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“I have held barbecues at the Sea of Galilee …”

23/09/2009

Some of you have asked me to clarify this business of “10 metres of land separating Israelis and Syrians from peace” to which I alluded in my previous post. So here we go:

In peace negotiations between Israel and Syria in Blair House, Washington (December 1999) and in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (January 2000), Israeli and Syrian negotiations were quite successful in resolving – I would say – more than 95 percent of their differences.

However, they have consistently failed to sort out one sticking point namely, the route of their future border. While the Israelis want it based on the 1923 internationally-recognised border, decided upon by the British (who ruled Palestine) and the French (who ruled Syria), the Syrians want it to be what they call the “4th June 1967 line”.

As I said in my previous post, the distance between these two lines is neglible. So why is it such a stumbling block? Because the 1923 border that runs 10 metres off the northeast quadrant of the Sea of Galilee, when the water is up, does not allow the Syrians, if deployed along it, access to the water of the Sea of Galilee which they call “Lake Tiberias”, or simply “The Lake”.

Now there was a time when the Syrians did sit on the water edge: in the period from 1923 to 1967 they simply crossed the 10 metres separating them from the water and established 5 fishing villages on the water line.

Later, however, in the 1967 war, the Israelis pushed the Syrians off the water, chased the Syrian fishermen out of their villages, and proceeded east and up to occupy the Golan Heights. The Syrians want the Israelis to return the Golan (which, it is quite safe to say, the Israelis are willing to do) and allow them to return to the “4th June 1967 line”, the line they held on the eve of the 1967 war on the water.

This, however, the Israelis reject as it would allow the Syrians access to the lake which provides Israel with 35-40 percent of their fresh water needs; the Israelis also suspect that the Syrians might even poison the water.

When the late Syrian President Hafez el Assad was offered the Golan Heights, but not the 4th June 1967 line (it was suggested that the future border would be “mutually agreed”, or be “based” on the 1923 border, even “based” on the 1967 line), Assad refused by saying, “I have held barbecues at the Sea of Galilee, swum in its water, sat on its shores and eaten fish from it. I have no intention of giving it up.”
 

So here we are – stuck because of a few, though critical, metres of land.