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Israel Prepares To Seize Its Golan ‘Moment’ – OpEd

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With Syria still embroiled in its civil war, Israel has been rewriting the rule book regarding its conduct in this Arab country. Gone are the days of a potential return of the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty in exchange for peace, as per the language of yesteryear. Now, Israel is set to double its illegal Jewish settler population in the Golan, while Israeli bombs continue to drop with a much higher frequency on various Syrian targets.

A one-sided war is underway, casually reported as if it were a routine, everyday event. In the last decade, many attacks on Syria have been attributed to Israel. The latter neither confirmed nor denied. However, following the blanket support given to Israel by the US Trump administration, which recognized Israel’s illegal 1981 annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, Tel Aviv’s reluctance to take credit for the frequent and increasingly destructive and bloody air raids has dissipated.

Briefly, some in the Israeli government were concerned about the possible repercussions of the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House in January 2021. They worried that the new president might reverse some of the pro-Israel decisions enacted by his predecessor, including the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. But Biden, a long-time supporter of Israel, has done no such thing.

The initial concern about a shift in US policy turned into euphoria and, eventually, an opportunity, especially as Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is eager to break the right’s historic dominance over the Jewish settlement movement.

“This is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights,” Bennett declared at a Dec. 26 Cabinet meeting held specifically to announce plans regarding Israel’s further colonization of the area.

Bennett’s statement at that meeting spoke volumes about the context of the decision and his government’s intentions. “After long and static years in terms of the scope of settlement, our goal today is to double settlement in the Golan Heights,” he said. The reference to “static years” is an outright rejection of the occasional freezing of settlement construction that mostly took place during the so-called peace process. Bennett, who was last year embraced by Washington and its Western allies as the political antithesis to the obstinate Benjamin Netanyahu, has effectively ended any possibility of a peaceful resolution to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Golan.

Aside from the predictable and cliched responses from Syria and the Arab League, Israel’s massive push to double its settler population in the Golan has gone largely unnoticed. The government’s investment — estimated to be worth nearly $320 million — has been welcomed not only by Israel’s right-wing media, but also the likes of Haaretz. The title of David Rosenberg’s Dec. 30 article in Haaretz tells the whole story: “Picturesque but poor, Israel’s Golan needs a government boost to thrive.” The article decries government “neglect” of the Golan, speaks of employment opportunities and only challenges Bennett’s government on whether it will “stay the course.” The fact that Israel’s occupation of the Golan, like that of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, is illegal under international law is absent.

Israel’s current focus is on normalizing its occupation of Arab land. But if that mission has failed for more than 50 years, can it succeed now?

For Israel, the illegal settlement enterprise, whether in the Syrian Golan or in Palestine, is inspired by deep-rooted ideological and religious beliefs, compelled by economic opportunities and political interests, and assuaged by the lack of any meaningful international response.

In the case of the Golan, Israel’s intention has been, ever since the territory’s capture in 1967, to expand its agricultural space, as the fertile land almost immediately attracted settlers, who set the stage for massive agricultural settlements. Although home to merely 25,000 Jewish settlers, the Golan has become a major source of Israeli apples, pears and wine. Tourism in the scenic region, which is dotted with numerous wineries, has thrived, especially since the annexation declaration in 1981.

The plight of the Golan’s steadfast Arab Druze population of nearly 23,000 is as irrelevant in the eyes of Israel as that of the occupied Palestinians. The Golan population is equally isolated and oppressed but, like the Palestinians, continues to resist despite the heavy price of doing so. Their hardship is likely to increase with the expected doubling of the Jewish settler population.

Israel is aware that popular uprisings will eventually take place in response to its latest colonial endeavor, but various factors must be giving Bennett the confidence to go ahead with his plans. One major source of reassurance is that it could take Syria years to achieve the political stability that would allow it to mount any sort of challenge to the Israeli occupation. Another is that the Palestinian leadership is in no mood for confrontation, especially since it is now back on good terms with Washington.

Moreover, in Israel, the anti-settlement movement has long since subsided. It has crystallized mostly into smaller political parties that are not critical in the formation or toppling of government coalitions.

More importantly, Washington has no interest in initiating any kind of diplomatic effort to prepare the ground for future talks involving Israel and the Palestinians, let alone Syria. Any attempt to do so would represent a political gamble for Biden’s embattled administration.

Israel understands this and plans to take advantage of today’s opportunity, which is arguably unprecedented since the Madrid talks more than 30 years ago. However, while Bennett is urging Israelis on in their quest for settlement expansion with battle cries such as “this is our moment,” he must not underestimate the fact that the occupied Palestinians and Syrians are also aware that their moment is drawing near. In fact, all popular Palestinian uprisings of the past were initiated at times when Israel assumed it had the upper hand and that the people’s resistance had been permanently pacified.

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Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com

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