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What about the Golan Heights?

Smoke from explosions from the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on 11 September 2016 [REUTERS/Baz Ratner]
Smoke from explosions from the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on 11 September 2016 [REUTERS/Baz Ratner]

We have finally encountered the 35th anniversary of the Israeli Knesset's annexation of the Golan Heights, which took place on 14 December 1981. There is also been the issue following the inclinations of Zionist leaders, who believe that with the current situation in Syria, the international community might finally recognise Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. The former secretary of Benjamin Netanyahu, Zvi Hauser, is the most prominent advocate of this outcome. Hauser wrote an article a few days ago titled "From Annexation to Recognition" in which he wrote that in light of the recent US elections, the Israelis might receive a "financial deposit" that would ensure the maintenance of Israel's control over the Golan Heights. Hauser also wrote that this new found American support for Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights would serve as a form of compensation after the nuclear deal with Tehran.

Hauser touched upon Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman's request for the renewal of a collateral letter sent by former US President George Bush to the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, in 2004. The letter ensured the US' support for the preservation of major settlement blocks in the US in the event of a major peace settlement with the Palestinians. A similar letter was sent by former US President Gerald Ford to Yitzhak Rabin in 1975, regarding the Golan Heights and the US support for the plateau to remain under Israeli control until peace is achieved.

The above-mentioned letter was sent before the "formalisation law"; however, the United Nations and the international community have not officially recognised the annexation of the Golan Heights. They have both treated the Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory. In fact, the US has previously attempted to moderate negotiations between Benjamin Netanyahu during his first tenure (1996-1999) and former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, with regards to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights. American businessman and philanthropist, Ron Lauder, served as a mediator at the time. In 2011, Netanyahu conducted indirect talks with Bashar Al-Assad via American mediation. The two American figures overseeing these talks claimed that Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria and an end to the peace agreement between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

Following Netanyahu first time in office, there was a second round of negotiations in 1999-2000, in which Uri Sagi was appointed the president of the Israeli coalition. At that time, Sagi made a comments saying: "We are very close to a peace deal, even more than the public knows." He confirmed that there was a draft of an agreement that touched upon all points including borders, water ad security coordination. Sagi alleges that he met with two Syrian officials under American mediation. The goal of these meetings was to reach a peace agreement and it was confirmed that more than 80 per cent of the issues in question for both sides had been agreed upon. In response to the question as to why there has yet to be an official peace agreement with Syria, despite all of these claims, Sagi responded: "Each side attempted to accuse the other side and I believe that Israel has a large part to play in all of this." He insists that the negotiations were not halted because of a dispute over the north-east of lake Tiberias, for there were solutions to consider; however, "we had to convince the public and our leaders did not try to do this or they would have succeeded."

Sagi ultimately felt that a Syria under Assad family rule would have secured the northern border. Regardless of whether or not an agreement would have been terminated with Iran as far as Syria is concerned, there could have at least been an indirect channel of negotiation between Israel and Tehran. Therefore, Syria's connection would have proved useful.

What is the difference, then, between what was then and what is the case now? The difference is not that great: In the past, Israel would have considered and would have been prepared to return to the Golan Heights to Syria and today, it is insisting on gaining international recognition for its annexation of the territory. This factor is related to which party can ensure the safety and the security of borders and what lies behind them.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 21 December 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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ArticleIsraelMiddle EastOpinionSyria
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