Opinion: Keeping the Golan – less talk, more action

While Israel is reportedly pressuring Washington to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, Jerusalem would be better served by creating realities on the ground that keep the Golan under Israeli sovereignty.

By: Daniel Krygier

During a recent visit to Israel, President Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton said that the US is currently not discussing a potential recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In recent months, the Netanyahu government has reportedly pressured Washington to recognize the Golan as Israeli territory.

After President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some in Jerusalem see a window of opportunity to extend that recognition to the Golan as well. However, the future of the Golan Heights depends less on declarations from Washington and more on proactive actions from Jerusalem.

The Golan Heights remains a territory of great strategic importance for Israel. Its commanding heights overlook much of northern Israel and Israel’s crucial fresh water supply in the Sea of Galilee is fed with streams originating in the Golan. Israeli forces captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.

Prior to the war, Syrian forces in the Golan Heights regularly targeted and threatened Israeli border communities. The area was annexed by Israel in 1981, a move that was not recognized by the international community.

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The Golan is steeped in Jewish history. The ancient Jewish town Gamla, for instance, is often referred to as “Masada of the North.” In modern times, the territory has been under Israeli control far longer than Syrian control. The borders have been disputed since the British and the French carved up the region after the international San Remo conference in 1920.

The Golan Heights: still strategically significant

In an era of missiles, some experts have argued that territories like the Golan Heights have lost their strategic importance. However, the opposite is true.

A territorial buffer gives Israel more time to stop incoming threats like missiles and enemy warplanes. It also gives the Israeli civilian population more time to reach bomb shelters during times of war. The Civil War in Syria has only increased the Golan Height’s strategic importance for Jerusalem.

Despite being under Israeli control for over 50 years, the Golan Heights remains underpopulated and underdeveloped. Only approximately 20,000 Jews live there alongside a Druze population of similar size. Modern Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion knew first-hand that creating realities on the ground determine the future of territories and borders.

Israeli calls to dramatically increase the Jewish population in the Golan Heights remain largely unrealized. While the area is known for its natural beauty and excellent wines, there is hardly any industry except tourism. This reality undermines Israel’s strategic interest to keep the Golan as a buffer against threats from Syria. Israel should therefore focus on creating realities on the ground that would tip the balance in Israel’s favor.

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A Golan with over 100,000 Jews and thriving industries would indicate Jerusalem’s seriousness in permanently keeping the territory under Israeli sovereignty. This would also dramatically increase the chances of Washington recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

While most of the world still does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, few seriously believe that Israel will ever give up its capital. This Israeli determination led to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and should be replicated in the Golan Heights as well.