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October 15, 2012 7:48 pm

Netanyahu Again Offers the Golan Heights to Syria?

avatar by Daniel Pipes

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View of Syria from Israeli territory in the Golan Heights. Photo: wiki commons.

Shimon Shiffer reports in Yedioth Ahronoth that in secret talks in 2010 via U.S. government mediator Frederic C. Hof, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed in principle to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967, lines in return for the “expectation” of Bashar al-Assad cutting ties with Iran, and that the nearly-completed negotiations ended because of the anti-Assad uprising that began in January 2011.

How plausible is this claim?

Here is a summary of the report published by Yedioth Ahronoth:

According to American sources, Netanyahu and Barak agreed to withdraw to the 1967 lines in exchange for a comprehensive peace deal that would include an Israeli “expectation” for the severing of ties between Syria and Iran. However, the sources said, the burgeoning deal did not include an explicit commitment by Assad to severe ties with the Islamic Republic.

The report said the sides did not agree on a timeline for the Israeli withdrawal: Syria wanted the agreement to be implemented within one and a half to two years, while Israel asked for more time before pulling out of the region.

Yedioth quoted a senior American official as saying that the negotiations were serious and far-reaching and would have likely ended with an agreement had they not been interrupted by the uprising against Assad. The official estimated that Netanyahu resumed the talks with Assad to justify the stalemate in the negotiations with the Palestinians and because he viewed Syria as the weak link in the so called “axis of evil,” which also includes Iran, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

According to the documents written by Hof, the discussions were held at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. Netanyahu and Barak kept the talks a secret, but in early 2011 a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that special US envoy Dennis Ross met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and said that Damascus was willing to resume talks with Israel and that the Jewish state was willing to return the Golan Heights. The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report.

Yedioth said US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were aware of the negotiations, as were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Dennis Ross. Syria’s representative to the talks was FM Moallem, but Hof also met with Assad, the report said.

Netanyahu’s office replied to the Yedioth Ahronoth report that “This was one of many initiatives proposed to Israel over the years. Israel has never accepted that proposal. It is an old and irrelevant proposal.” In contrast, the State Department partially endorsed the report: “Prior to the eruption of all of the violence in Syria, there were efforts to try to support contacts between Israel and Syrian officials. This was part of the mandate of George Mitchell.”


(1) As the author of the exposé of Netanyahu’s 1998 agreement to hand over the Golan Heights, “The Road to Damascus: What Netanyahu Almost Gave Away,” I find this report entirely plausible. If the first-time prime minister was ready for a deal, why not the second-time prime minister?

(2) Ariel Sharon stopped this mistaken policy the first time and the Syrian people the second time.

(3) Let’s hope that the upheavals of the past two years close down these misguided ideas of reaching Arab-Israeli treaties before real reform has come to the Arabic-speaking countries. (October 14, 2012)

This article was originally published by National Review Online.

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  • Jerry Hersch

    Question ??

    Since the Ottoman vilayet maps show that the Damascus vilayet comes down to the shore of Lake Kinneret -Why did France retreat from that line for the 1920 demarcation ? The retreat meqsured in yards but of significance to the large population of Christians now under the French in the Syrian/Beirut region ?
    Did the Franco-Syrian war of 1920 play a role in that decision ??

  • Jerry Hersch

    The original line was to be through Lake Kinneret dividing French and British zones..this was because the Damascus Vilayet which was assigned to France came as far as the Lake.In other words all of the Golan was in the damascus Vilayet…it was not Until the demarcation that it was assigned to Britain.
    From Wikipedia..

    In 1917, the British defeated Ottoman Turkish forces and took control of Palestine, while France took control of Syria. In the carve-up of the Ottoman territories between Britain and France, it was agreed that Britain would retain control of Palestine, while France would control Syria. However, the allies had to fix the border between the British Mandate for Palestine and the French Mandate of Syria.[9] The boundary was defined in broad terms by the Franco-British Boundary Agreement of December 1920, which drew it across the middle of the lake.[10] However, the commission established by the 1920 treaty redrew the boundary. The Zionist movement pressured the French and British to assign as many water sources as possible to Palestine during the demarcating negotiations. The High Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel, had sought full control of the Sea of Galilee.[11] The negotiations led to the inclusion into the Palestine territory of the whole Sea of Galilee, both sides of the River Jordan, Lake Hula, Dan spring, and part of the Yarmouk.[12] The final border approved in 1923 followed a 10-meter wide strip along the lake’s northeastern shore,[13] cutting Syria off from the lake.

