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With Syria, trade peace for peace

Jan Willem van der Hoeven
January 22, 2004

In implementing the separation of forces agreement with Syria after the Yom Kippur War, Israel withdrew from territory it had captured at Kuneitra and its surroundings.
Subsequently, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, reporting to the Knesset on June 3, 1974, said, "There is no place for an interim stage. Once we achieve further progress in a settlement with Egypt the question will arise whether Syria is indeed ready to sign a peace treaty with Israel."
The agreed line of separation (which included the whole of the Golan) promised Israel security from future attacks from the Syrian aggressors. Indeed, that line has been the most untroubled border experienced by Israel to this day.
Thus it was that Prime Minister Begin in 1981 received the Knesset's consent to incorporate the Golan into Israel's territory. A thriving Jewish community has been growing on the Golan ever since.
The Yom Kippur War was not the only occasion for an unprovoked Syrian attack on Israel. It was the third. Syria had joined in the Arab League campaign to abort the very creation of Israel in 1948. The Arabs were thwarted in their major objective - Israel survived - but Syria converted the Golan into a tremendous system of fortifications for future attack on Israel. That, indeed, was the only constructive Syrian act in the years of its possession of the Golan.

Meantime, it contented itself with making life in the Galilean plain below as miserable as possible, mainly by the intermittent lobbing of shells into Jewish villages. During those years there were children who did all their schooling in the underground bunkers erected as protection against Syrian shelling.
Then came the attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria in June 1967. That attack was bombastically proclaimed in advance - by Egyptian president Nasser - as the war that would put an end to Israel.
This time Israel decided to put an end to the towering threat of the Golan. IDF units scaled its formidable heights, bringing the Golan into Israeli hands at last.
Six years later, on Yom Kippur, the complete surprise of the Syrian attack (like the Egyptian attack in the south), momentarily threw Israel off balance. It was only after some hard fighting and heavy casualties that Israel regained control of the vital Golan bastion.
Does the sane nation exist which would, after that threefold experience, hand back the Golan to Syria on any terms? It is all the less likely when, throughout the years, the Syrians have been one of the most important backers and sources of terrorism against Israel - harboring some of its leading perpetrators; sowing, spreading and teaching its children murderous propaganda, demonizing not only Israel, which it threatens to destroy, but the Jewish people as a whole.
Winston Churchill, during World War II, laid down a clear-cut principle for a very similar set of circumstances: "Twice in our lifetime," he told the House of Commons on February 22, 1944, "Russia has been violently assaulted by Germany. Many millions of Russians have been slain and tracts of Russian soil devastated as a result of repeated German aggression. Russia has the right of reassurance against future attacks from the West, and we are going all the way with her to see that she gets it."
Yitzhak Rabin phrased it succinctly in a speech in 1992: "Whoever abandons the Golan endangers the existence of Israel."
For the Jewish people, the Golan has a fascinating history, largely associated with the post-biblical period and the revolt against Rome, its memories resonating historically as Jewish as those of Judea and Samaria. What has, moreover, been forgotten is that it was so recognized in the Mandate for Palestine.
Yes, most of the Golan was included in the territory envisaged for the establishment of the Jewish National Home in the Mandate in 1922. But the British, to whom the League of Nations had entrusted the Mandate as a trustee for the Jewish National Home, violated the Mandate and, a year after its promulgation, illegitimately gave away the Golan to Syria. Article 5 of the Mandate for Palestine reads:
"The Mandatory [power] shall be responsible to seeing that no Palestinian territory shall be ceded, or leased, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign power."
That was in 1923. The British signed an agreement with France whereby in return for certain benefits to itself in Europe, Britain transferred the Golan to France. France then included the Golan in its own Mandate for Syria.
When France's Mandate came to an end in 1945 and Syria became an independent sovereign state, Syria became also the mistress of the Golan; and therefore the Golan was turned into a powerful base for attacking - and destroying - the Jewish National Home.
The undignified decision of Israel's president, in a knee-jerk reaction to a seemingly softer tone from Damascus, to honor President Bashar Assad with a visit to Jerusalem indicates once again the ease with which Israeli political leaders constantly ignore the painful lessons of 50 years experience with the Arabs. They seem to forget Israel's national policy and the Golan's status as a part of Israel.
Three prime ministers in turn acted out of the deluded belief that Syria would make peace with Israel if the Golan was given back. They did not grasp that Syria needs the Golan primarily as a base against Israel. They forgot the reasons why the Golan was incorporated into Israel and why it must remain there for good.
Israel can offer Syria peace and, indeed, economic and cultural cooperation - but Syria must first put an end to the promotion of terror and the harboring of terrorist organizations, the anti-Semitic politicization of children, and its virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda.
But these are not matters for negotiation; putting an end to them is a normal basis of civilized behavior. Otherwise it is useless, indeed counterproductive, to call for negotiations for the sake of negotiating.
(Published in The Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2004.)

