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For Israelis, Golan is home, not a bargaining chip

The strategic plateau is a linchpin in recently renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

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Key territory: The Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in 1967, has become a popular vacation spot for Israelis.

uriel sinai/Getty Images

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In the world's eyes, this grassy, barren plateau is no different from the West Bank and Gaza Strip: territories occupied by Israel that should be relinquished in return for normal relations with Arab states. Captured from Syria in 1967, the Golan Heights is the linchpin for recently renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

But to Israelis, the Golan is a peaceful part of their country, even a popular vacation spot. A movie at the "Golan Magic" tourist center in this Jewish settlement shows emerald grazing fields rather than the minefields left from war. The audience is sprayed with mist as a preview of waterfall hikes in the Golan's lush canyons.

"Even more than the West Bank, people have grown up thinking of the Golan as part of Israel," says Gershom Gorenberg, author of "The Accidental Empire," a book about the Jewish settler movement. "It's not dangerous to live there.... The whole set of images associated with the West Bank is not there."

Unlike the West Bank or Gaza Strip

Though the world considers the 32 Israeli communities in these highlands illegal settlements, the Golan occupies a different place in Israel's national psyche than the West Bank does. Israelis visit the Golan more than in the West Bank and even Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which Israelis claim as their capital.

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