    The British and French Agreement provided that existing rights over the use of the waters of the Jordan by the inhabitants of Syria would be maintained; the Government of Syria would have the right to erect a new pier at Semakh on Lake Tiberias or jointly use the existing pier; persons or goods passing between the landing-stage on the Lake of Tiberias and Semakh would not be subject to customs regulations, and the Syrian government would have access to the said landing-stage; the inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon would have the same fishing and navigation rights on Lakes Huleh, Tiberias and River Jordan while the Government of Palestine would be responsible for policing of lakes.

  • Jerry Hersch

    When we read about Lewis and Clark we find that they are always tryig to avoid Spanish patrols..and are following along areas for the most part traversed by French explorers,trapper,traders and adventurers.
    The area and its topography were well known as were its watersheds from at least the late 1600s.
    The US ceded to Canada in 1818 part of the Red River watershed,parts of the Missouri River watershed extend into the Prarie Provinces of Canada and the Columbia River originates in British Columbia- do we seizes its length to secure water for Oregon and Washington.Rivers though they change course are often used as borders.Here in the States both the rio Grande and the Mississippi have been used as a border..now many staes have land on both sides of the river due to course changes..But watershed rarely..look at maps of Europe.
    As for security and proximity much of the same arguments-both ways- were addressed in the discussions surrounding the Teller and Platt amendments regarding Cuba over a hundred years ago.

  • Jerry Hersch

    The Golan was part of the Ottoman Damascus vilayet at the close of WWI and was included in the French Mandate
    The Mosul vilayet was actually mostly in Ottoman hands until 1920 when the last Ottoman/Turkish forces were eliminated (well after the wars close)by the British and it was then occupied by the Brits…it was never French nor in French hands.That same year 1920 was the Franco-Syrian War in which the hashemites were defeated and Lebanon created created as a separate entity within the mandate ( the Lebanese Republic dates from 1926-with independence in 1943 when under Vichy control).

    Map of the territory flux(France-Britain-Turkey) within Syria

    and the Syrian map collection http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/syria.html

    The Hatay history is a confusion both before and after the 1939 plebiscite..Many of the Alawites in Hatay at the time were Turkish in ethnicity..but unlike the Arabized Sunni Turks of Idlib/Halab tthe Alawite Turkish converts intermarried and worshipped togeter with the ethnic Arab Alawites-the coastal areas have always been more open and tolerant. Outside of Lebanon -in the rest of what is now Syria the French created alliances of Alawites and Christians-alliances that still exist.
    To further confuse the issue there are Alevis close in religious theology to the Alawites who live in Turkey and speak Turkish.

  • Robert Sklar

    This is not news worthy of any serious attention. In the first place, Syria is nothing more than a confederation of disparate interests cobbled together from the pieces of the Ottoman Empire. Syria did not arise from any sense of unity or political nationalism. Syria is not a true nation in the sense of common identity and culture. The word Syria itself is a corruption of Assyria, an ancient people that are still very much in existence and are very much not Syrians. The Syriac language, a dialect or Aramaic, continues to be used by true Assyrians, who are a stateless people living throughout the middle-east, in liturgical settings.
    Syria cannot make a legitimate claim to the Golan Heights because it is not a legitimate nation. More importantly, Syria has no legitimate claim on the Golan Heights. Take a look at the French Mandate for Syria and you will observe that the Golan Heights is not included. You will also notice that Alexandretta is included. The French gave Turkey a province of the Syrian Mandate to Turkey for their support against Hitler. This transfer was contrary to the Mandate and was never recognized by Syria.
    The Golan Heights was given to France in exchange for the Mosul province of Iraq. Again, a move strictly forbidden by Article 5 of the Palestine Mandate. The Golan Heights are the eastern watershed of the Jordan River. National boundaries are set by watersheds. The western border between Canada and the United States was established in reference to the watershed of the upper Missouri River, the determination of which was the principle objective of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Syria lost its jurisdiction over the Golan Heights when it used the heights to make war against Israel. Syria has lost all right tile and interest in the Rather than repeat unsubstantiated and disputed rumor, Algemeiner would do its readership a service by providing the history, geography, and geology of the area. Israel’s historical connection to the Golan Heights is supported and preserved by ancient writings and archaeology. At the very least, Israel’s claim is every bit as good as Syria’s and legitimized, if for no other reason, than Israel’s security.