by Steven Plaut
It is truly maddening to consider how close Israel came to turning the Golan Heights over to Syria in the year 2000 and how close Israel came to having hordes of ISIS terrorists sitting smack on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, directly across from Tiberias.
In the year 2000 the Israeli Labor Party ruled the country and Ehud Barak was Prime Minister. Negotiations were being conducted about a complete and total Israeli “withdrawal” from the Golan Heights. The Syrian border would have moved to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Syria would have been granted water rights to the Kinneret. This took place under the coaxing of Barak’s party’s “doves” and especially Itamar Rabinovich, a past president of Tel Aviv University, a relative of Yitzhak Rabin, and an ex-Ambassador to the US. Rabinovich saw himself as some sort of authority on Syria and led the Labor-Left’s campaign to strike a deal-at-any-cost with Syria.
Israel in fact did offer Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE than that. In what can only have been a divinely decreed miracle, the deal did not go through. Like with Pharoah, the Assad dictator’s heart was hardened mysteriously, and he failed to grab the prize when it was proffered. Here is the Le Monde report on what appeared in 2000 to be an imminent “peace agreement.”
In reality, of course, Assad was offered everything including the kitchen sink. Since then the Israeli Left has invented a new pseudo-history of this episode, claiming Barak was in fact holding back and not making “enough” concessions to Assad. After all, Barak failed to offer Assad all of Rabinovich’s Tel Aviv University.
To read the opinion pieces and speeches in Israel from the 1999-2000 era of negotiations with Assad is to enter the Twilight Zone. One after the other, these people hectored and browbeat the Israeli public about what a wonderful and unique historic opportunity this was. All Israel had to do was to surrender to all of Assad’s demands. Moreover, time was of the essence. Every second that passed without a capitulation deal to Syria would see Israel’s situation worsen and would produce existential dangers for Israel. Some of these pseudo-analyses and predictions were re-published over the past weekend by Haggai Segel in Makor Rishon, and reading them is truly eye-opening.
At the time I did my own small part to belay the catastrophe being planned by Rabinovich and Barak. I published this article in 1999 in the Middle East Quarterly. In it I argued that not only was time not pressing for a deal with Syria, but time was very much running AGAINST Syria, because the Syrian economy was deep in the depths of implosion. Hence Israel could only benefit from stalling any attempt at reaching a deal with Syria. Say what you wish about the myopia of economists, but THIS prediction turned out to be right smack dab on the money. Syria indeed collapsed, and not only economically. The article at the time gained enormous attention and excerpts ran in the Wall Street Journal.
When Assad hardened his Pharoah’s heart and rescued Israel, the drama did not end. During the next decade or so, swarms of Israeli leftists from the Labor Party and elsewhere tried to reconstruct the “deal” that Ehud Barak almost signed, demanding that Israel; enter negotiations with Syria from the last negotiation position by Barak. In other words, start with Barak’s last offer of total capitulationas the starting point and then negotiate NEW additional concessions to Syria from there.
It should be noted, by the way, that at this point the Golan Heights have been part of the state of Israel for more than twice as long as they were ever part of the state of Syria before 1967. If it had been all up to the Israeli Labor Party, ISIS terrorists would be today encamped on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and sending out murder parties each evening into the Galilee in rowboats and rafts. Israel was spared this fate not because of any serendipitous dose of common sense by its leaders, but thanks to the miracle of the Pharaoh-like hardening of the heart of the Assad beast.
Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel. He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton. He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about the Hamas and Jewish Enablers of the War against Israel.
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