An old military vehicle can be seen positioned on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
More than half a century since the Six Day War and after the recent move of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, there seems to be an opportunity to get parts of the world to begin recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said so in an interview last week with Reuters. “This is the perfect time to make such a move. The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognize Israel’s Golan sovereignty – with an American statement, a presidential proclamation, enshrined [in law],” he said.
We couldn’t agree more. The Golan has been part and parcel of Israel for the last 51 years and it would be difficult to imagine the State of Israel without it. Nevertheless, there are those who argue that it doesn’t belong to Israel and that for there ever to be true peace with Syria, the Knesset’s decision in 1981 to apply Israeli law there should not be recognized. One day, these people claim, Israel will need to give it back to Syria.
This is wrong for many reasons but first and foremost is the fact that there is no one to return it to. Does the world want Israel to give the Golan to the murderous regime of Bashar Assad, the president of Syria who has used chemical weapons to kill his own people? Or, does it prefer that Israel relinquish the territory to ISIS or al-Qaeda, two other forces that until recently controlled large parts of the country? Maybe Israel should give the land to Hezbollah to hold onto until Assad is ready?
The very talk of “returning” the Golan is absurd. Nevertheless, this reality doesn’t stop Europe from labeling Israeli products, manufactured on the Golan, due to their origin in so-called “occupied territory.” It is just another example of the sad state of affairs in Europe today. While we can understand (but completely disagree) with the opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank, what does Europe want Israel to do with the Golan? To label products made there is not just wrong. It is not smart and achieves nothing of the lofty goals that the EU pretends to be interested in advancing in the region.
In addition to simply recognizing reality, recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan would deal a blow to Iran and Syria. First, it would be another demonstration – like the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem – that the US is aligned with Israel as never before. That would help boost deterrence. It would also, as Katz predicted, send a clear message to Iran and Assad that terrorism does not pay and war crimes do not get rewarded.
Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem was a not a punishment for the Palestinians, but it did send a message that Ramallah’s strategy of intransigence and rejection was not working. President Donald Trump was not waiting for the Palestinians and was willing to take action even if it was not to their liking.
A similar message would be sent to Syria and Iran. Recognition of the Golan would not be viewed as a punishment by either country, but it would send them a message that this US president does not play by past rules and is not confined to the prevailing thinking in Europe, where the Golan is viewed no differently than the West Bank.
For this to happen, though, Israel also needs to do its part. It should start by drafting a master plan for the Golan that would upgrade the infrastructure (roads, school system, healthcare) and create more jobs there.
If Israel wants the US and other countries to recognize its sovereignty over the Golan, it needs to take its sovereignty seriously. It can start by getting more Israelis to move there. People will move to a place with a high-level education system and attractive job opportunities. After 51 years, it is time the Golan became that.