But Taba itself was not the real point of the dispute so much as whether Israel should be allowed to keep even a square inch of the territory it gained in 1967. If Israel were allowed to keep anything, it would serve to confirm that Israel had indeed fought in self-defense and that it therefore had a right to some territorial gains.
It is, however, precisely the notion that Israel fought in self-defense that the Arabs are unable to accept. They have always said the creation of Israel in 1948 was in itself an act of aggression against the Arabs and nothing an “aggressor” does can be seen as legitimate self-defense. In the end, Egypt got Taba. Sadat, assassinated in 1981, was declared a “martyr for peace” by the Western media, which preferred to ignore the fact that the killing occurred at a parade where Sadat was celebrating Egypt’s 1973 Yom Kippur attack on Israel.
To this day, Arab policy insists on the return of all territories gained by Israel in 1967 – including East Jerusalem with Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, as well as its traditional Jewish Quarter. After 40 years, the likelihood of any Arab regime agreeing to anything less remains slim to none.
With Israel having accepted for so long to the idea of giving up land for (a questionable) peace, it is no surprise that more and more of the world has come to view it as an occupying aggressor.
Now Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who not long ago called Golan “an inseparable part of the state of Israel,” is sending out feelers to Syria, offering to give up all of the Golan – despite the vast majority of Israelis being opposed to such a move. What is more, it would mean uprooting at least 20,000 Israelis from their homes, giving up a third of Israel’s fresh water, relinquishing the military advantage of being close to Damascus, and putting the Syrians back on the heights overlooking eastern Galilee.
Not only does Syria demand the entire Golan, but the Syrians also insist on the return of certain bits of land (below the Golan) they held from 1948-1967 that were originally excluded from Syria according to the international boundary drawn by Britain and France in 1923. That would put the Syrians on the northeastern shore of Lake Kinneret, Israel’s main source of fresh water.
Whereas Menachem Begin was pressured by Jimmy Carter into giving up all of Sinai, the Bush administration has indicated it would prefer that Israel not negotiate with Syria at this time since the Syrian government has close ties with a number of terrorist groups as well as Iran. But Olmert shows no sign of being deterred. With his approval rating in the single digits for months now, he has already let it be known he feels fully justified in defying the will of the majority.
Relinquishing the Golan would also be different because the region, officially annexed by Israel in 1981, is an integral part of the country. In order to legally negotiate giving up Golan, one would think the government would first have to ask the Knesset to repeal or otherwise cancel the annexation. But, as we saw when the Rabin-Peres government negotiated with the PLO in Oslo in defiance of what was then Israeli law, Israeli governments tend to see themselves as above the law.
Olmert seems to believe (without any real evidence) that the Golan can be used to lure Syria out of its close ties with Iran, whose government is publicly pledged to Israel’s destruction. Syria’s Assad regime is a dictatorship, with the government largely run by members of the tiny Alawite minority, themselves a spin-off of Shia Islam. The large majority of Syrians are Sunnis, who are bound to eventually regain power in some form. Interestingly, Farid Ghadry, leader of the pro-democracy Syrian Reform Party, recently visited Israel and urged the government not to negotiate with Assad, saying that would only serve to strengthen his dictatorship.
And there is also the possibility, not only in Syria but in Egypt as well, of the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is an offshoot) eventually coming to power and renouncing any and all agreements with Israel.