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The Syrian regime is not currently popular internationally. This lack of popularity, which was caused by the Syrians themselves, works in Israel's favor from various points of view - as was proven by the international ?(non?) response to what reportedly happened recently in Syria's skies.

But let us not delude ourselves: Syria's demand that its sovereignty over the Golan Heights be restored enjoys strong international support - not out of love for Bashar Assad, and not even for love of international law as such, but rather because the stability of recognized international borders is a vital interest of the international community.

The result is that, on one hand, Israel is not being pressured to leave the Golan Heights, but on the other, there is no chance that Israel will ever be able to sign a peace treaty with Syria that includes annexing the Golan or any part of it.

Therefore, Israel will not lose a thing if it declares its readiness to restore Syrian sovereignty over the Golan when peace comes. Those who believe that there never will be peace with Syria will not have to worry about a declaration of this kind. But those who assume that sooner or later, the two countries will reach an agreement must know that as part of that agreement, Israel will have to leave the heights.

Meanwhile, regardless of the chances of making peace in the near future, it is in Israel's interest to convince the international community that the conflict between the countries does not stem from Israel's desire to control Syrian sovereign territory forever.

This does not mean that the territorial price of an agreement with Syria is known and predetermined. The Syrians do not recognize the international border; they demand that Israel withdraw to the lines of June 4, 1967. The difference between the two lines is minute, but it relates to a vital Israeli interest: control of the shores of Lake Kinneret, to which the Syrians would like to extend their border - even though the entire lakeshore is on the Israeli side of the international border.

This demand cannot be accepted. "Full withdrawal in return for full peace" means putting an end to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights - not restoring the Syrian occupation of the Galilee, which resulted from the war that Syria launched in 1948 out of opposition to the UN plan to partition Palestine.

Today, because Israel fails to recognize the international border, the impression has been created internationally that Syria is demanding something that belongs to it legally, while Israel is refusing. The truth is that Syria is demanding more than what it is entitled to, while Israel, during the negotiations held by Ehud Barak's government, made a fair and reasonable proposal, which the Syrians rejected.

Under the terms of this proposal, which was made during a meeting between then presidents Bill Clinton and Hafez Assad in Geneva in 2000, Barak suggested the return of the Golan Heights together with an exchange of territory on both sides of the international border. The plan stated that Syria would receive a larger area than Israel, but Israel would continue to control, and even strengthen its control over, the shores of Lake Kinneret.

The claim that Barak took fright at the last minute and missed the opportunity for peace with Syria refers to what happened during an intermediate stage of the negotiations, which took place in Shepherdstown. But the talks did not end there; they ended in Geneva, where Assad vociferously rejected any agreement that would not bring the Syrians to the shores of Lake Kinneret.

In this way, Israel first renounced the Golan in negotiations, and then renounced the political advantages of this concession. The first concession was essential, and from the diplomatic point of view, it cannot be retrieved. The second concession was totally unnecessary.