Monday, June 18, 2007

The Golan is Israeli

From today's Haaretz By Nadav Shragai

It is almost politically incorrect, practically heresy, to claim today that the Golan is not Syrian in the least nor a deposit or bargaining chip for negotiations. But it is precisely time to say so to the Israeli leaders who are trying to blunt the public's awareness.

The Golan is a lot more "Israeli" than "Syrian." It has been Israeli for 40 years, double the time it was in Syria's hands. It has been under Israeli sovereignty for 26 years. It has neither a foreign people nor a demographic problem. The Golan has become a part of Israeli life. It is the most frequently visited part of the country, dotted with dozens of Jewish communities, agricultural fields, industrial areas and tourist resorts, nature reserves and wild landscape.

The roots laid down there are no mere cliche. For the past two generations at least, the Golan became ingrained in our consciousness as an inseparable part of the state. It is not only part of the national home. Most of us also consider its vistas, and even its produce, as components of our Israeliness, whether we're talking about Eden mineral water, Golan wines or bed-and-breakfast accommodations, or whether it's the trip itineraries for schools and youth movements. It doesn't take a poll to know that the Israeli public is tied to the Golan, loves it and senses through healthy intuition that it is part of it.

Whoever talks about "returning" the Golan to Syria is being misleading. The Golan was placed under a French mandate in the colonialist agreement that divided the region; Syria won independence only in 1946. In the brief period it was in the Golan - 0.5 percent of its territory - Syria turned the region into a launching pad for its attempt to conquer and decimate Israel. The Syrian army shelled the Israeli communities along the border, attacked the Lake Kinneret fishermen, tried to divert the course of its waters and made life "down below" a Sderot-style hell. The Golan was conquered in a justified defensive war. We paid for it with blood. The Syrians lost it fair and square.

In previous eras as well, the Golan was not considered a part of Syria, and it is replete with findings of Jewish heroism and sovereignty, starting with the reign of Solomon, through the Second Temple period, the heroic battle of the city of Gamla and the Talmudic period. It was no foreign land that we conquered. Our ties to the Golan take precedence over its necessity for security purposes or the need to safeguard the water sources, and other excellent arguments.

Whoever now treats the ultimate Syrian demand for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and evacuation of every last community there as a decree of Heaven is misguided and misleading. The "price label" convention must be shattered. The approach needs to be completely different. The Golan is not Syrian. It is Israeli. Syria can get a great deal from peace, not necessarily territory. Israel is faced with a rare window of opportunity to explain this to the world, without getting flustered. Syria is now known throughout the world as a supporter of terrorism, as part of the "Axis of Evil," and this is precisely the time to try to leverage the Israeli narrative on the Golan to shatter the "price label" convention.

It is possible that in the end, in another generation or two, there will be a compromise on the Golan as well, but it would be immeasurably better if the starting point were different: When both parties agree in advance that the Golan belongs to one side, the results of the negotiations are known ahead of time. When both parties claim ownership of it, the mediators, too, will treat it differently.

The results of the Second Lebanon War greatly increased the Syrian appetite and led it to threaten a war against Israel unless the Golan is handed over. Alongside the deterrence that incoming defense minister Ehud Barak talks about, this is exactly the time to tell the Israeli story of the Golan Heights.

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