The land itself now bears the mark of 25 years of Israeli control. Settlers have molded the land, carving reservoirs into the brown hills, coaxing vineyards and orchards from former minefields, filling niches in the valleys with kibbutzes and suburban-style villages.
Michael Landsberg helped build one of those settlements, Kibbutz Ortal, 14 years ago. In the government's rush to lay claim to the area, it harnessed the enthusiasm of youth. It recruited 18-year-olds who volunteered for alternate service in the Army, and brought them here to break the dry crust of the plateau to build farms and homes.
Mr. Landsberg came with 80 fellow Pioneer Youths, and is one of a handful who have stayed. Kibbutz Ortal now is a pleasant circle of homes for 120 adults and 80 children who tend a thriving apple orchard, raise dairy cows and grow grapes for wine.
"It's basically a paradise," Mr. Landsberg says, looking at his community though eyes sympathetic to the toil of its creation. "Look at what has happened to the Golan Heights in 25 years. You can see orchards, trees, grass, buildings. You can see what we've done."
"We should not withdraw from these hills for 20 or 40 years," he said. "It would be completely unwise, imbecilic, to do what we did in the Sinai."
As in much of this region, both sides lay historical claim to the Golan Heights. Israelis note there were ancient Jewish villages here, and it was part of the British Mandate of Palestine after World War I until it was traded to the French in 1923. But it also was part of ancient Greater Syria, and was included in the territory that became modern Syria in 1946.
The area was sparsely inhabited; residents of four small Druze villages scratched out a few crops and tended cows. But it is also headwaters of the Jordan River, source of one-third of the water of modern Israel. That was of no small importance to Israel's determination to capture the Golan Heights in 1967.
In 1981, the Israeli government extended its laws to the area. Israeli maps today show it as a part of Israel. Few other countries, including the United States, recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Syria has long insisted that Israel must give back all of the Golan before any peace arrangement can be made. Israel has always (( refused. The solution to that apparent impasse may lie in some "interim solution," Mr. Rabin has suggested.
He has given no details, but ideas floated in the Israeli press include a demilitarized zone, a "Hong Kong arrangement" that trades sovereignty for a long-term lease, or posting of international forces in the Golan Heights.
United Nations forces presently man a disengagement line established in 1974 between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan. It has been a quiet zone for 18 years.
Shmuel Mandel is skeptical about the future. The 41-year-old factory manager stands atop a bunker on a hill near his home in Kibbutz Merom Golan. From here, he can see the lush orchards of his kibbutz, and all of the width of the Golan Heights.
"Peace is made between democracies. If you sign an agreement with Assad today and tomorrow he is murdered, the next ruler of Syria doesn't have to stand behind the obligation," he says.
"If the Syrian tanks are up here and you put them in first gear,
they can be at the Hula Valley, overlooking all of northern Israel, in five minutes," he adds.
"Let's make peace," he says. "But this area should be kept Israeli land."