Top 7 Reasons Israel must give back the Occupied Golan to Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The far right wing regime of Binyamin Netanyahu pulled the stunt of holding its first cabinet meeting in the Occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, and Netanyahu engaged in some grandstanding, declaring that Israel will never relinquish this patch of Syria.

Israeli propaganda maintains that Israel is vulnerable to shelling from the Golan Heights. But Moshe Dayan admitted that

“he regretted not having stuck to his initial opposition to storming the Golan Heights. There really was no pressing reason to do so, he said, because many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland.”

Although the New York Times reported this story about Israeli provocations and the actual reasons for the occupation in the late 1990s, it today goes on repeating the old propaganda myths.

1. It is not illegal for Israel temporarily to occupy Syrian territory as a result of a war, as it did in Golan in 1967. But it is illegal for it permanently to annex the territory of a neighbor, according to the United Nations charter (Article 2, paragraph 4: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”> Permanent annexation is an injury to the territorial integrity of another United Nations member, which is not allowed as of 1945.

2. The UN Charter was trying to ensure that the bad behavior of the Axis powers was not repeated. Mussolini occupied part of France in WW II and tried to annex it to Italy and settle it. We want the world to grow up and stop behaving the way Mussolini did. Israel as a country established by people who suffered from Axis war crimes has a special duty to uphold the UN Charter in ending aggressive warfare and annexation of neighbors’ territory.

3. Israel is setting a bad example through this aggressive expansionism. There isn’t any difference between what Moshe Dayan described as having happened in the Golan Heights in 1967 and Saddam Hussein’s invasions and attempted annexations of Iranian Khuzistan and then of Kuwait. In fact, powerful Bush administration officials such as Paul Wolfowitz worried that most of the case against the Saddam Hussein regime put forward as the basis for an American attack on it could also have been made against Israel.

4. Israel’s annexation detracts from the rule of law in a region that desperately needs a rule of law. The international community, especially the European Union, won’t put up with this sort of thing forever, either. There are already European government advisories to European companies not to do business with the Israeli squatter firms in the Palestinian West Bank, since it could open them to being sued in European courts. The same will be true of Golan.

5. The Israeli occupation of the Golan involves outright theft of Druze-owned land by the Israeli government and the squatters it backs. This illegality on the level of how families’ property is usurped mirrors the international illegality of the annexation of the whole territory.

6. Further, the international community has a vested interest in restoring Syrian territorial integrity once the civil war is ended. While Syria may move to a federal system, it is likely to be reconstituted as a united state, and the legitimacy of that new government will depend on it pressing its claim for all Syrian territory. Indeed, the al-Assad regime was weakened in the first place in the eyes of Syrian by its weakness in the face of Israeli aggression.

7. Israel’s belligerent declarations that it will never return its ill-gotten gains set the grounds for some future war. Syria won’t be a basket case forever, and Syrians are never going to accept the loss of the Golan. There has been enough war in the Levant; we should see to it that unnecessary casi belli or grounds for future wars are set aside and resolved.

It would be legitimate for Israel to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a peace process (which Prime Minister Ehud Barak seemed willing to do only 15 years ago). But it is immoral, illegal, and destructive for Tel Aviv to seek permanent annexation of territory won in war. As I have pointed out, Iran really was brutally attacked by Iraq in 1980, and was subjected to an 8-year war, and yet Tehran did not seek to retain or annex Iraqi territory once the fighting ended in 1988. In this regard, the Islamic Republic is more exemplary than the State of Israel.

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Related videos added by Juan Cole:

1. New China TV: “Netanyahu: Golan Heights will remain Israel’s ‘forever'”

2. Press TV: “Syria vows to use ‘any means necessary’ to take back Golan Heights”

10 Responses

  1. I would add a reason #8. If Israel were serious about peace, they would follow the example set by the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in which the Sinai peninsula was returned to Egypt and demilitarized. This also normalized relations between the two countries in 1979, a condition that has continued for almost 40 years now. But, Netanyahu is obviously not interested in peace and it is obvious for all to see, except for the most die hard Israel supporters.

  2. Well let the Syrian government do what the Egyptian government did, by signing a peace deal with Israel.
    is that a bad thing?
    Jordan did the same, and both Egyptian and Jordan government received their lands in the process.

    • You are spot-on Collins. Both Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties and established diplomatic relations with Israel. It is not to let Netanyahu off the hook for his bull-headedness and intransigence to suggest that Syria might consider discarding its bull-headedness and intransigence by signing a peace treaty and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a return of the Golan Heights to Syria. It does take two parties to negotiate these deals, and both Israel and Syria would have to be willing parties.

      • No, Collins is not at all “spot-on”.

        The essential difference is that the return of occupied territory was an essential component of the Egyptian/Israel peace treaty i.e. it was included *in* the treaty, it wasn’t something that Israel agreed to do *outside* of the treaty negotiation process.