The Golan Heights, or Bashan as it is called in the Bible, was part of the Promised Land Joshua allotted to the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. Israel should never squander it again.

Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Director International Christian Zionist Center <> Up




Who Says the Golan Is Syrian?

By Prof. Yoav Gelber [Originally appeared in Yediot Ahronot, translation thanks to Moshe Kohn]

Before we proclaim that "the Golan is Syrian," it is worthwhile doing a quick review of its history. Ever since the establishment of the Syrian state, that country has lost more significant segments of its land than the Golan. In 1920 Mosul was given to Iraq and Tripoli to Lebanon, and in 1937 the Turks took Alexandretta. Yet Syria has maintained correct relations with all three of those annexing neighbors. It would seem that her insistence on getting the Golan back in its entirety stems solely from her desire to weaken Israel.

In the original division between French Syria and British [Mandatory] Palestine [after World War I], most of the Golan Heights was within the borders of Palestine. In the course of the demarcation of the boundary, local landowners applied heavy pressure, and as a result - and due to the absence of Zionist counter-pressure - the line was moved [somewhat] westward. Upon gaining independence, Syrian refused to recognize that line, and ever since they have been demanding that the border run down the middle of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret [the "Sea of Galilee"]. During the [1947-1948] War of Independence [Arab-Israel War], the Syrians gained control of areas west of the Jordan and afterwards demanded that the border coincide with the water line.

. Golan streams .
The response of Israel's foreign minister at that time, Moshe Sharett, was that it was unthinkable that Israel should hand her Syrian enemy what the British had refused to give their French ally.

Under the 1949 armistice, the Syrian Army retreated across the border, and the area they vacated was declared a demilitarized zone. The struggle for the control of that area reached its peak when Israel started to drain the Huleh Valley swampland. In the spring of 1951 violence broke out throughout the demilitarized zone, leading to the expulsion of the Arab residents of the area to Galilee and across the border, and Israeli sovereignty over the area was ensured. There was a de facto partition of the demilitarized areas: Israel controlled the central section and the Syrians had el-Hamma on the Kinneret's northeastern shore and two tels on the fringes of the Galilee "panhandle." This partition is the basis of the difference between the two concepts, "the international border" and "the June 4 [1967] lines."

What did not obligate the Syrians then should not obligate Israel [today]. There is no need today to hand the Syrians a border that they rejected in the1940s and 1950s. The Golan has been under Israeli rule longer than under the rule of independent Syria (36 years as against 21 years). [The Golan town of] Katzrin is no more Syrian than Jaffa, Lod, Ramleh, or Acco [Acre] are Palestinian (under the 1947 United Nations partition proposal), and we ought to think of the consequences of setting a precedent by giving up the Golan.

The weight of the historical arguments might have been different if Syria held Israel by the throat. But the only real Syrian threat against Israel is the threat of missiles aimed at Israel's center. Security arrangements in the Golan might be a partial solution regarding the security of the Israeli settlements situated along the pre-1967 line, but is no answer to the threat of missiles fired from points far from the demilitarized zone and from far Israel's warning systems. The sole constraint on the implementation of this threat is the Israel Defense Forces ' proximity to Damascus, Israel's withdrawal from which would abandon the Dan region, the Coastal Plain, and Haifa to Syrian missiles.

The argument that a peace agreement is the best defense against missiles is delusive. There has never been a war that was not receded by peace. And the risks of war in our case are not symmetrical: we cannot afford a single loss, whereas our neighbors have survived several debacles. That is why Israel stubbornly insists on security arrangements in any pace pact with any of her neighbors.

Syria has far more serious problems than we in the military sphere, in the economic sphere, and in the political sphere. She needs peace in order to solve some of them, and it is she - not Israel - that has to pay the main part of the price to achieve it: first and foremost by ceasing to support Palestinian and Lebanese terror, and also by waiving her claim to most of the Golan.
Reproduced by IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
.   16 January 2004

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