Developing the Golan Heights Is Wrong Now, Too?

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View of Majdal Shams, The Golan Heights' largest Druze town.
View of Majdal Shams, The Golan Heights' largest Druze town.Credit: Ari Pllachta

Sometimes the truth has to be told. The Golan will not return to Syrian possession. The Israeli dream of dipping a pita in hummus in Damascus while Syrians dip their toes into the Sea of Galilee at Kursi Beach was true at the time. Yitzhak Rabin offered Assad the Golan through an offer deposited in trust with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Ehud Barak agreed to give almost all of it back at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The Syrians insisted on the last bit of basalt gravel on the shore of the sea, just as set down in the precedent of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. That was their right.

It didn’t happen. Tough luck. Some opportunities are never to be on offer again. Assad Jr. has already attempted to build a nuclear reactor with North Korean help and massacred his people with chemical weapons. His country has meanwhile become a playground for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and ISIS cells are also active there, including in the Syrian Golan. They are not nice people, and letting them sit in Hamat Gader or Ma’aleh Gamla just won’t work. (Israeli attacks in Syria are another matter, and merit a separate discussion).

I read the Haaretz editorial regarding the government’s new development plan for the Golan (Monday) and for a moment thought I was hallucinating. Under the headline, “No to expanding Golan settlement,” the editorial stated, “We must tell it like it is. This is an artificial population expansion project, meant to strengthen Israel’s grip on the Golan Heights and create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for future leaders who might consider holding negotiations on the territory. … This is a national project. Like the so-called Judaization of the Galilee. Like the settlement enterprise.”

First of all, I didn’t know that settling the Galilee was wrong too. A significant part of it was designated for the Jewish state even in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, and all of it is within the 1949 armistice borders. Is Haaretz now calling to evacuate the Galilee?

Secondly, comparing the settlement endeavor in the West Bank with the population of the Golan misses the truth. Yes, according to the dry criteria of UN resolutions 242 and 338, these are both territories captured in the Six-Day War. But that’s where any similarity ends. There is no military occupation regime in the Golan, no apartheid, and no disenfranchised Arab residents subject to military and Border Police whims.

Israeli law has been applied to the territory in full in 1981, including the four Druze villages within it. They carry blue ID cards and can vote in elections. They have no aspirations for autonomy or an independent state. While the Golan was captured from Syria by force on the fifth day of the war, we must also recall that history did not begin in 1967. Syria invaded Israel upon the latter’s declaration of statehood, tried to bite off parts of the Galilee and Jordan Valley, and after being defeated made extensive use of the Golan for firing and observation purposes.

To sit in Tel Aviv and declare that Meretz “cabinet members must not lend a hand to expanding settlement in the Golan Heights” is not only detached, but hypocritical to boot. What’s immoral is to travel the Golan’s nature reserves, stay in the bed-and-breakfasts, frolic in the Mount Hermon snow and then demand that the residents (including the Druze) not enjoy normal transportation, commerce and education infrastructure. I try to travel in the Golan several times a year, always amazed at the narrow, unkept roads, some of which even lack a dividing line and don’t really have enough space for two lanes anyway.

Are Golan residents second-class citizens? They pay taxes and support themselves on farming and tourism. Some even subscribe to Haaretz. There is no problem about developing the Golan – as long as the steps are truly intended for the welfare of the residents, and not part of some provincial sycophancy of a fake new town like “Trump Heights.” Those who believe, as I do, that the left must be part of this country’s leadership, must also adjust to changing realities, and not fire anachronistic slogans on automatic.

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