Washington’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights is without a doubt an unprecedented diplomatic achievement that can be attributed to the Likud government under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it also the completion of a process that begin on Dec. 14, 1981, when the Likud government under the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin brought the Golan Heights Law before the Knesset for authorization.
It is important to note that at the time, the United States under pro-Israel President Ronald Reagan staunchly opposed the application of Israeli law to the Golan. In a cabinet meeting, Begin told his fellow ministers, “I am sure that the United States will issue a protest, will declare that this is a unilateral move. … I think this is how sovereignty is expressed, that we are carrying out a sovereign act. With all due respect to the U.S., our greatest friend, we’re talking about our lives and our futures here, and who can dictate [that] for us?”
In that same cabinet meeting, Begin analyzed Syria’s refusal to recognize or enter into peace talks with Israel. Then-Syrian President Hafez Assad adhered to a concept that held that the Arabs must avoid negotiations with Jerusalem until Israel had been weakened. Then they would be able to dictate the terms for peace, according to Assad, or act towards its destruction, according to senior officials in his government.
There were also many among us who believed that time was not on Israel’s side, and that as a result Israel must rush to concede, to withdraw.
More than 37 years have since passed. Israel has grown much stronger—demographically, economically, technologically and militarily. Syria, which under Assad had sought to strike a “strategic balance” with Israel, has been, to put it mildly, seriously weakened.
Although negotiations have gone on for generations, the Palestinians have also avoided making peace and ending the conflict with Israel. They believed—and for years this belief was given credence by Israeli governments—that Israel would retreat from its most basic positions, would concede on more and more issues, so that every resolution to the conflict it agreed to could be used as the starting point for the next series of negotiations. That is why both former Palestinian head Yasser Arafat during the 2000 Camp David Accords and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at the 2007 Annapolis Conference declined to accept the far-reaching offers made by then-prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.
This process came to a halt exactly 10 years ago, when the Likud returned to power on March 31, 2009. Over the past year, the Palestinians and the Syrians have since been made to internalize the price of their obstinacy. Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the United States has relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
The important lesson here is that time is not on anyone’s side. The job of diplomats is to work with determination to take advantage of the passage of time for the benefit of the interests of their peoples and their states.
Israel must shape its future with the understanding that the struggle for peace and security is far from over. In another four years, it has been predicted that, for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple, the majority of the world’s Jewish population will live in Israel. We must ensure the areas of the land of Israel now in our hands will remain so for future generations and establish settlements there. We’ll keep that in mind when we head to the polls next week.
Gideon Sa’ar is a former minister and a member of the Likud Party.