Almost irresistible pressure is being exerted on Israel to surrender the Golan Heights to Syria, in order to achieve peace with that country. The pressure comes, of course, from the Arab countries, but regrettably also from the United States Israel's best and most steadfast friend.
What are the facts?
Indispensable for Israel's defense. The Golan, a plateau approximately the size of the borough of Queens in New York, has, since biblical times, been a part of Palestine. It was (in a great-power play) ceded by Britain to the French mandate following World War I. When the French in 1941 granted Syria independence, the Golan became part of that country. It is not, as the Syrians like to claim, "holy Arab territory", of which not an inch can ever be ceded.
Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Syrians shelled the settlements of northern Israel almost daily and made life there intolerable. In the War of 1967 (the "Six-Day War"), the Syrians treacherously attacked Israel through the Golan and almost succeeded in defeating it. It would have been the end of the Jewish State. Miraculously, Israel was able to repel the aggressors and to occupy the Golan Heights. The Golan has since then been integrated politically and in every other respect into the State of Israel. What used to be a wilderness has become, under Israeli administration, a successful province, with prospering cities and flourishing agriculture. But most important of all: The Golan is totally indispensable for the defense of Israel.
That makes it incomprehensible why the President, who, like the American people, is interested in the survival of Israel, presses that country to relinquish the Golan. Without the Golan, and with the Golan in the hands of those whose death wish for Israel has never been abandoned, Israel would be indefensible.
Never in the history of the world has a defeated aggressor successfully insisted that territories lost during its aggression be returned to it before being willing to agree to make peace with the victor. Germany does not ask France to return Alsace-Lorraine, nor Poland to return the large chunks of eastern Germany that were allotted to it at the end of World War II. Why then the insistence that tiny Israel deprive itself of an area that is totally vital to its survival?
Unprecedented though it would be, an agreement with Syria about the Golan would be possible and acceptable to Israel if it would bring about real peace with Syria. But that is not in the cards. The hatred against Israel is so deep-seated that it would take progressive leaders and at least a generation or two to overcome it. Syrian newspapers and broadcasts are filled with venom and unending hatred against Israel. Schoolchildren, beginning with the earliest grades, are filled with poisonous invective against the "Nazi-Zionist entity". The official government line is that the Arabs (under Syrian leadership) must mass their resources to "liberate all occupied Arab land". And that, of course, is a code word for Israel. Israel must be eliminated.
Syrian "chutzpah." The gall, the "chutzpah" of the Syrians is almost beyond belief. Syria is a third-rate country, with a bankrupt economy, and having lost the support of the Soviet Union - a second-rate military power. Still, in their dealings with Israel, they act as though they were victors and in a position of great strength. While Mr. Barak, the Prime Minister of Israel, appears to jump through hoops to "negotiate" with the Syrians, Syria's top man the dictator, Hafez Assad cannot be bothered to attend any meetings. He sends his number-two man, who is instructed not to shake hands with the hated Israelis and not to enter any discussions unless the Israelis agree beforehand to every demand the Syrians have to make. It is sad that the Israelis, being in a position of total strength, would consider such humiliating conditions.
In case any agreement on the governmental level were reached that Israel should return the Golan to Syria, such agreement would still be subject to a plebiscite of the Israeli electorate. Such approval should be by a super-majority namely by a majority of all eligible voters, and not just by a majority of those voting. We in the United States are well acquainted with super-majorities for matters of great consequence, such as amending the Constitution. Could Israel be expected to divest itself of part of its country and of a vital strategic asset by just one vote?
There is a way to make peace with Syria: Israel would return sovereignty of the Golan to Syria, but would lease the territory from it for an agreed-upon period 25 or 50 years. That is what the British did in Hong Kong and what we are doing in Guantanamo, Cuba. It seems to work out well, even for nations that (as between us and Cuba) are hostile to each other. During such time, one would hope that public opinion in Syria and in the other Arab countries had matured sufficiently for Israel to be able to afford relinquishing this strategic asset. For Syria to agree to such a settlement would be a positive step toward peace - proof of their good intentions. But, regrettably, the acceptance by Syria of such a solution is unlikely.
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Gerardo Joffe, President