Giving Up the Golan Heights in the Name of Peace

By Rees, Matt | Newsweek International, June 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

Giving Up the Golan Heights in the Name of Peace


Rees, Matt, Newsweek International


When Uri Barak came to the Golan Heights 22 years ago, the rugged plateau represented the new Zionist frontier. Barak helped found Katzrin, a lone town among the kibbutzim on this 10-mile-wide strip of land captured from Syria in '67. Rising from the Sea of Galilee and stretching north toward Damascus, the Golan Heights offered Israel not only great strategic advantage but also abundant supplies of water. Settlers like Barak were hailed as intrepid socialist pioneers.

Now they may soon be homeless. As part of his plan to withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon within a year, Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak hopes to strike a security deal with Syria, which has de facto control of Lebanon. Officials close to Barak say that means a territorial concession on the Golan. The 17,000 Israelis who built the settlements fear they will be sacrificed for the sake of peace. "They are betraying the people who came to live here," says Uri Barak, 69. "I am not some radical settler. I came here with the blessing of the government."

It's not hard to understand why the Golan settlers feel so forsaken. Israel's militia retreated from part of the "security zone" in southern Lebanon last week, fueling fears that a total pullout is imminent. The settlers lost their voice in the government when The Third Way, a political party devoted to retaining the Golan, lost all its Knesset seats in last month's election. And Golan residents were stung by revelations last month that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had conducted secret talks with the Syrians. "The bulk of the contacts had to do with security issues," says Uzi Arad, Netanyahu's foreign-policy adviser. …

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