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History has taken its course
By REUVEN BEN-SHALOM
11/08/2012
No matter how friendly and moderate our future neighbors may seem, we have learned that the only stable thing in the Middle East is instability.
 
Three Syrian tanks entered the Demilitarized Zone on the Golan Heights last week, and stray bullets and mortar shells are hitting the Israeli side almost daily. These small-scale events may have strategic implications, and hint at the possibility of a spillover of the Syrian civil war into Israeli territory.

A state of war still exists between Syria and Israel, but a UN-monitored cease-fire established in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War, has made it our quietest border for almost 40 years.

Peace negotiations with Syria are a distant notion at the moment, but might someday resume with a “moderate” regime. During all previous direct and indirect negotiations, Syria portrayed the “land for peace” model as an unwavering precondition and most Israeli prime ministers were willing to negotiate, beginning with the Israeli offer to return the Golan for peace immediately after the Six Day War (an offer that was rejected by Syria).

The Golan is still considered “occupied territory” by the international community and marked as such on most maps, although Israeli law was extended to the region in 1981, de facto annexing it.

We might not like it, but we still think that we might have to “give it back” someday, if we want peace.

It’s time to break this paradigm and acknowledge that history has taken its course and that the Golan is an integral part of the State of Israel. I believe that this will not encourage conflict, but shorten the period of disillusionment before achieving normalization.

Why shouldn’t we give up the Golan? First, with the balance of power between Israel and Syria, demanding land in exchange for peace is somewhat absurd.

We should offer peace in exchange for peace. The worstcase scenario should be extending the status quo. This is in no way similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where other considerations are at play.

Although taking of land in warfare is a common historical phenomenon, it is contemporarily spurned. With all due respect, the world’s condemnation of territorial annexation is frequently professed, but rarely truly believed or acted on. The Golan is not the only unresolved territorial dispute in the world.

The second reason involves historical perspective.

Why do we say “give back” referring to the Golan? Who really owns it? This land has been conquered and ruled by different nations, and negotiated and divided in numerous agreements throughout history.

Should the descendants of the Amorites of Bashan get it? Perhaps it should go to Turkey, for it once belonged to the Ottoman Empire.

Don’t forget the Germans, who ruled the skies of the Holy Land in the First World War. Maybe justice dictates returning it to France, which was allocated the region in the Sykes–Picot Agreement in 1916? The Golan was allocated to the British Mandate at the San Remo Peace Conference in 1920, but was later arbitrarily placed under a French Mandate in 1923. It was then made part of Syria upon its independence in 1947. Syria held the volcanic plateau for 20 years but lost it during the Six Day War, after years of aggression, beginning with the assault on the new-born state in 1948 and continuing with constant attacks on Israeli civilians and natural resources.

We have roots there, too, for it was conquered by Joshua and settled by half of the tribe of Menashe. It was part of David and Solomon’s kingdom and Jews have continued to settle it throughout the ages. In recent history, Jewish pioneers settled the Golan as early as the 19th century.

Thirty years ago, I participated in an excavation of the Jewish city of Gamla that fell in 67 CE, during the Great Revolt against the Romans.

The renowned archeologist Shmarya Gutmann read to us from the writings of Josephus Flavius, which came to life as we found buried remnants from the battle.

With Jewish presence on the Golan beginning 2,000 ago, and after the past 45 years under Israeli rule, I believe that a country that held it for 20 years but lost it fair and square due to acts of aggression, has absolutely no ownership claims.

Our historic ties alone do not suffice, for this reasoning would lead to problematic consequences relating to other areas and painful compromises that we might have to make.

The third reason is our deep emotional connection to the Golan, due to the immense sacrifices made in its defense and the beautiful fruits of development, but I do not list this as a dominating factor either.

The fourth and most important consideration is national security.

Giving away the Golan would be geopolitical suicide.

The nightmare of living under the Syrian-controlled heights, the battles we fought conquering it in 1967 and then defending it in 1973, and 40 years of intelligence gathering, all teach us that we cannot retreat to the water line of the Sea of Galilee, or even to the edge of the plateau.

The basic nature of warfare has not changed and strategic depth is still critical. The unique geography of the Golan dictates holding the watershed line, or “The Line of the Mounds,” where we are currently positioned. No augmentation of technological means could ever compensate for the loss of intelligence assets in direct line-ofsite into Syria. Demilitarized zones can always be violated or eroded, especially when they are so narrow.

Even with desalination of water from the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee will remain a vital national asset, and surrendering the entire water basin leading into it could be catastrophic.

No matter how friendly and moderate our future neighbors may seem, we have learned that the only stable thing in the Middle East is instability.

History has taken its course and the Golan is now an integral part of Israel.

The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of
Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd. that facilitates bridging cultural gaps in promotion of international cooperation.

reuven@CCSt.co.il •
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