A senior Syrian opposition member has offered to forgo his country’s claims to the Golan Heights in return for an Israel-enforced no-fly zone over southern Syria.
Kamal Al-Labwani, a veteran Syrian dissident and founding member of the Syrian National Council, told the London-based daily Al-Arab last week that Syria has effectively lost the Golan Heights to Israel, and now faces the choice of using its claim over the territory to topple the Assad regime or waiting 10 more years until all of Syria is lost to Assad.
“As long as we Syrians continue to believe in annihilating Israel and Israelis, it is only natural for Israel to continue supporting Assad who has not lifted a finger against it,” Labwani told the paper. “We will sign peace with the Israelis at the end. Why deny it?”
“Why should we not sell the Golan issue through negotiations rather than lose it to Assad and lose Syria along with it?” he added.
Labwani, a founder of the Liberal Democratic Union opposition party who spent nearly a decade in Syrian jail between 2001 and 2011, proposed that the Americans to turn the Golan Heights into “an international peace park” and open its tourist sites open to the entire world.
“The settlers who want to remain can remain, those who want to return to Israel or elsewhere can go. As for the original [Arab] inhabitants of the Golan, they will have to chose between returning to their land and being compensated,” he said.
In return, according to Labwani’s scheme, Israel would impose a no-fly zone over southern Syria, using its air defense systems and Patriot missiles. Israel, he estimated, could provide protection over an area 100 kilometers (62 miles) deep, covering Damascus, Daraa, and the Syrian-Lebanese border west of the capital.
Israeli intervention in Syria is no less justified than NATO intervention, Labwani explained. If anything, Israeli action would be preferable, since “Israel does not need to bomb airports and is capable of downing any [regime] airplane less than one minute after takeoff.”
Israel took control of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War. ِAn estimated 120,000 Syrians left the plateau following the war, where today approximately 20,000 Druze remain, mostly maintaining their Syrian citizenship.
Labwani suggested that Israel’s Druze and Arab populations could serve as intermediaries between Israeli authorities and the Syrian people.
“After signing peace accords with the regimes, [Israel] should try signing an agreement with no governing regime,” Labwani wrote. “We in Syria no longer have a regime, but we have a society. We call on [Israel] today to embark on peace with the people before the regimes. We have the ‘societal intermediary,’ the Israeli Arabs, and we also have the Syrian people who do not forget those who do them well and assist them in such tragic times. As for the Israeli people, they must feel that they are fulfilling their moral obligation in the region they are living in.”
Labwani’s unusual statement were not well-received in Syria’s opposition, however. According to the Jordanian daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, dozens of Syrian oppositionists signed a petition against Labwani, including Salameh Kaileh, Walid Al-Bunni and Fady Jomar.
“Freedom achieved through the enemies is not freedom,” read the petition, according to the daily.
Arab nationalist pundit Abdel Bari Atwan also weighed into the debate, attacking Labwani for granting Assad “the biggest gift possible on the [third] anniversary of the revolution.”
“[Labwani] exposed a plan revolving around selling the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to Israel in return for peace with it. He served a powerful blow Arab and Islamic hopes of regaining the stolen rights in Palestine.”
But Labwani rebuffed claims that he had “sold” the Golan Heights to the Israelis through his proposal. The Israelis already own the Golan, he noted, and cannot “buy” it once more.
The Syrian people, he wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday, know the difference between those who genuinely seek a constructive outcome to the Syrian crisis and “those who capitulate to the treacherous, aggressive Iranian regime.”