US Ambassador in Israel David Friedman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Senator Lyndsey Graham [R – SC] on the Golan Heights March 11 2019. .
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
US Senator Lindsey Graham and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Golan Heights on Monday. Along with US Ambassador David Friedman, they were able to look into Syria and see Mount Hermon as well as the old fortifications that make up the Golan’s complex and sometimes violent history.
“Israel occupied this territory by fighting for its survival,” Graham said. “This territory was taken by military force because it was used as a launching point to attack the State of Israel.” He emphasized that it is a strategic location, adding that now is the time for the US and other countries to recognize the Golan as part of Israel. Netanyahu hammered home this point when he said that recognizing the Golan as part of Israel was a concrete step the US can do: “To keep the Golan as part of Israel. Otherwise our border will be with Iran on the shores of the Kinneret – and we are not prepared to accept that.”
That the Golan is not already widely recognized as part of Israel is a historical anomaly rooted in the colonial era. In 1923, the French secured a mandate over Syria and Lebanon. They had forcibly ejected King Faisal and his Arab army from Damascus after the Battle of Maysalun in 1920.
The border between the French and British mandates was decided not by locals but by European powers. Parts of the Golan near Tel Dan changed hands from the French to British mandates in 1924. At the same time, some of the Circassian minorities in the Golan sought a special autonomous status up until the 1930s. Under Syrian regime control from 1948 to 1967, the heights were festooned with military installations. Since then, they have been under Israeli control and were annexed in 1981.
Israel has done everything in its power to extend rights to the Druze residents of the Golan. A court ruling allowed Druze communities to elect their own representatives in four villages in 2018. At the same time the region has become a thriving part of Israel. It also has a historic Jewish history, with many ancient synagogues.
Over the years, under the concept of “land for peace,” Israel held negotiations with Syria about the Golan. Different schemes were presented, including a demilitarized Golan that would become a kind of giant national park, similar to the Island of Peace arrangement with Jordan. There were even discussions of international monitors being involved.
Talks were held quietly up until 2010, according to various foreign reports. Not only did these discussions not yield anything, but the Syrian regime proved with its brutal crackdown in 2011 that it had forfeited any claim to the Golan. Why should the heights, under successful Israeli control for more than 50 years, be returned to a kleptocratic and murderous family-run regime in Damascus that only controlled the territory for 20 years? Solely because of lines on the map draw in the colonial era?
The Golan is one of many examples where Israel is held to a double standard and is unfairly forced to keep in limbo pieces of its territory linked solely to accidents of history. Just as Jerusalem was divided for years and the UN once sought to turn it into a corpus separatum, a special-status independent city, so the Golan is held hostage under the notion that an increasingly authoritarian Syrian regime will one day change.
Many of the conflicts Israel faces is because territories are disputed for decades with the false hopes and dreams of irredentist groups that they can turn the clock back to 1948. This fuels war, violence, uncertainty and conflict. An example of that uncertainty was the period of Syrian control of the Golan from 1948 to 1967, when the regime worked to use the area to dam streams that feed the Land of Milk and Honey, and strangle Israel.
The time has come to accept reality. The Golan is Israel. The US can recognize that and it should do so soon. Senators Graham, Ted Cruz and others in the US Congress should support this rational, responsible and just resolution for the Golan.
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