Claims Bibi was prepared to give up Golan Heights 'don't matter'

Sources close to Netanyahu downplayed reports the opposition head mulled giving up the Golan Heights for peace with Syria.

 Leader of the Opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset summer session in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Leader of the Opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset summer session in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

A source close to Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed claims made in a book by a former US peace negotiator that the former prime minister was prepared to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

The claim was made in a book by Frederic C. Hof published by the United States Institute of Peace called Reaching for the Heights: The Inside Story of a Secret Attempt to Reach a Syrian-Israeli Peace.

"What matters is that Netanyahu didn't give up a single inch, removed talk of a Palestinian state from the international agenda, brought four peace deals and made Israel a diplomatic superpower," the source said. "By contrast, the ones who returned Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) to be an international star are Lapid and Bennett."

Veteran peace negotiator Yossi Beilin said Hof's story proves that "if Netanyahu wants to deny his readiness to withdraw, he's lying."

Beilin said what Hof wrote quoting Molcho is in line with what peace negotiator Dennis Ross wrote in his book, quoting former mediator Ron Lauder.

"Hof was the most important authority on Syrian affairs in the US, and he pushed for a deal with Syria," Beilin said. "It's an important testimony. It says that Netanyahu, at least in the past, was ready to give up on the Golan Heights. He was ready to withdraw for peace, and I don't hold it against him."

 A view of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights from the Quneitra crossing. (credit: DARIO SANCHEZ/THE MEDIA LINE) A view of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights from the Quneitra crossing. (credit: DARIO SANCHEZ/THE MEDIA LINE)

Beilin, a former Meretz Party leader, said Netanyahu should be criticized for backtracking.

"He sent Lauder to negotiate, and he should be commended for it," Beilin said. "Eventually he withdrew. Maybe he was afraid of his coalition or himself. So nothing ended up being serious."

Bibi receives support from Israel's Left

Meretz MK Mossi Raz also found himself giving rare praise to the opposition leader.

"Netanyahu was right," Raz said. "As long as Syria was functioning while Israel was bleeding in Lebanon, it was clear that obtaining peace with Syria was the right thing for Israel. Also in the future, if there would be a legitimate regime in Syria, it would be right to reach a peace agreement on the basis of the Arab peace initiative."

Rothman says new claims 'do not matter'

By contrast, Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman said the findings in the book did not matter.

"The more we find out about the anti-Zionist and anti-nationalist actions of the current government, the more we will hear that Netanyahu also did this and that," he said. "I have no way of knowing what Netanyahu considered intended or planned in 2011. I do know that in the last right-wing government, when Netanyahu was prime minister, America recognized the sovereignty of Israel in the Golan Heights. And I also know that no coalition was ever formed in Israel with the Muslim Brotherhood until the current government."