
More to the point, where are we, the Israelis? Why are we dithering about this instead of not just applying Israeli law and administration to the Golan, but incorporating the Golan into Israel, the same way East Jerusalem was incorporated into Israel in the wake of the ’67 War.
The only way to make sure the big boys do the right thing is to remind them that actions have consequences. You want to rip the Golan away? We just sewed it into the full fabric of Israel.
The situation is comical on a certain level, that level being the idea that there is a durable arrangement to be had in Syria. Certainly, the world should try, though the idea that Assad will be an accommodating leader is somewhat surreal. However, the notion that, in the name of some ephemeral pipe dream, Israel should be expected to cough up the Golan, is cynical in the extreme.
Israel has controlled the Golan longer than Syria ever had it. It was never developed by Syria, and was conquered and then held in two successive wars.
There are two vulnerabilities to Israel’s position; both are self-inflicted. First, is the legal status of the Golan. East Jerusalem, also seized in the ’67 War, has by law been declared to be an integral part of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, by Basic Law, has been declared to be the eternal capital of Israel. By contrast, in 1981 Israel extended its laws and administration to the Golan, but that has been the extent of the tie to the State.
In addition, if the Golan were so important to Israel, why don’t more people live there? Its sparse population seems to lend credence to the idea that it was being held as a bargaining chip.
As recently as 2010, there have been reports of discussions regarding negotiations leading to a possible transfer back to Syria. While always denied, these reports have some credibility, based both on prior history, as well as a hands-off development policy towards the Golan.
This must change immediately. The Golan must be seen as a strategic imperative, and intense, sincere efforts should be made to move industries, and to encourage more settlement there.
It will take more than a symbolic Cabinet meeting and some chest thumping to end the cynical international effort to put the Golan into play. Above all, such a move must seen to be counterproductive.
The only way to do this is for Israel to complete and permanently incorporate fully the Golan into the State of Israel, and to develop it as a core part of the State.