New Golan Heights Settlement Plan Derails Peace Talks
Huggler, Justin, The Independent (London, England)
IN ANOTHER blow to the prospects of peace in the Middle East, the Israeli government has approved plans to double the number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied Golan Heights within three years.
The details of the $56m (pounds 31.4m) project to expand settlements on the Golan Heights emerged yesterday, just weeks after Syria's President, Bashar Assad, called for new peace talks with Israel. The settlement project could now put any talks in jeopardy. "The goal is for Assad to see from the windows of his home the Israeli Golan thriving and flourishing," the Israeli Agriculture Minister, Yisrael Katz, who is responsible for the new scheme, said yesterday.
"The government resolution is a response to the initiative posed by Syria, which on one hand announces that it is interested in peace, and on the other hand openly supports Palestinian terror," he told the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
But Israeli officials close to the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, tried to play down Mr Katz's comments, insisting the new project was planned before President Assad's comments, and was not a reaction to them.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. The area has been under occupation ever since. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which were also captured in 1967, Israel has since annexed the Golan Heights and claims they are part of Israel. The annexation is considered illegal and not recognised by governments around the world.
Syria has consistently said that it will only make peace with Israel if all the occupied Golan Heights are returned. The Golan is populated by several thousand Druze - an offshoot of Islam - many of whom consider themselves Syrians living under Israeli occupation. But thousands of Jewish settlers have also moved to the Golan since the Israeli occupation, just as thousands have settled in the West Bank and Gaza to stake a claim to the land as Israeli. …