        Compare and contrast: Israel is not willing to consider returning the Golan Heights, and will not place that on the negotiating table in any peace negotiations.

        Syria would therefore be in the situation of signing a treaty in the h.o.p.e. that Israel then subsequently agrees to hand the Golan back which – to put it mildly – only an idiot would contemplate.

        This is very simple question: is Israel willing to withdraw from the occupied territory as a condition of a peace treaty?

        In the case of Egypt the answer was: Yes.
        Ergo, Egypt was willing to sign that peace treaty.

        In the case of Syria the answer is an emphatic: No.
        QED: Syria would be crazy to agree to such a peace treaty.

        This isn’t rocket science: unless Israel agrees to withdraw *as* *part* *of* the peace treaty then Israel simply… won’t withdraw. Ever.

        So absent such a line-item in a peace treaty then such a peace treaty is unacceptable.

        Just ask Egypt.
        Just ask Jordan.
        Just ask Syria.
        Just ask Palestine.

        You can point to the presence/absence of peace treaties and compare that with the unwillingness of Israel to withdraw from the territory that it occupies.

        It ain’t hard to do. After all, there is a 1:1 correlation.

  3. Israel’s defiance of international law and Western moral norms is like a gangrene; it slowly, and then more speedily, ate into Palestine and the surrounding areas, and now it spreads relentlessly through the body of a largely passive West. Personally, I think that current circumstances being what they are it has become incurable and will only die when what it feeds on has witherered. To oppose it with rationality is as pointless as arguing with a forest fire. It is, alas, a peculiarity of the rational mind that it more often than not relies on parti pris perspectives that lead to profound misinterpretations of the way the minds of the non-rational function. It is not so much any underlying morality of the US/West that has been destroyed but the faith of so many who trusted and were inspired by it in formative good faith and whose disillusion has left a deep dark void.

  4. What we’ve got here is a good old fashioned land grab.
    Syria will never get that piece of land back as long as it contains one of the primary sources of the River Jordan.

  5. Israelis were serious about peace with Syria (Shepherdstown talk in 99), but Assad regime was not willing to give up the 500-meter strip of land.
    Furthermore, due to the fact the Israel is occupying the Golan heights, not a single druze was killed in the Syrian civil war. This must be worth something, isn’t it ?

    • When it comes to national territory and borders, issues such as that count for little to nothing. Americans are very nationalistic yet consistently underestimate the power of nationalism elsewhere.

    • AK: “Israelis were serious about peace with Syria ”

      No, they weren’t.

      The Shepherdstown talk was simply one of Ehud Barak’s nonsensical bait-and-switch “negotiations” where he waddled into a room with….. someone…. then waddled back out again to talk to…. someone else.

      In September 1999 he waddled into a room to talk to Yasser Arafat at Sharm el-Sheikh and got the shock of his life when the Palestinians agreed to sign the Memorandum.

      Yikes! He couldn’t let that momentum build…. so in January 2000 he waddled off to Shepherdstown to talk to the Syrians.

      Because, you know, they weren’t Palestinians.

      Yikes! This negotiation stuff is hard! The Syrians know what they are doing!

      So Barack gets up, waddles out and heads to Camp David.

      Because…. you know how it is…. Arafat isn’t a Syrian.

      The Littlest Ehud would have loved to have waddled away from that train-wreck and go back to talking to Assad Snr (not a Palestinian, remember) but the Syrians had caught onto the trick and weren’t interested.

      So Little Ehud had to waddle over to Taba where, to his immense discomfort, it looked like real, serious progress was being made with the Palestinians.

      Two negotiations in a row with the same party?
      That Will Never Do.

      Poor Ehud nearly burnt the hairs off his legs, his stumpy little legs were so quick to scoot him outta’ there…….

      Alon, you simply can not take any of those talks out of context: there were *all* part of a ludicrous trick that the Israelis were playing, with Bill Clinton’s enthusiastic support.

      None were *ever* intended to lead to a final agreement, precisely because the Israelis hadn’t finished stealing all the land.

  6. Mr. Karpol, please give morality due consideration here – wrongdoing is wrongdoing, even if you can find some nice thing to say about the result.. I doubt the victims of theft feel the way you seem to. The refusal to do justice, as commanded by God’s Law is at the root of much of this violence. For ultra religious people to act this way is the height of hypocrisy. Stubborn persistence in defiance of God is terrible evil. Are you able to see this? Or do you insist on a lot of self serving excuses for the failure and betrayal of the Israeli citizens by a government just interested in preserving power and perks at whatever cost? Wouldn’t is be wonderful if Netanyahu had a vision and for once did the things that might give Israel a future? I don’t think time is working in Zionism’s favor – the world is changing, the Holocaust is ancient history to so many young Americans today and the life support is going to dry up as conditions worsen at home and Americans begin to wonder why on earth all that money they spend on Israel can’t stay here at home.

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