(photo credit: (Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post) )
The heads of the Golan Regional Council and the mayor of Katzrin, the largest Israeli community in the Golan Heights, agreed not to respond to Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter's statement Monday that the Golan could be offered to Syria in exchange for peace.
Kibbutz Merom Golan member Uri Kerzer, on the other hand, thought Dichter's statement was a publicity stunt at an especially sensitive time.
"I think it's a good way to be on the news," Kerzer said. "I didn't hear from him at all during the last war and now he wants to be on TV. It makes me upset because there are people licking their wounds after the war."
Kerzer said Israel should keep the Golan because Syria was not a peace partner at this time. If it comes down to it, however, and the area was handed over to the Syrians, Kerzer was confident that the majority of Golan residents would abide by whatever instructions the Israeli government gave them.
For now, though, members of his kibbutz, the first one to settle in the Golan, are going about their normal lives without worrying about Dichter's statement.
"For most of the people in my kibbutz," Kerzer said, "not every statement from every little politician will make a change in our everyday life."
While Ramona Bar-Lev of the Golan Residents Committee did not explain why Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka and Mayor Sami Bar-Lev of Katzrin decided not to respond to Dichter's statement, another representative from the Residents Committee told The Jerusalem Post that they made the decision to learn more before coming to a premature conclusion.
If it were to actually happen, a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights would be a very serious affair considering the number of communities and businesses in the 1,158 sq. km. area. There are 33 Jewish settlements, including 10 kibbutzim and 19 moshavim, with a total Jewish population of 18,000. Seventeen thousand Druse also live in the Golan, mainly in the North and on Mount Hermon, home of the ski and snowboard resort by that name.
The Golan's main export is mineral water, supplying 50 percent of the Israeli market, as well as wine grapes and various other agricultural commodities. Golan Heights agriculture, tourism, industry, trade and services production combined totals NIS 1,606,000,000.