Ever since Syria’s loss of the Golan Heights to Israel in the June 1967 Six Day War, the strategic plateau has been a matter of contention between the two states. Immediately after the war, Israel offered to withdraw from the Heights in exchange for a peace treaty, but was rebuffed.
Subsequently, Israel established a civilian presence on the plateau and in December 1981 decided to extend Israeli law to the area – a de facto annexation. Since 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister, almost all Israeli governments have negotiated directly or indirectly with Syria in an attempt to secure a peace treaty between the two states.The “Land for Peace” formula guided these negotiations. Each of these leaders have evinced a willingness to withdraw from all or parts of the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty, accompanied by security arrangements, alongside American political and/or military involvement and incentives. Yet, none of these efforts has succeeded due to the reluctance of both sides to sign a deal.
Israeli diplomatic efforts since the 1990s have oscillated between the so-called “Syrian track” and “Palestinian track.” The current difficulties in restarting direct negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian track, a reflection of deep structural problems,2 might renew Israeli interest, and/or that of the international community, in pursuing “progress” in the Israeli-Syrian track. Peace negotiations with Syria are at present unlikely due to the ongoing turmoil. But if the situation in Syria calms down, and if no Islamist regime has taken the reins in Damascus, calls for a return to negotiations are likely.
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