JERUSALEM – While President Obama last week outlined an Israeli retreat as part of a deal with the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. in recent weeks also quietly has been leading talks aimed at an Israeli surrender of the strategic Golan Heights, WND has learned.
Dennis Ross, Obama’s Middle East envoy, has exchanged messages the past few weeks between Israel and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to informed Israeli and Arab officials.
The Israeli officials said that in the course of the discussions, the U.S. concluded Syria is in possession of a chemical weapons arsenal. The officials said the weapons were taken into consideration by the U.S. in its assessment of Assad’s regime.
“It was part of the equation that led the White House to conclude that Assad should stay in power,” said one Israeli official.
Informed Arab officials, meanwhile, told WND that Assad believes previous negotiations with Israel could form the basis of a future accord in which Israel would surrender the vast majority of the Golan Heights.
Both Israeli and Arab officials said the Obama administration believes it is in U.S. interests for Assad to remain in power. The U.S. reasons that even though Assad is a partner of Iran and a sponsor of Hamas, the alternative to his regime would likely be Islamist radicals.
Assad has been threatened with uprisings in recent weeks. He has been accused of ordering rampant human rights violations and mass killings in attempting to suppress the rebellions.
The Israeli officials told WND that in recent discussions, the U.S. belittled White House sanctions passed targeting Assad and top Syrian officials, explaining the sanctions are more symbolic and that the measures will not harm Assad in reality.
In a major address last week, Obama called for Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders, meaning a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem while allowing for some territorial swaps.
In his address, Obama supported the Arab revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa and called for the ouster of dictators and transitions to democracy.
On Sunday, Obama clarified that Israel could retain some of the West Bank, telling a pro-Israel group negotiations based on 1967 borders would include mutually agreed swaps. He clarified that he did not mean the exact borders that existed on June 4, 1967.
Meanwhile, with Assad’s regime faltering, the White House has been pushing Israel to surrender the Golan in an accord with Syria.
Syria twice used the Golan, which looks down on Israeli population centers, to mount ground invasions into the Jewish state.
News media accounts routinely billed the Golan as “undisputed Syrian territory” until Israel “captured the region” in 1967. The Golan, however, has been out of Damascus’ control for far longer than the 19 years it was within its rule, from 1948 to 1967.
Even when Syria shortly held the Golan, some of it was stolen from Jews. Tens of thousands of acres of farmland on the Golan were purchased by Jews as far back as the late 19th century. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire kicked out some Jews around the turn of the century.
But some of the Golan still was farmed by Jews until 1947, when Syria first became an independent state. Just before that, the territory was transferred back and forth between France, Britain and even Turkey, before it became a part of the French Mandate of Syria.
When the French Mandate ended in 1944, the Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state of Syria, which quickly seized land that was being worked by the Palestine Colonization Association and the Jewish Colonization Association. A year later, in 1948, Syria, along with other Arab countries, used the Golan to attack Israel in a war to destroy the newly formed Jewish state.
The Golan, steeped in Jewish history, is connected to the Torah and to the periods of the First and Second Jewish Temples. The Golan Heights was referred to in the Torah as “Bashan.” The word “Golan” apparently was derived from the biblical city of “Golan in Bashan.”
The book of Joshua relates how the Golan was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh. Later, during the time of the First Temple, King Solomon appointed three ministers in the region, and the area became contested between the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom based in Damascus.
The book of Kings relates how King Ahab of Israel defeated Ben-Hadad I of Damascus near the present-day site of Kibbutz Afik in the southern Golan, and the prophet Elisha foretold that King Jehoash of Israel would defeat Ben-Hadad III of Damascus, also near Kibbutz Afik.
The online Jewish Virtual Library has an account of how in the late 6th and 5th centuries B.C., the Golan was settled by Jewish exiles returning from Babylonia, or modern day Iraq. In the mid-2nd century B.C., Judah Maccabee’s grandnephew, the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannai, added the Golan Heights to his kingdom.
The Golan hosted some of the most important houses of Torah study in the years following the Second Temple’s destruction and subsequent Jewish exile; some of Judaism’s most revered ancient rabbis are buried in the territory. The remains of some 25 synagogues from the period between the Jewish revolt and the Islamic conquest in 636 have been excavated. The Golan is also dotted with ancient Jewish villages.