Tarek Barakat | Fashion Industry Dubai
May 27th, 2007

Re: ‘Syria's Occupied Golan Heights

Most of the Israelis I have met admitted with some struggle that it’s better to “give up” the Golan in exchange for peace with Syria. I hate to begin with such an aggressive tone. But even this notion is flawed from the get go. Because like it or not the Golan is NOT Israel’s to give up but Syria’s to get back.

I won’t bore you with UN Security Council resolutions or various facts and documents that prove my point. But I think it’s important to remember that all governments (including the US) acknowledge that the Golan is Syrian land. Even hard-line Prime Ministers such as Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the fact that at the very least most of the Golan should be returned to Syria. It was only the finer details (few kilometers here and there) that blocked a peace treaty from going through.

One of the popular arguments one often hears from “the Israeli Public” is that land for peace never paid off. Gaza and South Lebanon became launching pads for attacks on Israel and their civilian population. That peace with Egypt, even though it remains intact, is nothing more than a formality. Well, my counter argument to this will be “what the hell did you expect?” If someone chops your leg off then helps you mend it, will that make you overcome all your bitterness?

This lack of satisfactory outcomes after Israel experimented with “settling issues with the Arabs” is also due to your country’s decision to not negotiate with your neighbors as one unit in order to reach a complete and comprehensive peace on all fronts… Not to mention the hypocrisy in dealing with different neighbors along different standards ā?¦ setting the cessation of attacks from the Palestinian side as a precondition to peace negotiations with them, while the Syrian/Israeli border has been completely conflict free for over 3 decades, yet Syria gets its own different set of reasons why Israel can not start to engage with it in peace talks.

The divide-and-conquer policy has without a doubt helped Israel attain very successfully some of its short-to-medium term strategic goals. But when these states are your neighbors for what everyone hopes will be an eternity itā??s the long term goals that should be prioritized.

Unfortunately, I am a firm believer that Israeli governments’ (note the word governments and not public) strategic policy has been and continues to be one of maintaining controllable conflicts. Because if peace and prosperity should ever reign across the region for a long period of time. Israel would lose its primary justification in requesting US political, financial and military aid. To put it simply, as long as there is a threat of war the money will keep flowing in and Israelis will maintain their edge.

Israel’s existence is not under a serious threat anymore. Over the last few decades Israel’s military, economic and industrial profile has developed tremendously to become the regional, and in some cases international, powerhouse. The return of the Golan Heights to Syria no longer establishes a strategic military threat. With the exception of some negligible and eventually controllable groups in the region, all neighboring governments have long ceased to call for the annihilation of Israel.

My main point boils down to the next few lines; Your government has used force, in many cases unjustifiably, to assert its position as the region’s strongest nation but that has come with the price of instability, loss of life on both sides and the displacement of millions of your neighbors. So what is the harm in taking the other route for a change? Its only when you give the land back that you can really hold the Arabs responsible for their actions. And the sad reality is that the Israeli public has more influence than any other force in the region. You and your countrymen have the ability to bring peace to the region, it only requires vision that many Israeli, and Arab, leaders donā??t have.

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6 Responses to the Article

Mr. Israeli Says:

Dear Tarek,

I believe the innate distrust and its consequent fear of risking too much by returning the Golan, are what hold us back from marching in our hundreds of thousands into Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, in demand of peace with Syria. Please read my response to Zenobia Baalbaki’s comments above, as I very much agree with the analysis of the problem, and even suggest a bonanza-style solution (namely the surprise appearance of either Bashar Assad in Jerusalem, or Ehud Olmert in Damascus). The emotional waves such action would cause would, I believe, be irreversible, and would be just the right fuel to ignite the necessary empathy so desparately missing. Unfortunately, I don’t see the average Israeli, or Syrian, doing much on their own. I know Sadat paid with his life for making peace with Israel, as Rabin paid with his life for talking with the Palestinians, but I don’t believe Assad and Olmert need to fear the same. In’shalla, we’ll all live to see the day when Syrians can eat Falafel in pita in Tel-Aviv, and Israelis can eat Kubbeh in Damascus…

george_ajjan Says:

Mr. Israeli,

My only disagreement with you is about the Tel-Aviv falafel. Syrian tastes are far more conservative when it comes to falafel, and your version, in which everything left in the fridge is loaded on top, might be too much to handle. :)

Mr. Israeli Says:

Mr. Ajjan,

Your point regarding our Falafel is well taken, and now that I actually think about it, you’re probably right – we do tend to put too much on it… But you know, despite the fact that the majority of Israelis are Ashkenazi Jews, “typical Israeli” food is more Spharadi-like, originating in Arab countries around us. Yet another demonstration of just how our past, present, and future are interlinked.

By the way, I was 8 years old when Sadat came to Jerusalem, and I remember crying as well when I saw him on television. The entire nation understood what was happening, and suddenly, all the walls came down. I pray that our leaders will find the way to break down our still existing “Berlin Wall” of mutual distrust and fear. But this time, I’d like to open a bottle of champagne with a good Syrian friend, even if via video-chat… :-)

Tarek Says:


Tarek Says:

Sorry couldnt reply earlier because i simply couldnt see any comments.

