The Golan Heights will forever remain part of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Sunday during the first-ever cabinet meeting held on the Golan.
Speaking in the Israeli town of Ma’aleh Gamla, next to an archaeological site where Jewish rebels stood off against Roman soldiers nearly 2,000 years ago, Netanyahu said he told US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday that Israel does not oppose current efforts to reach a political agreement to end the Syrian civil war, but that Israel’s boundary line with the country will not change.
“I convened this celebratory meeting in the Golan Heights to send a clear message: The Golan will always remain in Israel’s hands. Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights,” he declared.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War from Syria and annexed it in 1981.
The international community never accepted Israel’s annexation, and Israeli leaders see in the turmoil in Syria a chance to convince the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
The meeting was the first ever held by the cabinet in the territory.
In his conversation with Kerry, Netanyahu said it was doubtful Syria can ever become again what it was. The prime minister told the top US diplomat that Jerusalem would not oppose a peace agreement for Syria, “on the condition that it doesn’t come at the cost of Israel’s security,” he said, “i.e. that at the end of the day, the forces of Iran, Hezbollah and Daesh will be removed from Syrian soil.”
“In the stormy region around us, Israel is the stabilizing factor; Israel is the solution, not the problem,” the prime minister added Sunday.
The Israel’s side of the border, where some 50,000 people live — among them Syrian Druze who do not recognize Israeli sovereignty — is characterized by a flourishing community working in agriculture and tourism, while the Syrian part of the Golan is a war-torn area where minorities are being persecuted, he said.
“It is time that the international community recognized reality,” Netanyahu said. “Whatever happens on the other side of the border, the border itself will not move. Secondly, after 50 years it is time that the international community realized that the Golan will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Netanyahu added: “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.”
During the 19 years, from 1948-1967, in which the area was “under Syrian occupation,” it was used mostly for warfare against Israel, he said.