11 December '11
Thirty years ago this week something happened in Israel: The Golan Heights legally became an inextricable part of our country. For years, the Golan Heights had been part of the Land of Israel, but on Dec. 14, 1981, it fell under "Israeli law, jurisdiction, and administration." In other words, the Golan became an inseparable part of sovereign Israel.
Anyone who reads the fascinating minutes of the discussion and vote held that day in the Knesset would certainly not be able to discern between claims made back then and those voiced in today's Knesset. The rivalry between the Left and the Right was fierce. During the hearing, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who introduced the law, could not restrain himself, calling opposition MK Meir Vilner a "Stalinist."
Exactly 30 years later, what can we learn from that debate about contemporary public discourse?
First, with respect to "democracy and the destruction of democracy:" Begin's government put the Golan Heights Law on the Knesset's agenda in the morning and in less than 24 hours it was approved in three consecutive readings. Today, when the 18th Knesset attempts to accelerate the legislative process (i.e., tries to ratify laws in mere weeks), it is accused of "destroying democracy" and "recklessness." Was democracy damaged back then? Of course not! Nor is it today.
Second, with respect to "Menachem Begin's way of doing things:" Many modern-day politicians exploit Begin's name and present him as a great democrat. This may be true, but during his tenure people called Begin "the great fascist," "an inciter," and shortly after the law was ratified (and in the wake of Operation Peace for the Galilee), he was also called a "murderer." It is amusing, and perhaps even sad, to see people today referring to Begin's "way."
Third, regarding the "extreme steps that damage the prospects for peace:" The Israeli government back then did not hesitate to exhibit leadership and take a dramatic and just step that elicited international condemnation. The decision came just as the peace treaty with Egypt was being implemented, and just as a new president took office in the U.S. In response to the Knesset's decision, President Reagan decided to suspend the U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding. None of this prevented the decision from being made. That is true leadership.
Fourth, regarding painful compromises and territorial concessions: Then, like today, there was the mistaken perception that "peace will be achieved if Israel returns the Golan Heights." The truth is that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s and Ehud Barak in 2000 offered to return the Golan Heignts, including the Sea of Galilee, to Hafez al-Assad. Thankfully, he refused. In doing so, he spared Israeli citizens from having Syrians (and not necessarily representatives of Assad's family) residing on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and firing at Israeli cities with exceptional ease. And if Syria falls to Islamic extremists? Iranians would be swimming in our sea.
Over the years, a national consensus has emerged regarding the Golan Heights. As the saying goes, the nation does indeed stand with the Golan. During times of uncertainty in the Middle East and with the alarming process of Islamization that is happening around us, it is important to note, 30 years after the decision to annex the Golan, how great it is to have the Heights in our hands.