As Israel marked the fiftieth anniversary of its military victory in the Golan Heights during the Six Day War, President Reuven Rivlin called Thursday for global recognition of Israeli rule there, saying the northern territory is “essential” to the survival of the Jewish State.
“The nations of the world must formally recognize that the Golan is an integral part of the state of Israel, and is essential to our existence as a people,” Rivlin told an event celebrating the Jewish communities in the area.
“The Golan Heights are strategic to the State of Israel’s ability to exist as a people able to safeguard its borders,” he said.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 war. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula were also captured by Israel during the conflict, which broke out after Egypt, Syria and Jordan mobilized to attack the Jewish state.
Israel never formally annexed the Golan, but in 1981 decided to apply Israeli law there, making it part of the country in every practical sense.
Rivlin said that in light of regional developments such as the ongoing civil war in Syria, “it seems to me there are none who would disagree that the Golan is a strategic part of the State of Israel… The internal Israeli debate about the Golan, if there was one, has ended.”
The president vowed to “never leave the residents of the Galilee exposed to the intentions and weapons of a regime that massacres its own citizens.”
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “forever” maintain control of the Golan Heights, saying that the territory belonged to Israel and warning that any withdrawal would bring Islamist extremists onto the strategic plateau.
“The Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. We will never leave the Golan Heights. It’s ours,” Netanyahu said at a conference of Israeli youth held outside the town of Katzrin on the Golan.
“If we are not here, radical Islam will be, and we all understand the consequences,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu made similar declarations in 2016, saying the Golan would remain “under Israel’s sovereignty permanently.”
Netanyahu said then that “the Golan was an integral part of the Land of Israel in ancient times. That is documented by dozens of ancient synagogues around us. And the Golan is an integral part of the State of Israel in the present time.”
Before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the Golan Heights were seen by some as up for negotiations as part of a possible peace treaty with Syria. But with no end to the Syrian conflict in sight, and the Syrian side of the Golan divided between various factions, there is no central authority to talk to, even if Israel wanted to open negotiations.
The Golan, however, is an important part of a 2002 Saudi initiative that offered Israel peace with the Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 war. While that offer is usually connected to areas sought by the Palestinians, the Golan Heights is also considered “occupied land” by most of the international community and was included in the initiative as a key point of contention.
AP contributed to this report.