President Trump has recognised Israeli control of the Golan Heights. His proclamation was quickly obscured by the fast pace of events on the ground in Israel but the import of the occasion deserves more focus.
The exact wording of US recognition of the Golan Heights as a part of Israel is:
The State of Israel took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats. Today, aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hizballah, in southern Syria continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel. Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim that, the United States recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.
Editor of the Times of Israel David Horovitz posits that Netanyahu will likely leverage this to gain US recognition of parts of the West Bank, he quotes Netanyahu saying the below as the basis of his theory:
“Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.”
And then (in the same article) quotes Pompeo’s statement attempting (but evidently failing) to lay to rest such speculation:
“This is an incredibly unique situation. Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation [when it conquered the plateau in 1967], and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution [requiring that it relinquish the territory to Syria] is a suicide pact.”
Writing in The Guardian Joshua Leifer argues that:
This potentially paves the way for Israel’s annexation, in part or whole, of the West Bank. It has long been a talking point on the Israeli hard right that, despite the international community’s protestations, there would be few consequences for extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. Trump’s declaration, it seems, has not only proven them right, but given them an added boost: unlike during the Obama years, they can be confident that the global hegemon will take their side.”
The move is generally thought to help Netanyahu’s campaign which has picked up momentum after a slow start. According to The Times:
“The Assad regime this morning said the tweet showed Mr Trump’s disrespect for international law. “The Syrian nation is more determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through all available means,” a statement said.
It was supported by its key regional ally, Iran, which has its own grievances with Mr Trump over his reimposition of sanctions. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, said Mr Trump had now given “what is not his”, both Jerusalem and the Golan, to a “racist” Israel, a reference to the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The spontaneous decisions lift the curtain on the real policies of America — policies that are dangerous for the whole world and will push this sensitive region towards successive crises,” the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman added.
The decision was also rejected by US allies. Germany’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said: “If national borders should be changed it must be done through peaceful means between all those involved. The government rejects unilateral steps.”
The EU said it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, and its position on the issue “has not changed”.”
But really none of the above is surprising and in the case of Assad it would be laughable were the stakes not so high. So is it just business as usual? Israeli control of the Golan Heights has been a fact since 1967 enshrined into Israeli law in 1981 anyway so who cares? From the BBC:
Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump. He said such recognising Israeli sovereignty would violate a UN Security Council resolution, “which rules out acquiring territory by war”…
But the formal US recognition doesn’t change anything on the ground: Israel was already acting with full military authority.
So critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election.
If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.
I’m reminded of Ben Gurion’s decision to move Israel’s capital to Jerusalem in 1949 as described in Michael Bar-Zohar’s biography:
“On 9 December, when the General Assembly put the matter to the vote, the internationalization proposal was adopted. The resolution placed Israel in a difficult situation: failure to react, would imply acceptance of the U.N. decision. Once again, Ben-Gurion acted in characteristic fashion: he established faits accomplis.
World reaction to the Israeli decision was furious. France hastened to submit a resolution condemning Israel; the Vatican was up in arms; and the Catholic states issued sharp protests. But after the shouting died down, no one made a move to prevent the implementation of the Knesset resolution. A few days later, trucks loaded with furniture, papers, and office equipment, began to transfer various ministries to the capital. Only two ministries remained in Tel Aviv: the Defense Ministry, to keep it far from the border; and the Foreign Ministry, because of Sharett’s fears that diplomats would refuse to come to Jerusalem. Sharett kept the Foreign Ministry in Tel Aviv for a long time, and it was only under Ben-Gurion’s angry pressure that he transferred it to Jerusalem in 1953.
“Why did I think we could do it?” Ben-Gurion said years later. “First of all, I knew we had an ally – Transjordan. If they were permitted to hold on to Jerusalem, why weren’t we? Transjordan would permit no one to get them out of Jerusalem; consequently, no one would dare to remove us. I also knew that we would come to no harm. I was convinced that [the U.N. warnings] were no more than talk . . .””
Decades after Israel scrapped her way into gaining Jerusalem as her capital and then scrapped her way into control of the Golan Heights she has finally gained some measure of international recognition for two long term established facts on the ground.
Perhaps, as Horovitz and Leifer argue, this is a precursor to an Israeli move for US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, but in truth, long after this general election and the skirmishes with Hamas, Jerusalem and the Golan will still be considered sovereign Israeli territory by the USA.
It would be a shame for the importance of this to be lost in the noise of the moment.