Israel Isn’t Leaving the Golan Heights—Nor Should It

Jan. 18 2019

According to recent reports, Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressing Washington to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which were taken from Syria in the 1967 war. While in the 1990s, and as late as 2010, Jerusalem expressed willingness to negotiate a deal with Damascus that would involve returning all or part of the territory, the Syrian civil war has removed that option from the table. Steven A. Cook comments:

Whether Washington recognizes Israel’s annexation or not, the Israelis are never withdrawing from the Golan Heights—nor should they. . . . [The former] Israeli interest in trading away the Golan Heights was predicated on a belief—or wishful thinking—that a peace treaty [with Syria] would break the Syria-Iran-Hizballah axis. It makes sense on paper, but peeling the Syrians from Iran and Hizballah was never going to work. Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, was at best a grudging participant in the peace process of the 1990s. Syrian diplomats showed up for talks, but they never actually negotiated much. . . . The former Jordanian foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, recounts [that] the Syrians sought to obstruct regional peace rather than contribute to it. . . .

Quiet along the Israeli-Syrian front for the last 45 years is a function not just of the capabilities of the IDF but of the unparalleled advantage the Golan Heights gives Israel’s armed forces. The Golan multiplies Israel’s force in the event of a war, but, more important for Israeli security, the area is an unrivaled intelligence-gathering platform. From its posts atop the Golan Heights, the IDF can look and listen in on the valley below that leads to Damascus, only about 45 miles away. Nothing is foolproof, of course. The Israelis occupied the Golan Heights in 1973 and ran into a lot of trouble when the Syrians attacked on October 6 of that year, but all things being equal, there is no question that holding onto the plateau is superior to withdrawing and the uncertainty of an agreement with the Syrian regime. . . .

[W]hen the younger Assad proved himself to be a bloody blunderer who put the regime in jeopardy, it was the Iranians who came to the rescue. The Syrian leader now owes his and his regime’s survival in part to Iran, which has sought thus far unsuccessfully to establish a permanent presence on Israel’s border. Iran and its expeditionary force, Hizballah, are a threat to Israelis security. The Golan Heights is critical to keeping both from achieving their ends.

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More about: Bashar al-Assad, Golan Heights, Hafez al-Assad, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat