Why Trump’s Decision on the Golan Heights Jeopardizes the Whole Region

To the detriment of all peace endeavors in the Middle East, the United States have recognized Israel’s sovereign right over the occupied Golan Heights.

President Trump has signed a presidential proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday, March 26. Israel seized control over the Syrian plateau, along with other neighboring territories, during the Six-Day War in 1967. Signed in the White House in the presence of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the presidential proclamation was soon deemed illegitimate and unilateral, as it defies international law with regards to conflicts and peacekeeping in the Middle East.

Trump’s controversial move has made official a previous tweet posted by the president himself on March 21, declaring it was “time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” and which has divided the platform’s users. “After eight long years of hell,” read a tweet —in reference to Obama’s presidency— “we have a president who is doing everything possible to protect the Jews.” Another tweeter questioned, “What happened to America First?”
President Trump has gone against decades of U.S. policy concerning the Golan Heights issue, with his move seeming to even go against his long-awaited peace program regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2018 he had already transferred the U.S. Embassy of Israel to Jerusalem, disregarding all negotiations with global actors —as well as with Palestinians— and hasd cut funds for a U.N. program that aided Palestinian refugees.

As is stated by international law, territory seized in war must be returned. The recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is at odds with more than one U.N. Security Council resolution. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 497, which was adopted in 1981, declaring that the annexation of the plateau that same year was “null and void and without international legal effect”. Another resolution (242, adopted in 1967), emphasized that “the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible”.

Israel had taken control over the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War and had occupied it before annexing it in 1981. Over 115,000 Syrians were estimated to have lived in the area during the war’s outbreak, but most of them have fled after bloodshed.

Today the Golan Heights bear some 40,000 residents, almost half of which are Israeli settlers. Over 20,000 of the Golan inhabitants are Druze —an ethno-religious Muslim group. The majority of Druze had refused the Israeli citizenship they were offered by the State of Israel after the occupation of their lands. They identify as Syrian as of today, and are mostly supportive of al-Assad’s regime.

Besides being critically strategic, overlooking Lebanon and Damascus lowlands, as it borders Jordan, the 1,200 square meters plateau (460 miles) is rich in hydraulics. But its importance to Israel consists of its being a sort of natural watchtower situated close to territories —which Israel fears— could potentially be influenced by Hezbollah.

The Golan Heights are also considered among some Israeli extremist circles to be a fragment of the country of Canaan which God gave to Moses and which, according to the Old Testament, “will be allotted to you [Israelites] as an inheritance”.

Israel’s President Netanyahu is currently running for re-election this upcoming April 9, while also facing indictment over corruption and bribery. Trump’s contentious decision could bolster up his candidacy, given the recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territories is largely heralded by right-wing and far-right voters, who believe in the “Greater Israel”. Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights also aroused fantasies as to prospect of annexing at least the occupied West Bank. Polls published by Israel’s renowned Haaretz newspaper have shown that 42% of voters —including two-state supporters—were in favor of annexing the coastal territory. Moreover, Trump’s move presents him with an opportunity to weave stronger ties with Israel, even more so considering how they became distant during the Obama administration, which had favored Iran with the nuclear deal — from which President Trump had withdrawn last May.

“Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Netanyahu told Trump after the signing of the presidential proclamation on the Golan Heights.

Although the recognition came after a reported “general defeat” of ISIS last weekend, Netanyahu rationalized about the illegitimate move when he repeatedly argued that Israel needed the Golan Heights because of security measures. The Iranian presence in Syria imperils Israel, he suggests.

“Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel,” he said in a tweet.

Consequently the region appears to be on the verge of an unprecedented crisis, as tensions are flaring up among governments bordering Syria. The Syrian representative to the United Nations declared on Wednesday that Trump’s erratic decision leaves Syria with only one solution, “the use of force”.

“We cannot allow the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights,” said Turkey’s Erdogan for his part at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul. Iran has also condemned the recognition decision, as Russia’s Foreign Ministry argued that the change in status of the Golan Heights was a “direct violation of U.N. decisions”.

Since 2014, the United States have led economic sanctions against Russia, after the Kremlin annexed Crimea that same year.