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January 05, 1996 - Image 110

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-01-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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The Golan Stakes
Divide American Jews

JAMES D. BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

For more than a year, Israeli offi-
cials have wrung their hands over
growing divisions in the Ameri-
can Jewish community on the
touchy question of Middle East
peace.
In the past month, Israeli lead-
ers have sought to use the assas-
sination of Yitzhak Rabin at the
hands of an Orthodox Jew as a
graphic example about how dis-
unity can breed extremism — a
lesson that was forgotten as
groups on both sides of the peace
process issue promptly resumed
their version of mortal combat.
That battle is almost certain to
escalate to a new and even high-
er emotional pitch as Syrian and
Israeli negotiators prepare for
next week's intensive private ne-
gotiations — sessions that will ei-
ther produce the first real progress
on the Syrian-Israeli front or just
another round of posturing by Syr-
ia's maddening President Hafez
Assad.
The debate will be particular-
ly bitter because of the long-
standing indoctrination of
American Jews about the strate-
gic necessity of holding on to the
Golan Heights and because of the
increased American role that the
Syrian-Israeli talks will require.
Before "land for peace" became
official Israeli doctrine, there was
always the implication that West
Bank territory was negotiable un-
der the right circumstances — but
that retaining the Golan Heights
was a matter of military necessi-
ty that precluded its use as part
of the ante in any negotiations.
In recent years, the Israeli gov-
ernment has quietly argued that
new technologies and new politi-
cal realities have diminished the
importance of the Heights.
Syria is bristling with missiles,
and there is little debate that the
Damascus regime can already
couple its missiles to chemical and
biological warheads, with a nu-
clear capability not far behind.
At the same time, all kinds of
new defensive technologies may
help compensate Israel for the loss
of the high ground.
Israeli leaders may be right
when they say that these new fac-
tors — coupled with the undeni-
able fact that any new war in the
region is likely to be suicidal for
all participants in this era of non-
conventional mayhem — justify
taking serious risks for peace.
And that means they will have
to confront head-on the opposition
forces in Israel that are already
bombarding the American Jew-
ish community with their strate-
gic vision for the Heights.
Israeli officials may long for uni-

ty among American Jews. But the
Golan debate will be an inherently
divisive one, inflamed still further
by Likud leaders who see Amer-
ican Jewry as one more front in
their battle against the Peres gov-
ernment.
So the embassy will have to
decide which is more important:
an illusory veneer of unity, or real
support based on a serious de-
bate focusing on fact, not emo-
tion.
A second factor involves the
expanding role of the United
States in the peace process.
Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian
breakthrough in Oslo in 1993,
which took place without Amer-
ican participation, the decision
to resume Syrian-Israeli nego-
tiations was almost solely a prod-
uct of tireless diplomacy by the
Clinton administration. When
the talks resume next week at
a secret location outside Wash-
ington, the administration's
Mideast team will be at the table
— a significant change in the for-
mat of bilateral negotiations be-
tween the two countries.
There is also the strong possi-
bility that Syrian and Israeli ne-
gotiators will create solutions to
their decades-old conflict involv-
ing an active American military
presence along their border.
At the same time, Israel is
hinting of changing its strategic
relationship with the United
States into something approach-
ing a full-blown military alliance,
a change apparently intended to
make it easier for Shimon Peres
to sell a Syrian-Israeli deal to ner-
vous constituents.
For years, Israel maintained
a stubborn independence, no
matter how close its military and
diplomatic ties to Washington,
and no matter how big its foreign
aid allotment.
The underlying assumptions
of that relationship have not
changed — that Israel fights its
own wars, takes its own chances,
makes its own decisions about
the quest for peace. As the Jew-
ish people have learned over the
centuries, relying others for their
protection is the worst kind of se-
curity.
The expanding American role
may be justified by the high
stakes in these negotiations. But
it will also make it easier for
right-wing Jewish groups to
make common cause with con-
servative legislators who are hos-
tile to any American overseas
involvement — an alliance that
will add to the heat of the debate,
and possibly to its ability to dis-
rupt U.S.-Israeli relations.

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