by Pazit Rabina
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav
There is a new threat to Israel hidden in Netanyahu’s visit to the Golan and the meeting with Putin. From drafts of documents on negotiations between the sides in Syria, a joint demand from the rival sides emerges: to regain control of the Golan, under the auspices of the Russia as patron. In Jerusalem it is understood that now is not the time for passivity.
The end of the war in Syria is not yet on the horizon. Or perhaps it actually is? For two months already, discussions have been held in Geneva between the Syrian regime and representatives of the opposition, led by the UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan De-Mistura. Tracking the progress of the peace talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition factions is a fairly tiring business. On the surface it seems as if the talks are going in endless circles. Geneva 1, Geneva 2, and soon, Geneva 3.
But this time, there is an impression that something is different. On the 24th of March, Emissary De-Mistura published a position paper entitled “The United Nations’ Special Emissary’s document on Points of Agreement”. The subtitle is “The Basic Principles for a political solution in Syria”. In the preface, the writer explains that in the course of the talks between the Syrian regime and the rebels, he has identified “entry points” between the sides. He has instructed negotiating teams to bring out these points, and to create a document that the next round of talks will be based on. And this is where the disturbing part begins.
The first clause deals with an agreement for the sides “to respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria”. On the face of it, you might say, this is the right way to begin. However, in the last line of the first clause this text appears: “The Syrian people remain committed to return, by peaceful means, sovereignty to the occupied Golan Heights”. Of all the relevant agreements regarding the political solution for war-torn and fractured Syria, the first thing that arises, surprisingly, is a unity between the government and the rebels in their stand against Israel.
Is this the sentence that caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to react so vigorously, declaring that “The Golan Heights must remain a part of Israel”? The implicit meaning of this clause in the document is that in Geneva they are dealing with issues connected to Israel, and Israel is not there. She has observer status. Looking ahead, this clause has the potential to become in the not too distant future a source of political pressure on the State of Israel, when, in the framework of a comprehensive settlement in Syria, she may be expected to return the Golan Heights.
And if Netanyahu attempted to transmit the message to the international community that after fifty years it should “recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory in every way”, why, the US and Germany immediately made it clear that from their point of view “the Golan is occupied territory whose future will be determined in negotiations”. Russia indeed did not publish any declaration on the matter, but the sour expression on Putin’s face was obvious when Netanyahu said in front of the camera that “we will not return to the days when they shot at our communities and at our children from the heights of the Golan. With or without a peace agreement, the Golan Heights will remain under Israeli sovereignty”.
There has been somewhat of a flowering of Israeli-Russian relations these days, especially regarding security coordination in Syria. In June, the two countries will celebrate 25 years of renewed diplomatic relations between them. In the meeting between Netanyahu and Putin Netanyahu succeeded to insert a few sentences on an agreement with Russia regarding payment of pensions to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. This is a painful subject that may perhaps bring a partial solution to the difficult situation of the immigrants from the Soviet Union, especially the elderly among them who now live in elder-hostels. Here, Putin is willing to extend a hand to Netanyahu to grant him an electoral achievement.
But regarding the Golan Heights, the Russians have very different interests from those of the State of Israel. Therefore it is not really surprising to see Russian fingerprints on the document of the UN emissary to Syria. A week before De-Mistura’s document was published, an interview with Bashar al-Jaafari, head of the Syrian delegation to the Geneva talks, appeared in the Russian Information Agency, which is known as the Kremlin’s mouthpiece. In that interview, Jaafari reported that the delegation presented to De-Mistura their proposals for the document on the conference. For some reason, the interview was dedicated to only one clause in the list of proposals – liberating the occupied Golan Heights. “We propose that the Syrian government’s delegation and the delegation representing the opposition commit themselves clearly and sharply as a razor to liberate the occupied Golan Heights together and a return to the ’67 borders”, Jaafari explained.
And this is not the only case during that week when Russia got involved in an act hostile to Israel.
Next installment: Part 2 - Talking about Israel Behind her Back
Source: Makor Rishon, Yoman Section, issue 977. Pg. 12-13.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.