US President Donald Trump tweeted last week that “it is time for the US to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan” in a reference to Israel’s occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights.
The response was critical in Arab circles and also around the globe. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of the Arab Gulf states, expressed regret over Trump’s statements, while the Kremlin viewed them as “a threat to the stability of the Middle East.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the position of international legitimacy will not change” regarding Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.
Trump’s declaration also contradicts the policies of previous US administrations that attempted to play a “mediation role” between Syria and Israel to reach a settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Trump’s statement was preceded by the release of the US State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world, which this time did not refer to territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 War as “occupied” in a way that also contradicts previous US policy.
In November, Washington for the first time voted against an annual UN Resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, and this month US senator Lindsey Graham also promised that the US would recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Occupied Golan Heights.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said he wants to persuade Washington and the EU countries to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it occupied in 1967.
In 1981, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law annexing the Golan Heights to Israel, but the international community still views the region as Occupied Syrian Territory.
Trump may have decided to gift the Golan Heights to Israel now for electoral reasons to help Netanyahu in the forthcoming Israeli elections and to take advantage of Syria’s weak position in order to circumvent one of the most complicated issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
However, the move and Israel’s applause for it are myopic, since as long as Syria does not accept the move the conflict over the Golan will remain open.
The regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with the support of its ally Iran will now take advantage of Trump’s move to bolster their propaganda about “resistance,” meaning that Trump has not given Israel a stable advantage in the long run.
Israel occupies the Golan Heights, according to the definition in international law, because there has been no Syrian-Israeli peace agreement. This definition has been the theme of decades of “resistance” propaganda and the Al-Assad (former president Hafez Al-Assad and his son Bashar Al-Assad) regime’s foreign policy.
Even though the impact of this negative propaganda has been “soft” on Israel for decades, today things have changed. The Al-Assad clan are not the only rulers in Damascus, as the Iranians have changed from being allies to partners in power on the ground.
Iran wants to keep up its presence in Syria to blackmail the US and Israel, and Trump’s latest tweet on the Golan Heights only boosts Iran’s goals.
Statements made by Israeli officials say that Israel’s security on the Syrian front is linked to the return of the Al-Assad regime to what it was before 2011.
Iran’s control of the regime or the regime’s serious weakening warns of its future collapse without a clear alternative to replace it. Neither scenario is comfortable for Israel.
Tel Aviv claims that “if Israel was not present in the Golan Heights, Iran would have been in Tiberias in Israel” and that “the time has come for official US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
” It believes that the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah is positioning itself in the Golan Heights to attack Israel, which is “another reason why the US has taken this step,” it says.
Observers say that Trump has presented Netanyahu with “two gifts” at the expense of Syria and the Palestinians.
First, there has been the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Occupied Golan Heights, and second, there was the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Jerusalem, standing side-by-side with Netanyahu at the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem that Israel has also annexed.
These two “gifts” are supposed to bolster Netanyahu’s bid for a fifth term in office in the 9 April elections in Israel.
Since Trump came to office, the US has adopted hostile positions on critical issues in the region, including recognising Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
It supports the Israeli settlements on the Occupied West Bank, has rejected the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and has cut off funding to UNRWA, the UN relief agency responsible for the welfare of the Palestinian refugees.
Since the occupation of the Golan Heights in 1967, Moscow has not taken any definitive positions against the Israeli occupation, whether during the Cold War or later. Its positions were limited to slogans that only increased the rate of settlement in the Golan.
Since the late Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad provided reassurance for the occupation in return for remaining in power, Moscow has assisted in establishing the rules of the occupier by agreeing to separate forces and has sent messages to Israel about Bashar Al-Assad’s ability to “protect the Golan border.”
The Golan Heights and their liberation are an afterthought for the Syrian regime, which has always provided a climate of reassurance for the Israeli occupiers. Western circles know that the price for Al-Assad remaining in power is the Golan Heights, with his real role, like that of his father, being to provide guarantees to Israel.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Trump’s gifts to Netanyahu