Here we go again. Like a comet bearing bad omens that appears periodically in the sky, the possible return of the entire Golan Heights as a quid pro quo for a peace treaty with Syria is back again.
Unlike Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, who came out bluntly this week and endorsed such a deal, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the initiator of the latest round of "Let's give back the Golan" talk, has merely stated that, now they have done us the good turn of not attacking us while we were fighting Hizbullah, it was a suitable time to "resume negotiations" with the Syrians. Peretz was not, however, fooling anyone. "Negotiating with the Syrians" is and always has been a code-phrase for surrendering the whole Golan, the Syrians having made it abundantly clear that this is the only kind of "negotiations" they are willing to contemplate.
In fact, the Syrians have made it abundantly clear that the whole Golan is not enough for them. They also want thrown into the bargain what they refer to as "the lines of June 4, 1967" - that is, several square kilometers of pre-1967 Israel, including part of the northeast shore of the Kinneret, that their army was illegally occupying when the Six Day War broke out. It was over Ehud Barak's refusal to cede this additional territory that, by a great stroke of luck, negotiations with Syrian president Hafez Assad broke down in the late 1990s.
And why does Syria have a right to a part of Israel? Because, the Syrians say, they don't recognize the validity of the international 1923 frontier between Palestine and Syria that was established by Great Britain and France, the two colonial powers that divided up the Middle East between them at the end of World War I. This frontier put the entire Sea of Galilee in Palestine and ran, on the Syrian side, 10 meters from the shoreline, to whose water Syria does not want to be denied access. Why should it accept a border imposed on it by the whims of European conquerors?
Why indeed? It's only Israel that considers the 1923 frontier to be inviolate. That's why Ehud Barak, with a fine show of resolution, refused to withdraw an inch beyond it - a decision, it would seem, that Avi Dichter today thinks was overly intransigent.
"STUPIDITY" WOULD be too kind a word for both Barak and Dichter's positions - and for the position with which the Israeli government has entered every failed round of negotiations with Syria in the past. "Imbecility" would be more like it. It's so hard to believe that one rubs one's eyes when seeing the words in print. Yet here they are: Intransigent" Israel, which is in possession of the entire Golan Heights, an area of enormous strategic significance that is dotted today with thriving Jewish settlements, has repeatedly stated its readiness to withdraw from every last meter of it, for the sake of peace, to an international frontier that Syria does not recognize. Is this madness or is this madness?
It's madness. And any normal country - any normal diplomat negotiating on behalf of any normal country - would see immediately which way sanity lies. It lies in saying to Syria: "You don't recognize the 1923 frontier? Excellent! Neither do we. At last we and you have found common ground. Let's throw the map away and draw a new one. You want the border between us to be on the Kinneret? Fine, it's your right to want that. We want it to be 30 kilometers east of the Kinneret, so that all of the Golan remains on our side. Now let's negotiate!"
NEEDLESS TO say, the Syrians would walk away in a huff if talked to like that. Their idea of negotiations is to argue over how many Syrian armored divisions will be allowed to remain between Tiberias and Damascus once Israel withdraws to the Kinneret's shores. But that isn't the point.
What is the point? It's that we would be crazy to return the whole Golan for a peace with Syria that we don't particularly need anyway, even if it's "only" as far as the 1923 frontier. Ever since 1981 the Golan has been as much officially a part of Israel as is Galilee or the Negev, and we've now been in control of it for 40 years, which is practically as long as the Syrians were between the time they inherited it from the Ottoman Empire and the time they lost it. We have as good or better a claim on it as they do, and are currently under less pressure from the world to surrender it than we have been at any time since 1967. Why on earth should we want to do so?
Because, we are told, we can't win the war against Hizbullah unless we detach it from Syria and detach Syria from Iran, which can only be done by returning the Golan. But quite apart from the intrinsic dubiousness of this argument (who will promise us that Syria will not go on supporting Hizbullah and being pals with Iran even after we withdraw from the Golan?), there is a breathtaking illogic to it. On the one hand, for years we resisted parting with the Shaba Farms, a tiny area on the flank of Mount Hermon, thereby strengthening Hizbullah and its argument that it had a right to attack Israel in order to regain Lebanese territory. Yet on the other hand we are now told that we should, in order to weaken Hizbullah, surrender the entire Golan!
Fortunately, we're not going to, if only because public opinion in Israel is strongly against doing anything so foolish, and there's no possible way of marshaling the 61 Knesset votes that would be needed to approve it. And that being so, we should be doing everything we can to convince the world that the 1923 frontier no longer exists, not only because we have officially abrogated it, but because the Syrians have too. This would not be a particularly hard case to make, since Syria has been more than generous in helping to document it. Why are we so afraid to bring this to the world's attention?