During an interview on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken expressed support for Israel’s retaining control of the Golan Heights, but only “as long as [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is in power in Syria, [and] as long as Iran is present in Syria,” for they pose a significant security threat to the Jewish state.
Without meaning to, Blinken revealed Israel’s Achilles heel in the Golan: that Jewish communities there are sparsely populated.
The future of the Golan Heights, which Blinken considers to be of security value alone, will not be determined by charters or political manifestos of pro-Israel American leaders like former U.S. President Donald Trump, and surely not by the reluctant statements of secretaries of state under the U.S. administrations of President Joe Biden or former President Barack Obama.
As was the case with Jerusalem and parts of Judea and Samaria, where the struggle was determined by Jews settling the area, the same is true of the Golan Heights. Building Jewish communities is what will make all the difference. Actions, not words.
Unfortunately, for generations, the government of Israel, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has neglected and underestimated the importance of building Jewish communities.
Jewish people have lived in the Golan Heights throughout history. There is no demographic problem there, and the region is crucial for maintaining Israel’s security, yet it remains sparsely populated by Jews. Within the last 53 years, only 25,000 Jews moved to the area. That is less than 10 percent of liberated Jerusalem and less than 5 percent of Judea and Samaria.
When comparing the population growth in the Golan with that of the periphery, the gap is apparent. Within the time period when 25,000 Jews settled in the Golan Heights, the populations of suburban cities, such as Nahariya and Kiryat Gat, grew by 23,000 Israelis, and Eilat’s population by 40,000.
The Golan Heights’ glorious but limited inhabitation has become part of Israeli life due to its gorgeous scenery, tourism and agricultural sites, and most importantly, Jewish history and security importance.
The Golan Heights is an inseparable part of Israel, but as long as there is no substantial settlement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the region, any foreign statesman will be able to take it away and hand it to Syria.
They will tell Israel the same thing that Blinken said on Monday: that the subject of the Golan Heights is not on the agenda at the moment, but “if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at.”
Israel’s history in the Golan Heights is glorious, from King David and the Second Temple to the heroism of Jews during the siege of Gamla and the Talmudic period.
The same applies to recent history. The Golan Heights was handed over to the French Mandate as part of a colonialist agreement, and Syria, which became independent in 1946, reigned over a tiny fraction of its territory, and even that for only two decades.
The dictators from Damascus took advantage of this to eliminate Israel from the map. With their rockets, they targeted Israeli communities along the border, attacked fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, tried to divert its waters and turned Israeli life in the Golan Heights into pure hell.
The Golan Heights was captured by Israel in the legitimate, defensive 1967 Six-Day War. Until now, Israel has failed to create an irreversible Jewish settlement in the area. It is not too late.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.