Rattling the Cage: Giving up the Golan - the most painful concession

If Assad offers peace, we lose our right to the land.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
I was driving around the Golan Heights for a couple of days, and I found the more I saw of it, the less I wanted to make peace with Syria. It's heartbreaking, the beauty up there. It's so wild and open - a piece of land the size of Los Angeles with a population of 40,000 people (half Jews, half Druze). The bottom half of Israel is sand, the top half is concrete and traffic jams. The Galilee is nice and green, but it's tame; you know you're in civilization. The Golan is raw, rocky, dramatic - mountains and waterfalls and cows and horses and ghosts from the Six Day War. The settlers aren't settlers as in Hebron-type settlers - they're normal, rational people. Best of all, there's no occupation as in Hebron-style occupation; the Druze don't have any soldiers or checkpoints bothering them. Last week they had Syrian flags flying in Majdal Shams for days to protest the 41st anniversary of Israel's conquest, and no soldiers or police came to take the flags down. The Druze aren't happy living under Israeli sovereignty - they've been cut off from their families in Syria, and they aren't allowed to visit Syria except to go to college. Israel could be a lot more humane than it's being about family visits and reunification for the Golan Druze. But in their lives on this side of the Syrian border, these people are free. They live and work all over the country, not just in their villages. Economically, they seem to be doing pretty well in the Israeli market, especially in farming and tourism. On a personal level, they get along great with Israelis. So I have no moral problem with Israel keeping the Golan like I do with Israel keeping the West Bank, which is the real thing - a harsh, abusive colonial regime. Driving up and down the Heights, I was thinking: I don't want to give this place up. It's too ravishing. It's a unique landscape in this country. Even if you don't visit very often, even if you have no intention of ever moving there (only a dream), it's important for Israelis just to know it's there, that it's accessible. It provides us not only with tangible breathing space, but psychological breathing space, too. And there's no fighting on the Golan, there hasn't been in 34 years. We just bombed what looked like a nuclear reactor in Syria - and they didn't retaliate. They didn't even call off the peace talks. The Syrians aren't shahids - they're not going to start a war with an enemy that's so much stronger than them. Why give them back the Golan for peace? We've already got peace! AND THEN I came home to Modi'in. And the longer I'm away from the scenery and atmosphere of the Golan Heights and back in civilization, the more I see the wisdom, the necessity, of making the peace with Assad if he's willing to make it - and if Turkey, which is brokering the current talks, sweetens the deal for us with water. The deal I would go for is this: We give Syria the Golan Heights back to the pre-Six Day War line - i.e. the northeastern shore of the Kinneret - and in return Syria declares peace and "end of conflict" with Israel, stops giving war assistance to Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorists, and begins loosening its ties with Iran. In essence, it means Syria joining the moderate, US-aligned Arab camp with Egypt and Jordan. The US, of course, would have to throw in a lot of money for Syria, just like Turkey would have to guarantee Israel the right to buy whatever water we might need - an idea the Turks are reportedly receptive to. It would mean giving up the Golan Heights and uprooting 20,000 of Israel's finest. What fun. What joy. Just what I've always wanted to do, and I'm sure all of Am Yisrael feels the same way. No, in truth, it'll probably never happen - and that's a very comforting thought. We'll always have the Golan, and no Israeli family living there will be dragged out of their home and traumatized and embittered like the settlers from Gush Katif. Another schism in Israeli society, possibly much worse than the one over Gaza, will be avoided. The problem, though, is that we will be holding onto land that doesn't belong to us - or that doesn't belong to us if we consider ourselves a nation that genuinely wants peace and justice. Yes, the Syrians were the aggressor in the Six Day War, they started shelling Israel from the Golan and Israel retaliated by conquering it. So long as the Syrians didn't offer us peace, we were entitled to keep their land. But if they're offering peace? If the Syrians, who have kept the truce on the Syrian-Israeli border for 34 years, offer us a land-for-peace-and-water deal that is underwritten by Turkey, and we say no? Then the Six Day War turns out to have a war of conquest after all. Then Israel is not a nation that seeks peace and justice, it's a nation that believes might makes right. And if that's the kind of peace we want on the Golan, I don't think it's going to last very long. If Bashar Assad is willing to take his country out of the "axis of evil" with Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas but Israel turns him down, then we leave him no diplomatic option for retrieving Syria's land, and one way or another we will be endangering our own security. We may not end up going to war - but if we do, we will be fighting a war that we could have prevented, but instead provoked. THIS IS not an abstract issue around here, this is a question of what we are willing to risk our children's lives for, and what are not willing to risk them for. And I am not willing to risk my children's lives for a piece of land - as dazzling and wondrous as it may be - that we took from another country in war, and that we may finally be able to trade for peace. Furthermore, if we're serious about fighting a long-term "war on terror," about cracking away at the Middle East's radical Arab/Islamic axis, how can we pass up the chance to extract Syria from it - to change Syria from being the axis's linchpin to being the wedge that divides it? This, ostensibly, is what they're talking about in Istanbul. But "the nation is with the Golan." Well, I'm also with the Golan. I don't want to give it up, and I don't want to throw any good people out of their homes. But there's something much, much more important at stake: The character and purpose and integrity of this country. Also, potentially, the lives of a lot of innocent Israelis and Arabs. Since the Six Day War, Israel has said over and over again that it was willing to make "painful concessions" for "true peace." We're about to find out if the Syrians are offering true peace, and if they are, the next thing we're going to find out is whether Israel has been telling the truth or not.