The recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise Israel’s illegal control over Syria’s occupied Golan Heights is not just another deadly blow to whatever remained of the Middle East peace process that was sponsored by Washington since 1991 when former US president George Bush hosted the Madrid Conference.
It is an extremely dangerous decision that violates several key principles the world has agreed on since the formation of the United Nations, topped with the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force.
There is no question that Israel illegally occupied Syria’s Golan Heights, the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula following an unjustified aggression on 5 June 1967.
The Israeli government at that time skilfully deceived the world and claimed that Arab countries were about to invade the tiny new state, deeming its military aggression an act of self-defence.
However, the reality remains that Israel was the party that launched that war, and gradually started since then the process of illegally annexing Arab land and building illegal settlements, whether in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or in Syria’s Golan Heights.
Israel’s withdrawal from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1982 after the signing of the 1979 Camp David Agreement was in recognition that the 1967 War resulted in illegal occupation of Egyptian and Arab territory.
The same applies to Syria and to the occupied Palestinian territories that should form the core of the future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The illegal occupation of Arab territories by Israel was the main premise of the negotiations sponsored by consecutive US administrations. In return for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab territories illegally occupied in 1967,
Arab countries would offer peace and normalisation of relations with Tel Aviv, ending decades of war and bloodshed (the so-called “Land for Peace” formula).
Scores of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions also reflected the stand of the international community in rejecting Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab land by force.
That was not only in recognition of Arab rights, but also not to set a precedent for other nations to follow in case of armed conflicts. If Israel was allowed to annex the Golan Heights and Palestinian territories, then any other country can follow suit and come up with whatever arguments to justify such illegal action, such as security needs, existential threats or simply that they need a larger space of land for the purposes of natural growth.
In other words, Trump’s decision makes meaningless all international agreements and principles on respect of the territorial integrity of nations and their borders.
Indeed, the United States is the world’s key superpower, and considering its close relation with Israel, and heavy presence in the Middle East region, its decision carries a lot of weight.
However, the US does not rule the world, and there remains international bodies, whether political or judicial, that will confirm the illegality of Trump’s decision and warn of its dangerous consequences.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, who headed to Washington Monday for meetings with his US counterpart and senior administration officials, will certainly convey Egypt’s opposition and disapproval of Trump’s decision.
That was also Egypt’s stance when the US president took a similar disastrous decision in December 2017 to recognise Occupied East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.
Arab leaders are due to meet at their annual summit in Tunis at the end of this month. This dangerous decision by Trump to recognise Israel’s illegal control of Syria’s Golan Heights (very obviously in an attempt to help his close ally, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, win the upcoming elections on 9 April) will certainly top their agenda.
The Golan Heights are an integral part of Syria’s territory and it is not up to the US president, or any world president, to take unilateral decisions on lands that do not belong to his country, or grant such discretion by whim to another country. This is not how international law works, Mr Trump.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline:Trump’s disregard of international law