Trump Has Liberated Israel
By Shmuel Rosner 22/03/2019
President’s announcement on the Golan Heights will finally free us from the “land for peace” formula that none of us believe in anyway.
TEL AVIV — On Thursday evening here in Israel, after President Trump announced that “it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” and our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, thanked the president for his “historic” decision, I wanted to talk to someone I trusted on the issue, someone with perspective. So I contacted Zvi Hauser.
Mr. Hauser was a cabinet secretary under Mr. Netanyahu and is running for the Knesset on behalf of the Kahol Lavan Party, which wants to unseat the prime minister in the April 9 general election. He is also a longtime proponent of America’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
With less than three weeks until Election Day, Mr. Hauser keeps his priorities straight. He knows that Mr. Netanyahu will get credit from the public for the United States’ recognition of Israel’s control of the Golan — something many Israelis have wanted for a long time. He understands that the president intervened to boost Mr. Netanyahu’s chances in a tight race. Still, Mr. Hauser was happy. He called the move “a turning point in the annals of the Middle East” and said he wanted to “thank President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Mr. Hauser was not alone among Mr. Netanyahu’s rivals in praising Mr. Trump’s decision. Across the Israeli political spectrum (with some obvious exceptions), politicians are supportive of America recognizing Israel’s control of the Golan Heights.
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s statement on Thursday was a major development. It is the final nail in the coffin of the 1967 line — the armistice line that separated Israel from its neighbors before the Six Days War. More than 50 years since this line was crossed by the Israeli military, we can finally kiss it goodbye.
The part of the Golan Heights controlled by Israel is a 500-square-mile territory wedged between northeast Israel and southwest Syria. Syria ruled this area until 1967. Then Israel occupied it. Since then, there have been about 50 years of negotiations, with Syria demanding the territory back and Israel demanding a peace agreement.
Many Israelis, though, knew that it never should — or would — be returned to Syria. The area was too important strategically and historically. In 1981, the Knesset passed a law essentially annexing the territory. And yet, negotiations continued, with successive prime ministers making overtures to the Syrians, until the Syrian civil war — and the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies — put an end to the charade.
Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all the lands Israel occupied in 1967. The “land for peace” formulation for the past five decades has been a basis of all peace processes between Israel and Egypt, Syria and the Palestinians. Mr. Trump seems to have accepted the position of Israel’s government and given up on the idea that Israel has to withdraw to a decades-old line to get peace.
Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which was also occupied in 1967. But that set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy. But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line — what Israel controlled before the war — became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.
What Mr. Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it and invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace — not land.
Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.
In the meantime, the Golan Heights news is another clarifying moment in Israel’s election. Yes, there is a fierce fight between Mr. Netanyahu and his opponents. Yes, the stakes seem at times high. But Israelis agree on much more than many outside observers imagine. And one of the things they largely agree on is that the 1967 line is no longer relevant.
Mr. Hauser started fighting for recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the territory when he was an ally of Mr. Netanyahu. Now he is fighting for the same thing as the prime minister’s opponent. There is nothing unnatural or strange about this. On days like these, he told me, “politics is dwarfed amid the call of history.”