Occupied territories are occupied territories and annexation is annexation, even when it’s the Golan Heights and even when the annexation plan is called “a plan for encouraging sustainable demographic growth.”
In about two weeks the cabinet is expected to hold a festive meeting in the Golan Heights, to approve a construction and development plan meant to double the population there by the end of the decade.
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The population of the Golan Heights is currently about 52,000. To achieve this goal and provide housing for the planned artificial population growth, massive construction will be needed. And indeed, the plan calls for building about 7,000 residential units in the jurisdiction of the Golan Heights Regional Council and in Katzrin by 2026.
In addition, the cabinet will approve the establishment of two new communities, Asif and Matar. And for the tens of thousands of new residents to support themselves, new industrial, commercial and tourism zones must be created. A number of large solar energy projects are being planned, including a solar field in the Emek Habacha area.
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. To expedite matters, the Prime Minister’s Office seeks to create a “special committee” with the powers of the local and regional planning and building committees, but without the customary inclusion of public representatives. This is a national project. Like the so-called Judaization of the Galilee. Like the settlement enterprise.
An internal consensus that the Golan Heights is an integral part of Israel does not change the fact that it is an occupied territory held in violation of international law and the principle behind UN Security Resolution 242, according to which the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible. Even if all Israelis call the people living in the Golan Heights “residents,” they are in fact settlers. And even if the Golan Heights is beautiful, and there is white snow on Mount Hermon, it’s still occupied territory. Even if Syria has not tried to recapture the Golan Heights since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and negotiations with Damascus have yet to bear fruit, and it’s been in a civil war for years, fertile ground for Iran and the Islamic State organization to take root, and even if Donald Trump “gave” Benjamin Netanyahu the “gift” of U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights – all this doesn’t change the fact that this is occupied territory.
But so far the only objections to the plan are based on considerations of nature conservation (uncontrolled settlement will destroy open areas) and of urban planning (new communities will compromise plans to strengthen towns such as Katzrin and nearby Kiryat Shmona). None cite foreign-policy considerations. This is precisely the voice Meretz should sound. The party’s cabinet members must not lend a hand to expanding settlement in the Golan Heights.
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The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.