Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 19, 1999
A smile was all it would have taken. A microscopic hint of reconciliation. After all, Israel is being asked to pay an enormous price for this peace with Syria. But no. Farouk Shara stood there defiantly on that White House lawn, stony-faced. Spitting in our face.
Consider the absurdity and imbalance of the situation. It is practically a matter of international political convention that Israel must give up the entire Golan Heights to Syria. Hafez Assad almost has the Golan secure in his back pocket.
Given the security risk and settlement sacrifice that this entails for Israel, would it have been so terrible, on that cold opening day of talks, had Shara deigned to make eye contact with Prime Minister Barak?
But no. For Assad, that would have been moving “too fast” in normalizing ties with Israel.
Given the fact that Israel is expected to evacuate and tear down Aniam, Afik, Bnei Yehuda, Chispin, Ein Zivan, Elrom, Givat Yoav, Katzrin, Keshet, Kfar Haruv, Maale Gamla, Merom Golan, Mevo Hama, Neot Golan, Neve Ativ, Nov, Ortal, Ramat Magshimim, Ramot, Shaal, Yonatan, and 12 other towns and cities with more than 18,000 residents — would it really have been so hard for Shara to reach past Bill Clinton for Barak’s hand?
But no. We’ll yet have to sweat to earn a handshake from Assad’s foreign minister.
Given the fact that Israel is expected to give up the irreplaceable territorial and strategic depth afforded by the 1200 square kilometer Golan Heights, with its commanding 2300 meter high peaks – couldn’t Shara have said something about secure and recognized borders for Israel at the end of the day?
But no. We had to politely stand by as Assad’s arrogant foreign minister delivered a condescending six-minute diatribe about “Israeli psychological fears that result from occupation”.
Given the fact that Israelis are expected to abandon the Golan’s 4,500 dunams of world-class vineyards; 200,000 dunams of agricultural land; 400,000 dunams of natural grazing ground; wine, water, cattle and dairy industries; the magnificent Devorah and Dalia waterfalls; the Zavitan, Yehudia, Meshushim and Samach waterways; and nature reserves on the Hermon, in the Odem and Yehudia forests, at Har Shifon, Har Avital, Bircat Baron, and Nahal Meitzar — do you think that Shara could have acknowledged the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister on that podium at the White House?
But no. He thanked President Clinton four times, Secretary Albright once. Barak – nada. Not a word of recognition.
Given the fact that we are painfully turning our back on the military heroism of so many young men who fought valiantly and died for Israel’s defense on the Golan escarpment – at Tel Azaziat, Tel Fakher, Tel Faris, Hushniya, the Valley of Tears and more — do you think Shara could have skipped the lecture about the “myth” of Syrian shelling of Israeli settlements pre-67? Or the harangue about the “suffering and vision of the Arabs that has been ignored over the last half-century”?
But no. You can’t expect Syria to part from its beloved anti-Israel propaganda so quickly, you see.
Given the fact that we Jews too have significant roots in the Golan too going back to the biblical Tribe of Menashe, Judah Maccabee and Herodian times – as evidenced by the ruins of dozens of ancient synagogues in Katzrin, Gamla, Susita, Tel Kadesh and elsewhere on the Golan; and the fact that over thirty years Israel invested more in the Golan than Syria ever did over half a century – are we supposed to be impressed by Shara’s complaint about a “half million” (sic) Syrians that were “uprooted” from Golan villages in which they had lived for “thousands of years”?
But no. Only the Arabs have “historical rights” in this region. We Israelis are entitled merely to minimal rights of “security”.
Given the fact that we are trading hard assets for intangible, and frankly hard-to-believe, Syrian promises of peace, and that Ehud Barak is laboring mightily to convince a skeptical Israeli public of a Syrian turnabout – was this the right time for the Syrian state-controlled press to warn of an “inevitable, all-out war that will engulf the region” if Israel doesn’t come around to Syrian terms?
But, remember what the pundits keep telling us. Arab reconciliation with Israel takes time….
Nevertheless, fret not. After we give it all back, strip the Golan down, dismantle our security facilities, farms and factories, and relocate our armed forces off the Heights – *then* everything will change for the better! Miraculously, overnight.
Assad will smile. Shara will shake hands. The Syrian national guard will play Hatikvah, the Damascus souk will open for Israelis, and the Syrian army will subject its non-conventional weapons and missile facilities to international supervision. Hallelujah.
And if you believe this, I’ve got some choice real estate in the Florida everglades going cheap…