Mr. Israeli – I hate to be so negative but Syria is not Egypt. I am certain that a visit by the Syrian president (however unlikely) would stir high emotions on both camps. That said it will not have the impact that Sadat’s made. The peace with Egypt had a very historical, and dare i say biblical consequence. It was the first by an Arab leader; the leader of the strongest Arab nation at the time. It gave Jews the chance to make peace with the Pharos. And more practically the Sinai was easier to give up because at the end of the day it was a dessert with very little strategic interest when you take into account the advantages of neutralizing Israel’s strongest enemy and in turn neutralizing all other Arab forces since the later could never challenge Israel militarily without Egyptian support.

The Golan on the other hand is a much juicier war trophy. Itā??s a strategic hill top and more importantly it has a very precious water resource. I remember reading that an Israeli official (sorry can’t remember his name nor can I find a link) admitted that even if Hafez al Assad had visited Jerusalem all of the Golan would not have been returned because of the water issue. And lets not forget the fact that not a single Israeli PM (except Rabin privately) has accepted the possibility of returning all of the Golan. This is why a visit by a Syrian president to Jerusalem is just too risky. Nothing less than the return of the whole Golan after such a visit would certainly be political suicide. And the fact that Olmert is refusing to even begin negotiations should make you wonder why would he accept a visit to Damascus.

I think the main problem Israelis and Arabs have to overcome is the brainwashing both camps have been subjected for all these decades. That Arabs want to kill all Israelis and that all Israelis are evil. Unfortunately, it is my view that the stronger party in these situations should lead the way and in this case it is your nation and countrymen that have the upper hand and therefore should be the ones who make the first move. History tends to turn tables and I believe it’s in the best interest of Israel to make peace from a position of strength. Because the weak more often than not tend to seek revenge when tables do eventually turn.

Mr. Israeli Says:

Dear Tarek,

It is true that Syria is not Egypt, just as peace with Jordan didn’t have the same effect on Israelis as with Egypt. But the issue is, exactly as you said it, the decades-long brainwashing (self or perpetrated) that our peoples have been subjected to. This is why I find it hard to believe that even my people, the stronger of the two nations, could suddenly change their innate views of the Arabs. Something dramatic has to happen to “shake us all up”. It could be a visit by Assad, it could also be a terrible and very costly war. I can tell you that despite the writing of a few Israelis on this Blog, most Israelis have been tossing around the idea of a return of most if not all of the Golan for at least a decade and a half now. I don’t believe it will take much to cause most Israelis to be willing to pay that price in return for true peace, if only some sign of good will was given (but again, it would need to be dramatic, not the closing down of Hamas offices in Damascus). Deep down inside, we ALL want the Arab-Israeli conflicts to be over. We all want to know that war is a concept belonging to the history of the world, not the present or the future.

But the day-to-day routine, and the infinite speeches by politicians about rights and wrongs, are what kills our common sense, and what debilitates us. War would also “wake us up”, but I’m afraid it would come at a terrible cost. To have Hizbullah lobbying missiles into Israel was one thing – we seemed to find the “patience” not to develop things into full-fledged war, and of course paid a price at so doing. But if actual nations were directly involved (Syria, Iran) in a regional war, and especially thousands of their missiles aimed at all of Israel, it would most likely push Israel (and Israelis) over the edge, and I can only imagine how the country might react. We would all pay a heavy price, and not for years, but quite possibly for decades to come. This is why I believe that we have almost no time left, and that no one except our two leaders, can still surprise us for the better. We must have hope, and soon.

When you combine 40 years of fear, distrust, and frustration, you can get a very dangerous situation, one which could be potentially explosive. There is only so much pressure that the various parties could handle and, eventually, someone out there will need to “relieve” some of that tension, and perhaps the 2nd-Lebanon-War of last summer was the beginning of such a process. I hope not. By the way, Olmert has recently said that if any of the Arab leaders invite him, he will come. Assad need not fear that if he begins to talk with an Israeli PM that may publicly claim that not all of the Golan will be given back, that these are Israel’s red-lines. Just like in any negotiations, the parties cannot, and should not, state in advance their final offer. In many negotiations, the parties actually discover their final stand during the process. I believe this is the likely scenario here as well.

We recently heard of a multi-year effort by an Israeli (Dr. Alon Liel) and a Syrian-American (Dr. Suleiman) to suggest creative solutions to the Golan problem. Apparently, the Syrian gentleman was in constant and close contact with the Syrian leadership, and basically had their support. If that is the case, we do have some very interesting possibilities to discuss, which I believe most Israelis could give serious consideration to. But for crying out loud, why can’t our leaders do so, over a stage in either Damascus or Jerusalem? What have they to lose? Sadat never promised his people he could deliver, he only showed them he was doing everything he could. It took almost two years for the actual Peace Agreement to be signed. By the way, in 1973, the Sinai was a super-important strategic issue, as it was the only thing (being 250 kms wide) that could give Israel early-warning to get ready for war. The Golan in 2007 is almost meaningless in that respect, mainly because wars will no longer be fought with tanks and infantry, but most likely with missiles. If Israel is attacked by thousands of Iranian and/or Syrian missiles in a war scenario, I don’t see Israel wasting its time pushing tanks anywhere. Its air-force and other capabilities will be used. And if Olmert wants to, he might say this out loud to his people, though most of them know it already. It’s usually the ones on the right that keep hanging on to the strategic-issue of the Heights.

Bottom line, Tarek, we need to find the way to our leaders’ hearts, to give them strength and courage, to do what is now needed more than ever. Those two individuals can give us hope, or destroy it. I believe it’s all up to them. History will judge whether they acted correctly, and in time. In’shalla, we’ll all be around to read that history together…

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