An Israeli soldier directs a tank during an exercise in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights last year. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sparked a new diplomatic brushfire by declaring that the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, is and should remain "under Israel's sovereignty permanently".With Syria, and the Syrian side of the Golan, divided between Syrian troops and various rebel forces, there is nobody to talk to, even if Israel decided to open negotiations.But the Golan remains central to any future peace deal with Syria, and its fate is a key part of a 2002 Saudi initiative that offered Israel peace with the Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal from all territories occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. Past Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu himself, have held talks with Syria about control of the Golan.The U.S., Israel's closest ally, quickly criticized Netanyahu, saying the Golan is "not part of Israel".In reality, Israel has in effect already occupied the territory and any thought of returning it to Syria is deeply unpopular with Israelis."The suggestion that Israel will withdraw from the Golan is not reasonable". Still, he acknowledged that the Golan Heights is not part of "Israel proper," even if Israeli law is enforced there.
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