Trump takes a dangerous step

US President Donald Trump’s extension of official recognition to Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is irresponsible and dangerous. The Golan Heights is Syrian territory, which Israel captured during the 1967 war. Since then, it has been under Israeli occupation. In 1981, Israel consolidated control over this strategic territory by formally annexing it. The United Nations has designated the Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory, a view that was the official US line until for several decades. Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel marks a significant shift in US policy. The announcement came out of the blue, taking even his administration officials by surprise. Two years ago, he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the shifting of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.  As with the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, the US move to Jerusalem undermined UN resolutions that call on Israel to return Arab land seized during the 1967 war. With these two decisions, Trump has put the US squarely on Israel’s side in the latter’s conflicts with the Palestinians and Syria.

Trump announced the policy shift during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the US last week. In addition to boosting his credentials with the Christian right-wing at home, it is expected to boost Netanyahu’s chances in Israel’s general elections due next week.  More worrying is its undermining of a key UN principle that prohibits the acquiring and annexing of territory by force, which forms the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 497. It would embolden Israel to push ahead with tightening its grip over other occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza. It would encourage other countries to acquire territory by force.

Israel and Syria have engaged in several rounds of negotiations over the Golan Heights and although both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his predecessor and father Hafez al-Assad had offered successive Israeli governments a peace treaty in exchange for return of the Golan Heights, all Israeli governments have turned down these peace offers. As recently as 2010, Israel and Syria were at the talks table and it was only after the civil war erupted in Syria that the talks process was put on hold. The negotiation process may not have borne fruit yet. Still it is only by negotiations that countries butting heads over territory can achieve a lasting peace. By endorsing Israel’s occupation of the Golan, Trump has seriously weakened the Israel-Syria negotiation process. He claims to have acted in defence of Israel’s security. He has not. He has made peace in the Middle East less likely.

 

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Trump takes a dangerous step

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