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MIDDLE EAST

Trump Signs Proclamation Recognizing Israel’s Control Over the Golan Heights

President Trump at the Israel Museum with Netanyahu. Jerusalem May 23, 2017 (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, Public domain)
President Trump at the Israel Museum with Netanyahu. Jerusalem May 23, 2017 (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, Public domain)

“By recognizing and legitimating Israel’s annexation of Golan, Washington is virtually inviting other international predators to seize what they want.”

In a reversal of long-held Washington and international policy, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Monday announcing the U.S. acknowledges Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights – territory seized from Syria in 1967.

The proclamation comes after the President tweeted his intention to recognize Israel’s ownership of the Golan Heights last Thursday.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” tweeted the POTUS.

Trump’s statement is a boon to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing domestic pressure from a graft case ahead of an approaching election on April 9. In response to Trump’s tweet, Netanyahu thanked the POTUS for supporting the Jewish state over the Golan Heights.

While on a trip across the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has supported Trump’s effort to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli land. When asked if doing so was a double standard considering the U.S. is imposing sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea Pompeo replied, “Not at all. What the president did with the Golan Heights is recognize the reality on the ground and the security situation necessary for the protection of the Israeli state. It’s that simple.”

In another interview, Pompeo said it’s possible God raised Trump at this moment in history to help save Jewish people from Iran.

In the interview in Jerusalem, the Christian Broadcast Network’s Chris Mitchell asked Pompeo, “could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” Esther is the main heroine of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which was celebrated this week.

“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo added that he is “confident that the Lord is at work here” when he sees the “remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration’s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains.”

International Reaction

Trump’s decision to support Israel’s claim over the Golan Heights has drawn international condemnation and so far there are no signs any other country is going to follow suit. Richard Haass, a former advisor to the Secretary of State (he is currently chairing the influential foreign policy think tank Council on Foreign Relations), said he strongly disagreed with Trump’s announcement as the decision violates a U.N. Security Council resolution that prohibits annexation by war.

U.N. Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, echoed Haass’ statement, saying that the U.N. Security Council clearly states that the Golan Heights belongs to Syria.

Russia, a staunch ally of Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad, said that Trump’s statement on the Golan Heights is dangerous and it may worsen the situation in the Middle East, accusing Washington of imposing a double standard as it applied a sanction to the Kremlin after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

“The very idea is not helping the goals of the Middle East settlement, quite the other way round. Right now, it’s merely a declaration. Let’s hope it will stay this way,” said Dimitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson.

Syria condemned Trump’s policy regarding the Golan Heights. It is said that Damascus would try to capture it with any resources available, as a source in Syria’s Foreign Ministry said.

Syria always insists that there will be no peace agreements with Israel unless the Jewish nation entirely withdraws from the Golan Heights.

The Global Impact of  Trump’s Golan Statement

Trump’s Golan Heights policy will have multiple global effects and could trigger similar recognitions or more land grabs elsewhere, for example, Israel’s control over the West Bank. It could send a message to China to bolster its power over the contested South China Sea.

“The biggest danger is global and long-term. By recognizing and legitimating Israel’s annexation of Golan, Washington is virtually inviting other international predators to seize what they want. Then, by this logic, all they need to do is hold onto that territory for long enough to call it ‘reality’ and demand that other countries ‘recognize reality’ by legitimating their land grab,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at Washington-based the Arab Gulf States Institute.

Most immediately, many experts believe that the acknowledgment of Israel’s claim over the Golan Heights will help boost Netanyahu’s declining popularity on the eve of the April 9 poll. In June 2018, Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, along with former deputy director general at Netanyahu’s office, Ezra Saidoff, was charged with fraud and abuse of power.

The timing of Trump’s Golan announcement might have arrived on the perfect moment to make Israelis forget about corruption cases implicating Netanyahu, who is seeking his fourth consecutive term in office.

The Golan Heights: A Brief History

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria after winning the Six Day War (1967). Syria tried to recapture it in 1973 but failed to do so. The war ended with a truce that enabled Israel to control the majority of the territory.

In 1981, Israel unilaterally grabbed the Golan Heights, but the international community never recognized the Jewish state’s move to annex the land.

The U.N. Security Council called Israel’s decision to claim legal jurisdiction and administration over Syria’s Golan Heights void and illegal. The U.N. has ever since considered the Golan Heights “Israeli occupied.”

Three years ago, during Barack Obama’s presidency, Washington voted to support a U.N. Security Council resolution expressing deep concern about Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would never release the territory.

More than 30 Jewish settlements are in the Golan Heights, housing 20,000 residents. Those settlements are deemed illegal according to international laws, despite Israel’s denial.

The Jewish settlers live with around  20,000 Syrians, mostly from Arab Druze, who did not leave the Golan Heights when it was annexed.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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