The Israeli government is to hold its first ever cabinet meeting at a location on the Golan Heights on Sunday, in an effort to underline Israel’s determination never to relinquish the strategic ridge despite anticipated international pressure to do so.
According to a Channel 2 report on Friday evening, the first clause of a draft agreement aimed at settling the brutal civil war in Syria, being worked on with the support of the US, Russia and other major world powers, specifies that the Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war, is Syrian territory and must be returned to Syria.
Israel extended its law to the Heights in 1981, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly furious that the international community is deliberating the notion of Israel giving up the area.
For the first time in the almost 50 years since the Golan was captured, therefore, Netanyahu and his ministers will hold their weekly meeting this Sunday in the Golan, to “symbolize” Israel’s determination not to relinquish the area, the TV report said.
Netanyahu discussed the issue in a telephone call with US Secretary of State John Kerry a few days ago, a Channel 10 TV news report said earlier this week. He will also reportedly discuss the matter when he travels to Russia next week to meet with President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu is said to have made clear to Kerry that any language in an accord on the fate of Syria that specifies that the Israeli-held western two-thirds of the Golan is Syrian land would be unacceptable to Israel, and to have vowed to “act to ensure” any agreement includes no such provision.
Prior to to the eruption of the Syrian civil war, some Israeli security chiefs had encouraged the Israeli political leadership to explore the possibility of reaching a peace treaty with President Bashar Assad, which could also have enabled a treaty with Lebanon and the isolating of Assad’s key ally Iran, in return for relinquishing the Golan. Since Syria descended into civil war chaos and mass slaughter, however, the notion of Israel relinquishing the strategic high ground has become highly improbable.
Netanyahu visited the Golan on Monday. During his tour, he said Israel has carried out dozens of strikes against Hezbollah and associated targets in Syria to prevent the Lebanese group from obtaining advanced weapons. Israeli officials have warned that Hezbollah and Iranian fighters may try to set up a base across the border, on the Syrian-held eastern one-third of the Golan, to launch attacks against Israelis.