What did the right ever do for the Golan Heights?
The Syrian heights were conquered in the final two days of the Six-Day War, at the order of the Alignment (Labor plus Mapam) government led by Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan. In the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, the IDF also defended it at the order of Alignment governments. The thousands of tank, infantry and artillery soldiers and pilots who were wounded and killed on the soil of the Golan Heights were not, for the most part, from the right, to put it cautiously. With the exception of several religious moshavim, most of the settlement efforts on the Golan Heights were led by the left-wing parties and the kibbutz movement. Katzrin, the only town on the Golan Heights, was founded in 1976 by the first Rabin government. In the 1990s, opposition to a potential withdrawal from the Golan was led by prominent Labor figures like Yehuda Harel and Avigdor Kahalani.
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The only move the right ever made for the sake of the Golan was the application of Israeli law there by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1981 (who, from ’67 onward, maintained a consistent approach that did not rule out returning the Golan Heights within the framework of a peace agreement, similar to the withdrawal from Sinai).
Since then, the “national camp” has basically left the Golan alone, only remembering to mention it when there’s an election coming up, as Benjamin Netanyahu does. It has no interest in its empty spaces and its secular, agricultural character. If the settlers were truly interested in moving there, they could have flooded the area en masse. But there are no holy graves or sacred land in the Golan Heights, only basalt rock and monuments to fallen soldiers.
Nor are there any Palestinians to abuse or exploit as cheap labor. After four decades of near-continuous right-wing governments, the Jewish population of the Golan Heights stands at just 22,000. The area does not need a new pseudo-settlement. It needs investment in infrastructure to bring in more residents and visitors.
Netanyahu actually had an ongoing interest in the Golan Heights: He made a notable effort to return it to the Syrians. He is the only Israeli leader who had contacts with both Assad senior and junior. These were advanced contacts, with American mediation, on the basis of a withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines.
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Netanyahu is also the only prime minister who left Assad senior with a detailed, two-page draft agreement for such a withdrawal. The envoy he dispatched on this mission, billionaire Ron Lauder, confirmed in a letter to President Bill Clinton, that this was the agreement. Netanyahu’s contacts with Assad junior were only halted upon the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
This channel of negotiation was handled by two confidants who traveled back and forth between the presidential palace in Damascus and the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. One of them once said, “One day, people will be surprised to hear how far we got in the negotiations.” Since then, in his unbelievable chutzpah, Netanyahu has been repeatedly thanking God and his lucky stars that the Golan is in our hands.
This week, he pledged allegiance to the Golan Heights, and in the name of Donald Trump, no less, who deserves a badge of shame and not the royal treatment, since he was the one who was ready to abandon the Golan Heights to forces hostile to Israel. Satirist Ephraim Kishon would have made much of this pathetic scene, the ultimate hybrid of “Blaumilch Canal” and “Sallah Shabati.” (Remember that scene where they keep changing the sign at the entrance to the newly planted forest, depending on which donor is coming for a visit?)
And so paraded the pied piper of Balfour Street, trailed by the mice, to the Vale of Tears. Together they sang the classic Israeli song “Here is My Home Facing the Golan,” which was actually written about a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, and in the heart of the Israeli apple-growing region they chomped on apples that were imported from America. None of them, of course, would ever consider living in the Golan Heights, or doing anything genuine to strengthen it. All they do is pose for photo-ops and spout gibberish, perfectly emulating their leader.
This is what we’ve come to: a transitional government that received no vote of confidence from any Knesset and possesses no authority to establish a new community holding a festive ceremony to mark the establishment of a community that will never be established. (There are no plans, no budget, no demand.) All for the sake of groveling before the master with a golden sign announcing Trump Heights. Why not Lauder Heights?