- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 1999

 ”Nobody in this country has any permission to give away any place,” Golan Heights settler Reuven Singer said about the possibility of his birthplace being handed over to the Syrians. “It can’t be normal that you take away somebody’s home,” the Jewish religious school student told Agence France Press this week.

 But that possibility is looking 17,000 inhabitants of the Golan Heights in the face as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak meets with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara today in Washington. Though the Syrians have already demanded their price for peace after an almost 4-year break in negotiations give up the Golan, or else Mr. Barak should not give such a bargaining chip away up front. Upon taking office, he already pledged to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon by July and to hammer out a peace plan with the Syrians.

 Syria cannot begin to talk of Israel giving up vital land Israeli settlers thought was theirs to keep without a guarantee of receiving major security and financial concessions. But at this point they seem only half-serious. Mr. Shara does not carry the weight of the president, Hafez al-Assad. So while Mr. Barak is asked to place Israel’s jewels on the table, Mr. Shara will wait for word from back home to see what, if anything, would be a proper measure of exchange.

 The Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967, provides Israel with its main water source in the Sea of Galilee and secures Israel with an early warning defense system should its Arab neighbors decide to attack as they did then. Should Mr. Barak agree to give up that security, the United States could be asked to stand in the gap to help provide peacekeeping assistance, and to fund the cost of moving the settlers $2 to $3 billion according to the New York Times. Besides being a tremendous cost to American taxpayers, such a move would create a pattern for military dependency that would not prove beneficial to either the United States or Israel.

 At home, Mr. Barak also faces a divided government, as the Russians and the settler movement are protesting the withdrawal. He barely won enough votes from the parliament to support his decision to have peace talks with the Syrians. And for the withdrawal of the Golan to turn from Syrian fantasy to fact, his people will have to unify to pass the measure in a national referendum.

 As Mr. Barak concludes two days of talks with the Syrians and U.S. mediators today, he must remember Reuven Singer and the thousands of other settlers protesting the land deal back home. There will only be temporary harmony until a forum is created where there are strict accountability measures put on the Syrians to guarantee Israel’s security will not be compromised. To settle for anything less than this standard is not peace at all.

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