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He said he spent three years in an Israeli prison over his ties with Syria.

A large stone replica of Syria’s coat of arms - a hawk holding a shield of the national flag - dominates the outer wall of Mr. Farkat’s home in Bukata. A book by Mr. Assad’s predecessor and father, Hafez Assad, sits in the bookcase. A photo of the younger Assad hangs on the wall.

Some here will gingerly address Syria’s problems - while carefully attributing them to the people who surround Mr. Assad and not the Syrian leader himself. They’ll even speak favorably of reform, albeit only under Mr. Assad’s rule.

Not all downplay the repressiveness of one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

“I’m in favor of democracy,” said one 30-year-old man. “I can say here, ‘Bibi Netanyahu is no good.’ Can I say that about Assad?”

But opinions like this, stated openly, are fairly rare.

Israeli listening stations capping local mountaintops are stark reminder that this plateau, verdant and bursting with flowers in the springtime, has been occupied territory for nearly 44 years. The Syrian town of Quneitra is easily visible from a road leading to the Golan Druse communities on the foothills of Mount Hermon.

Some previous Israeli governments have been willing in principle to cede the Golan to Syria in exchange for normalized relations and control of a vital water source, but several rounds of talks have failed to clinch a deal - whether over details or cold feet on either side. The most recent round of talks broke down in late 2008.

Mr. Netanyahu, who took power the following year, has said he is ready to talk peace with Syria, but opposes a full withdrawal from the Golan. He has much popular support for that among Israel’s Jewish majority, which views the plateau as a bulwark against potential Syrian aggression.

Unlike the far more numerous Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Druse Arabs of the Golan have had peaceful relations with Israeli authorities and the 18,000 Jewish settlers who also live on the plateau.

The good ties have prompted small Israeli concessions.

Since 1988, Druse clerics have been allowed to make religious pilgrimages to Syria. Hundreds of Druse students are allowed to attend college in Damascus on the Syrian government’s tab.

For the past seven years, Israel has allowed the Druse to export apples to Syria. This year, a record 12,000 tons went out, according to Said Farkhat, who coordinates the transfers from eight apple-packing operations on the Golan.

In another concession, brides and grooms living on opposite sides of the border are allowed to marry. Druse brides, however, are not permitted to visit families back home.