- The Golan Heights: Occupation, Annexation, Negotiation
Israel and Syria are the dominant states in the Levant, and have been locked in hostility since the foundation of Israel in 1948. Israeli occupation of Syrian territory in the Golan Heights has been the principal concrete issue between them since Israel seized the Golan in the Six Day War of June 1967. Any new book on the Golan Heights and their place in the Israeli-Syrian relationship should therefore be of interest, even though the border dispute has not been a primary concern of either state in recent years. The fact remains that there cannot be an Israeli-Syrian peace without a mutually acceptable resolution regarding the Golan.
Professor Efrat, a respected Israeli geographer, certainly has the expertise to give a cogent, detailed portrayal of developments on the Israeli-Syrian front-line from a centrist Israeli perspective. In this monograph he gives useful historical and physical data on the Golan, including a valuable depiction of the armistice regime between 1949 and 1967. He then outlines in detail the fate of the territory under Israeli rule, including the flight of most Syrian residents, the infusion of Israeli settlements, the resistance of the residual Syrian Druze community, and the 1981 annexation of the Golan to Israel. He finishes with a lengthy consideration of the tortuous, so far abortive Israel/Syria interchanges concerning the resolution of their territorial conflict. Throughout, Professor Efrat takes pains to interpret Syrian perspectives, and makes plain his view that the territory will have to be restored to the Syrians. The qualification is the position of a final Israeli/Syrian border, given the contradictions [End Page 303] among the 1923 international boundary, the 1949 armistice delimitation, and the actual lines prevailing before the June 1967 war. Israel would prefer the international boundary; the Syrians regard it as an Anglo-French colonialist imposition and insist on the June 1967 lines.
Unfortunately, two deficiencies vitiate the monograph as more than an information source or an indication of centrist Israeli thinking on salient aspects of Arab-Israeli affairs. First, the English rendering of the Hebrew original is unacceptably rough. Patches of the text are incomprehensible; for example, “he [Ehud Olmert] invited his aids and offered them to wipe together with him Assad’s humus” (p. 176). Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy advisor Ahmet Davutoglu is rendered as Ehmet Duatulu, and in the comment on Cyprus, enosis becomes onassis. Second, the structure of the book is not coherent. Incorporation of subject matter under “occupation” or “annexation” seems random. The discussion of the Sheba’a farms, a portion of the Golan claimed by Lebanon, is difficult to follow and the map doesn’t even show the “farms” (p. 99). The considerations of Bashar Asad’s stance and the indirect Israeli- Syrian negotiations through Turkey are undocumented, and say more about Israeli imagery than about the reality of Syria’s brutal ruling clique or Turkey’s sponsorship of that clique.
Otherwise, the mapping is often untidy, and the descriptions of roads, agriculture, and settlement blocs become tedious. The comparative treatments of Cyprus, Bosnia, and Kashmir do not contribute more than the obvious about conflict zones. The author details the UN Annan Plan for Cyprus without naming or dating it (p. 209), and enters the surreal in implying that Israel shares the Turkish Cypriot situation of being “a country which is not recognized by the international community.”
Perhaps the most revealing dimension of the monograph relates not to the Golan, but to Lebanon. Professor Efrat provides brazen illustration of the perspective, apparently widely held in Israel, that Lebanon is nothing more than a piece of meat on a chopping board between Israel and Syria’s autocracy. The text is peppered with remarks like “the United States would need to be willing to offer Syria adequate temptation, in the form of recognizing its standing in Lebanon [and] closing the Al-Hariri file (p. 257...