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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Where will the border cross?

Where will the border cross?
Syrian territorial stance accepted in private talks; Israeli public wasn't informed
Shlomo Avineri Published:  01.24.07, 20:41

Public debate over negotiations with Syria is usually passionate and ideological, but often ignores the simple facts outlining the history of our ties with Syria thus far. This matter also applies to the way the details of recent private talks between Dr. Alon Liel and an American-Syrian figure were presented to the public.
The primary bone of contention in prior negotiations with Syria focused on the future border. The most generous proposal Israel offered the Syrians thus far was readiness to relinquish the Golan Heights, while expressing a willingness to withdraw – while at the same time determining security measures, but I shall not relate to them here – to the international border between Syria and pre-State Israel.
This is the only border in the area with international legitimacy, and return to the international border also constituted a cornerstone for a peace agreement with Egypt and Jordan. Syria's stance is different: It does not relate to the international border, but rather, is calling for the return to the armistice line that existed until Jun 4th, 1967.
Many view the dispute between the two stances as an argument over a few kilometers or meters – this is not the case.
 The armistice line with Syria highlighted its achievements and conquests during the War of Independence. Despite the Syrians ultimately being pushed back in their incursion attempt into Israel in 1948, Syria succeeded in holding on to three enclaves inside pre-State Israel: Adjacent to the source of the Jordan River near the Dan River; in a short stretch west of the Jordan River near Moshav Mishmar HaYarden; and in the eastern part of Lake Galilee including the Mevo Hama area.
 Despite these areas being demilitarized, they were not handed over to Israeli rule and for years constituted the source of infinite disputes. As a result, Israel had no access to the northeastern beaches of the Galilee or to the Mevo Hama area. The Syrian stance is not only that Israel should withdraw from the Golan Heights, territory that is undoubtedly Syrian - Syria is also calling for a return to the line that left it with three areas (albeit small, yet significant) inside pre-State Israel that were supposed to be included in Israeli territory before the partition plan.
 Map tells the real story
There is reason to assume that an approach that does not recognize international borders in the area stands behind the Syrian perception, according to which Arab-national ideology was dictated by Western imperialism following World War I: After all, Syria does not recognize the border with Lebanon as a real international border just as it doesn't - to this day - recognize Lebanon's independence and sovereignty.
 It would be reasonable to assume that this would also be the fate of the international border with pre-State Israel. Therefore - and not only for territorial reasons – Syria is insisting on the June 4th borders. This is where its refusal to explicitly declare that the village of Ghajar falls within Lebanese territory stems from.
On another level, this implies that Syria, which does not accept the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights in 1967, contends that its conquests in 1948 are legitimate.
A report on what was ostensibly agreed on in private negotiations involving Dr. Liel laconically noted the relinquishment of the Golan and return to Jun 4th borders.
 From the map attached to the reports, it became apparent that the area surrounding Mishmar HaYarden, situated west of the Jordan River, would also be transferred to Syria: This does not just constitute "descending the Golan" but much more – namely, a Syrian hold west of the Jordan River and inside pre-State Israel including what belongs to Mevo Hama.
Perhaps there are those who would agree that this is a fitting price in exchange for peace with Syria: This is a matter open to debate. What is not open to debate is that in private talks conducted by Dr. Liel and his proponents, the Syrian territorial stance was completely and unquestionably accepted. The Israeli public should have been informed of this.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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