Golan Heights (Al-Jolan, in Arabic)

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GOLAN HEIGHTS (al-Jolan, in Arabic)

Plateau of approximately 646 square miles in southwestern Syria, overlooking the Syrian Hawran Plain to the east and the Israeli Plains of Galilee to the southwest. On 3 February 1922 the Newcombe-Paulet (Anglo-French) agreement drew the frontier between Syria and Palestine east of the Jordan River and the Lake of Tiberias. The accord was finalized on 23 July 1923, making the Golan Heights part of Syria. Three years later, France and Great Britain, powers with mandates over Syria and Palestine, came to an agreement allowing France access to the lake. In 1934, the Council of the League of Nations ratified the accords on a 29-square-mile frontier separating the Syrian Golan from Palestine.

On 20 July 1949, as a result of the first Israeli-Arab conflict, the armistice agreement drew a new frontier between Syria and the new State of Israel, which followed the north shore of the Lake of Tiberias, the south shore being part of a newly constituted demilitarized zone. By 1967 approximately 130,000 Syrians lived in 139 villages and 61 farms in the Golan. On 10 June, at the time of the 1967 Arab-Israel War, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) moved into the Golan, forcing out most of the Syrian population. In spite of UN Security Council Resolution 242 demanding that Israel withdraw from all the occupied territories, the IDF remained in place. On 19 June 1967 the Israeli government, headed by Levi Eshkol, sent a secret communication to the United States recognizing "Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights," and announcing its readiness to "withdraw to the ceasefire line, in exchange for peace, based on internationally recognized frontiers and taking account of Israel's security needs."

In October 1973 a Syrian attempt to recapture the Golan Heights from Israel led to a further Israeli incursion, adding an additional 197 square miles to the lands occupied by the IDF, a new pocket theoretically divided from the zone conquered in 1967 by a Violet Line. On 31 May 1974 an Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement allowed Syria to recuperate everything it lost in October 1973, as well as a little piece of the territory conquered in 1967—a total of 256 square miles of land. Since then, a UN force of 1,250 soldiers, known as United Nations Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF), has been stationed in the Golan and is responsible for overseeing the ceasefire and supervising a "limited weaponry" zone that is 28 miles long and 3 miles wide.

On 14 December 1981 the Israeli government headed by Menahem Begin pressured the Knesset to vote for a law annexing the Golan Heights. Three days later, the UN Security Council voted unanimously, except for Israel and the United States, to adopt Resolution 497 declaring the Israeli decision invalid. The Israeli government ignored the resolution. Between the end of the 1960s and the middle of the 1980s Israel pursued a policy of colonizing the Golan, although it was not able to attract large numbers of settlers to these colonies. The Arab population of the Golan Heights, which is chiefly Druze, has never stopped opposing Israeli administration. Druze in the Golan do not serve in the Israeli army as the Druze from inside Israel do, and they do not follow the same religious leaders as the Druze inside Israel.

In addition to wanting authority over the settlements already in place in the Golan, both the Israelis and Syrians want control of the Golan because of its military significance. Mount Hermon in the north overlooks southern Lebanon and parts of southern Syria and northern Israel. In the east, volcanic hills overlook Galilee in the west and Damascus to the east. In the west, the Golan overlooks a thriving Israeli metropolitan area. The Golan is also important for its water, particularly because the headwaters of the Jordan River lie in Mount Hermon. The presence of the IDF in the Golan also allows Israel to control access to the Lake of Tiberias as well as two tributaries of the Jordan. This ensemble of resources supplies almost a third of the water needs of the Jewish state.

During the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991, Syria demanded that Israel conform to UN Resolution 242 and evacuate the Golan, withdrawing behind the line the was in place before 6 June 1967. This would leave Israel with access to the lake only from the west and the south. On 16 February 1993 Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin launched an appeal to Damascus, declaring himself ready for "territorial compromise" on the Golan Heights. During the Majdal Shams First Plan, Rabin proposed a "partial" withdrawal from the Golan, spread out over three years. From his point of view, a few divergences with Damascus needed to be worked out: the Israeli line of withdrawal in the Golan Heights, the schedule of this retreat, security arrangements, and the connection between the retreat and normalization of relations.

Between 1994 and 1996 secret Israeli-Syrian negotiations, followed by semiofficial negotiations, took place in the United States, but they were interrupted in 1996 when Likud came to power in Israel. The new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he favored negotiations with Syria but opposed the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. On 4 January 1999 the Israeli Knesset adopted a bill submitting any restitution of an annexed territory to a double approbation: an absolute majority in the Israeli parliament (61 out of the 120) and in a popular referendum.

On the following 15 December, in Washington, new Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak met with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara in an attempt to restart the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, which had been stalled for almost four years. The day before, the Knesset had approved restarting the negotiations by only 47 votes of the full 120, seven members of Barak's majority having voted with the opposition, and the orthodox SHAS Party, which had joined the government, having abstained. On 1 March 2000, by 60 votes to 53, the Knesset passed a draft bill sponsored by Likud for the purpose of enlarging the voter base in view of acquiring a majority in a referendum on a peace accord with Syria.

On the following 22 May the UN Security Council decided that the Shebaa Farms, claimed by Lebanon at the time of the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon, was part of the Golan. On 6 August new Syrian President Bashar al-Asad received the U.S. envoy, Edward Walter, who had been asked by President George W. Bush to try to restart the Israeli-Syrian discussions.

Since the Israeli invasion of the Golan Heights, the UN Security Council has regularly extended the mandate of the UNDOF, which is camped between the Israeli and Syrian armies. By 2003 about 16,000 Syrians, mostly the Druze, remained in five Arab villages. The Druze account for many of these Syrians in part because Israeli leadership believes they are more amenable to Israeli rule. Meanwhile, more than thirty-five Jewish settlements have been created in the Golan, with an estimated population of 15,000.

SEE ALSO Arab-Israel War (1948);Arab-Israel War (1967);Asad, Bashar al-;Barak, Ehud;Begin, Menahem;Eshkol, Levi;Galilee;Israel Defense Force;Knesset;Likud;Madrid Conference;Majdal Shams First Plan;Netanyahu, Benjamin;Rabin, Yitzhak;Resolution 242;Resolution 497;SHAS;Shebaa Farms.

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Golan Heights (Al-Jolan, in Arabic)

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