October 22, 2006

Myths & Facts

MYTH: "Peace with Syria has been prevented only by Israel’s obstinate refusal to withdraw from the Golan Heights."

FACT: Given past history, Israel is understandably reluctant to give away the strategic high ground and its early-warning system. Nevertheless, Israel had repeatedly expressed a willingness to negotiate the future of the Golan Heights. One possible compromise might be a partial Israeli withdrawal, along the lines of its 1974 disengagement agreement with Syria. Another would be a complete withdrawal, with the Golan becoming a demilitarized zone.

After losing the 1999 election, Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed reports that he had engaged in secret talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad to withdraw from the Golan and maintain a strategic early-warning station on Mount Hermon. Publicly, Assad continued to insist on a total withdrawal with no compromises and indicated no willingness to go beyond agreeing to a far more limited "non-belligerency" deal with Israel than the full peace treaty Israel has demanded.

The election of Ehud Barak stimulated new movement in the peace process, with intensive negotiations held in the United States in January 2000 between Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa. These talks raised new hope for the conclusion of a peace treaty, but the discussions did not bear fruit. Hafez Assad died in June 2000 and no further talks have been held as Assad’s son and successor, Bashar, has not indicated any shift in Syria’s position on the Golan.

Israel has made clear it is prepared to compromise on the Golan and make significant territorial concessions. The only obstacle is Assad’s unwillingness to say yes to peace with Israel.

Source: Myths & Facts by Mitchell Bard