by Dr. Gabi Avital
Conquered territory will not be returned, especially not to the losing side.
For many years I've wondered whether the official position of the United States on the Golan Heights (and Judea and Samaria) is updated from time to time according to conditions that have changed on the ground, or whether its policy is set in stone.
Based on a statement from State Department spokesman John Kirby this week, the policy is somewhat nebulous: The Golan is "not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations. The current situation in Syria does not allow this. … This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations."
In contrast to Kirby's sentiment, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz chose to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position that the Golan Heights are part of Israel’s sovereign territory and are not up for negotiation.
If we look back at just about every round of U.S.-led negotiations, there were those inside the various American administrations, and Israel, who supported giving back the entire Golan to Syria in exchange for peace. In other words, the pre-condition was that Israel would return the Golan to its "owner" and only then could negotiations begin.
"The price is known to every Syrian child in Damascus and every Israeli child in Katzrin," pundits and public figures declared unequivocally. Others described the Golan as the "price tag" for peace with Syria.
As we know, the more a lie is repeated the more it becomes accepted as truth. In the period preceding the civil war in Syria, one could sense a palpable joy from those in favor of returning the entire Golan prior to any negotiation. Today only scarce voices speak with such conviction, because to whom exactly can it be returned these days? I suppose they occasionally glance at the polls that say keeping the Golan Heights in Israeli hands is infinitely preferable to ceding them to the "butcher" from Damascus. It is generally accepted among sociologists and political scientists that a correlation exists between rationalism and political affiliation. Reality, however, is a bit different.
Let us make sense of things. Fact number one: At the apex of the Second World War, the Soviet Union conquered the Kuril Islands, four tiny islands in Japan's so-called "Northern Territories." Despite countless entreaties from Japan, Russia continues to insist that "these islands are ours forever." Over time, one of the Soviet Union's more fascinating justifications for keeping the islands was that "so much time has already passed since they were won." That the islands are the relative size of a pencil dot is irrelevant, what matters is the principle: Conquered territory will not be returned, especially not to the losing side.
Fact number two: The entire area of the Golan Heights, including Mount Hermon, comprises less than six-tenths of one percent of the entire country of Syria (1,158 kilometers out of over 185,000 kilometers, or 720 miles out of 115,000 miles). In other words, a gigantic country is fearlessly fighting, at least according to declarations from its leaders, with considerable patience one might add, for a tiny piece of territory that was conquered by Israel, which was attacked first from that territory. And all this happened 49 years ago. Clearly those who support returning the Golan will immediately say that Israel fired first, but according to the rules of war the side that fires first poses his adversary with two options: fire back and try to survive, or surrender.
Fact number three: The first two facts are completely unrelated. No one can magically claim that Israel is 10 times larger than Syria or a hundred times larger than the area of the Golan Heights -- the deciding principle is that whoever attacks first, makes threats or provokes fear must suffer the consequences.
Fourth fact: A "peace of the brave" has existed on the Israeli-Syrian border ever since the Six-Day War in 1967, not including a breach in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. President Bashar Assad is very aware of the range of Israel's artillery cannons and the price he would have to pay.
Finally, fact number five: There are no Palestinians living under occupation on the Golan Heights.
Regardless, all these facts are of no interest to the current American administration. Indeed, some of the supposed axioms the administration uses as arguments to support the approach of returning the entire Golan to Syria (for example, that if only Israel withdrew from the Golan the link between Syria and Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and Lebanon and Hezbollah would be severed) -- are baseless.
The big question that interests me, however, is: What is Assad prepared to give in exchange for the Golan Heights? The Syrian civil war is yet another reason why the Golan needs to remain in Israeli hands, forever.
Dr. Gabi Avital
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