The 40 years that have passed since the dramatic day the Knesset—at the initiative of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin—applied Israeli sovereignty to the Golan Heights allow us to examine what has and has yet to be achieved following this historic step.
The main goal of the legislation, enacted in three Knesset readings on the same day, was certainly achieved: Israel established its control over the Golan Heights and signaled to the entire world that the annexation of the territory had been finalized and there would be no going back.
Up until that point, Israeli military control of the plateau had signaled transience. Israel may have previously made convincing arguments for its right to the region, but its decision to refrain from annexing the Golan Heights seemed to allude to Jerusalem itself being unsure as to the weight of those arguments. When you yourself send a signal you are unsure of the justice of your position, why would others stand with you?
Begin’s move put an end to this ambiguous state. Although the countries of the world have not officially recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, they were forced to accept the move in practice. Whether willingly, indifferently or reluctantly, they have all come to terms with the fact. The most tangible proof of this is the absence of any pressure on Israel regarding the matter.
There is additional proof: As time passes, foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel internalize the idea of the Israeli Golan Heights and no longer refuse to visit there. As one ambassador of a country that is not exactly a champion of Israel at the United Nations put it to me: “Even if we don’t announce it on a microphone, we realize the Golan will remain in your hands.”
Nevertheless, it is clear that official recognition will come one of these days. Although it took nearly 40 years, then-President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan was the final seal of approval. The change in government and policies in Washington have not changed this, and have in fact validated the three-stage formula that sees Israel apply sovereignty in the first stage. In the second stage, the world becomes accustomed to and de-facto recognizes the new status. In the third stage, there is formal recognition of the move.
Interestingly, Israel has been less successful in an area where success seemingly should have been far easier to achieve: Judea and Samaria.
Fifty-four years since Israel liberated the Golan Heights from the Syrians and 40 years since Jerusalem officially annexed the region, the Jewish population there remains frighteningly tiny. The opposite situation prevails in Judea and Samaria: The Jewish presence there is significant, yet the imposition of Israeli sovereignty on the territory, at least the Jewish communities there, has stalled. That’s a shame.
The Golan Heights precedent teaches us that a confident and determined Israel can dictate its will, and the world will accept it sooner or later. Herein lies the central lesson for the future of Judea and Samaria. Historical justification is important: Dozens of ancient synagogues in the Golan Heights bear witness to this region belonging to the Jewish people. The international law rationale for the move is important, as international law recognizes that the aggressor—i.e., the Arab states—must bear responsibility for their actions and could forfeit portions of their territory to the victim of their aggression.
It is, however, Israel’s action and willingness to impose sovereignty on a territory liberated in a defensive war that provides the most important explanation of all. It worked in the Golan Heights. It will work in Judea and Samaria.
Ariel Bulshtein is a journalist, translator, lecturer and lawyer.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.