The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has described as misconceived the reported offer of the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert to fully withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for a peace agreement with Syria, an offer that has led numerous Israeli officials, including members of Olmert’s own Kadima Party, to oppose the idea. Western diplomatic officials noted this week reports in Syrian publications that Israel had passed a message to Damascus expressing a willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal. According to the officials, who confirmed that messages from Jerusalem to Damascus and vice versa have been going through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office for months, Israel made clear that any peace agreement would necessitate Syria ending its support for Hamas and throwing Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal out of Damascus; ceasing support for Hizbullah; and distancing itself from Iran. The Syrian reports did not specify how much of the Golan Israel was prepared to return.
In an interview, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “I’m very interested in peace with the Syrians, I’m working on it, and I hope my efforts will ripen into significant progress. I promise that in issues between us and Syria, they know what I want from them, and I know well what they want from us.”
One Israeli diplomatic official said that in a country where the press is very tightly controlled, it was necessary to ask why the Syrians had an interest in letting the story out now. The official speculated that the reason may be linked to the congressional hearings in Washington scheduled for tomorrow, in which US Intelligence officials are widely expected to testify that North Korea was helping Syria build a plutonium-fueled reactor prior to Israel’s strike on Syria on September 6. According to this official, Syria by raising expectations of some kind of possible deal with Israel was trying to divert attention from that testimony, which is likely to harden congressional attitudes even further against Damascus. (Herb Keinon, Diplomatic officials: Syria must cut terror ties, Jerusalem Post, April 23, 2008).
The reports of Olmert’s offer have sparked a furious reaction in the Knesset, including from sections of Olmert’s own Kadima party. One Kadima MK, Zeev Elkin, said, “Olmert has been fooling the Israeli public and the international community, making promises he can’t keep
he has no support for this move, neither in the Knesset nor in Kadima.” Another Kadima MK, Marina Solodkin, said, “I am utterly against any withdrawal from the Golan, mainly because Syria is in cahoots with Iran and Hezbollah. Peace with Syria at this point in time is suicidal for Israel.” Still another Kadima MK, David Tal, said he would push for quick passage of a bill requiring a national referendum for any withdrawal from the Golan.
Other critics include the former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, who said, “Olmert’s willingness to come down from the Golan is an expression of unprecedented political and security anarchy. Israel will have serious trouble defending itself and its water sources. I have no doubt the public is on the Golan’s side, not the prime minister’s.”
National Union National Religious Party MK Effie Eitam said Olmert is sacrificing Israel‘s safety in a “desperate attempt to show his constituents some sort of a political achievement
He is willing to give up the one strategic asset which has kept the northern border quiet for the past 40 years.” The people, he added, “will not let him or anyone give the Golan Heights back to the Syrians” (Amnon Meranda, Peace with Syria suicidal, MKs say, Yediot Ahronot, April 23, 2008).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It is a serious mistake for Israel to speak of any concessions, let alone massive territorial concessions, to the Syrians while that country is an unreconstructed aggressive, terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship. Syria hosts a large number of terrorists groups Hamas, the Kurdish PKK, al-Saiqa, Asbat-al-Ansar, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and of course Hizballah in Lebanon. What has Syria done to warrant any such offer? Concessions should be a reward for moderation and reform, not a pre-emptive gift for vague hints of moderation to come.
“Unfortunately, the Olmert government is trying to pursue the same pre-emptive concessionary policy with Syria that it has been pursuing with Mahmoud Abbas PA, which has signed numerous agreements undertaking to stop terror, arrest terrorists and end the incitement to hatred and murder that feeds terror, only to do nothing while continuing to pocket Israeli concessions.
“The Golan Heights are part of the biblical Jewish homeland. It is also contains virtually no Arab residents, 30, 000 Jews, contains vital water resources and affords Israel immense strategic advantages in deterring or facing attacks. In fact, it has been a completely peaceful zone since 1974. Since then, the Golan has become the home of thousands of Israelis and hundreds of Israeli enterprises. Is Prime Minister Olmert proposing to uproot 30,000 Jews from the Golan? It would be a costly folly for Israel to relinquish the Golan to the Syrian Baathist regime.
“It is also often forgotten that Syria has no legal or moral claim for their demand upon Israel for what is called ‘full withdrawal.’ ‘Full withdrawal’ is shorthand for Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June 5, 1967 lines. But these lines do not denote the recognized international border between Israel and Syria they represent the 1949 armistice lines formalizing the position of Israeli and Syrian forces at the end of the 1948-49 war. In that war, Syria not only held on to the Golan Heights but also seized sovereign Israeli territory in the Galilee as well. The 1949 lines are dangerous to Israel, not only by robbing Israel of sovereign Israeli territory illegally seized by Syria in an unprovoked war of aggression in 1948, but in removing Israel entirely from the strategically vital Golan plateau. That meant that between 1948 and 1967, Syria constantly shelled and sniped at peaceful Jewish farms and townships from the Golan. If Israel had not held the entire Golan in the 1973 war, it is quite possible that the initially successful surprise Syrian attack on northern Israel would have succeeded and Israel fallen.
“The Olmert government should not be offering the Golan in whole or part to Syria.”