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Thursday, August 08, 2019, 21:56 (GMT+7)
Implications arising from the US recognition of Israeli control over Golan Heights

On March 25th 2019, US President Donald Trump signed a decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights which Israel had taken from Syria since 1967. The international community strongly disagreed with this decree as it could lead to far-reaching consequences for security and stability on regional and global scales.

The Golan is a territory of Syria, spanning about 1,800 square kilometres, bordering Israel in the West, Lebanon in the North, and Jordan in the South; the Sea of Galilee is on the edge of the Golan and described as a “vital strategic water asset” of the region. Thus, the Golan holds a position of strategic importance in the region.

A resettlement area of Israel in the Golan Heights (photo: AFP)

In the 1967 Middle East War (aka the 6-day war), Israel occupied a large part of Golan Heights of Syria, Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip of Egypt, and Western Jerusalem and Eastern Jerusalem of Jordan. In 1981, Israel’s Parliament decided to annex the Golan Heights and Eastern Jerusalem; however, the annexation was not recognized by the international community. On December 17th 1981, the United Nations Security Council (including America as its permanent member) passed the Resolution 497 condemning Israel’s annexation of the Golan, stating that Israel’s decision was “null and void and without international legal effect”, calling for Tel Aviv’s end of its occupation of the Golan.

Why did the U.S. come to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights?

US President Donald Trump on his Twitter stated that US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights “is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability”; according to him, the State of Israel had controlled the Golan Heights for over 52 years, and it was time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic Heights. He also stressed that the US decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights was of critical importance to security of the State of Israel and the region’s stability. Advocating this decision, several officials of the White House said that the decision by President Donald Trump was just the recognition of an “unchangeable fact” about the Golan Heights, believing that would provide a legal basis for settling the conflict between Israel and Arab countries. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who benefited from the US decree, stated that President Donald Trump had “made history” and extolled him as a “great friend” of the Israeli people.

However, America’s decree was strongly disagreed and seen as an imposition and a total disregard for justice and morality to serve its own purpose by many countries around the world, including America’s close allies. According to many experts around the globe, on a yearly basis, the White House provides non-refundable aid (about 3 billion USD) for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government to acquire modern weapons and military equipment in a bid to build Israel into a “mini-America” in the Middle East - a region of critical geo-strategic importance to the US global strategy.

At present, in terms of military power, Israel is ranked at the top of the region. In the general election in April 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at an extreme disadvantage due to allegations of corruption and authoritarianism. Thus, it is clear to see that US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, regardless of the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 497, was a “carefully calculated act” and a “big push” in order to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regain the advantage in the stormy election. As expected by the White House, Benjamin Netanyahu obtained the convincing victory and became the longest-serving Israeli prime minister (5 terms). Moreover, analysts from many countries believe that by means of his recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Donald Trump was trying to “win the heart” of Christian voters supporting Israel as a strategic step in a bid to improve his chance of winning the US Presidential Election scheduled to take place in 2020. In 2016, a large number of those voters elected Donald Trump to be the US President, and many of them are holding key positions of the United States Cabinet, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence.

Assessing the US decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, many experts all over the world think that President Donald Trump is making a move that would have various implications for not only the United States, but also the region and the world.

Implications arising from the US decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights

Politicians from many countries believe that the decision made by US President Donald Trump on recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights “put an end” to the policy of America as a mediator in the conflict between Israel and Arab countries, which had been pursued by previous governments for over 50 years. According to them, since taking office, with the “make America great again”, “America first” policy, President Donald Trump has made many announcements and decisions regardless of public opinion and international law to “defend” America’s national security and benefit and its global leadership. To implement the Middle East Strategy, on May 9th 2018, President Donald Trump shook the world when unilaterally withdrawing America from the Nuclear Deal signed by the P5+1 group and Iran in 2015 which had been thought to be a “historic” agreement and the most remarkable diplomatic success by former President Barack Obama. At the same time, President Trump alleged that Iran had been the main destabilizing factor in the region and taken advantage of the Golan Heights to sabotage the State of Israel. In December 2017, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Capital City of Israel and decided to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Indeed, it was a stepping stone to the US full recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The change in Trump Government’s policy from the mediator in the region to the defence of Israel as its ally was aimed at facilitating the US Middle East Strategy, which caused discontent and disappointment among Arab countries.

Many state members of the Arab League stated that the Golan is Syria’s “indisputable” territory, and that no country has the right to distort the history by transforming the territorial sovereignty of one country into that of another. According to them, the US decision on the Golan Heights “trampled” on justice, worsened the difference between Israel and the Arab world, and incited violence and conflict in the region. After the decree by President Donald Trump had been issued, Syria’s Government announced that it had been an “act of war” and totally unacceptable. The Government of Syria also confirmed that it would fight to regain the occupied territory. Many Islamic armed groups considered America as an “enemy” of the Arab world and “swore” to attack the US benefits in the region and all over the world.

Besides, many other countries strongly disagreed with the decree by the US President Donald Trump and regarded it as “irresponsible” and “inconsiderate”. The decree seriously violated the Resolution 497 by the United Nations Security Council and went against the basic principles of international law which prohibited violating one country’s territorial integrity via occupation. That move by America dealt a blow to the current system of international law which the U.S. should play a vanguard role in maintaining and protecting as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. More seriously, that decree could set a bad example for the settlement of disputes over territorial sovereignty in the international relations. Experts worldwide warned that the right wing in Tel Aviv’s Government could seize this opportunity to annex the territories Israel had captured from Arab countries, such as the Gaza Strip and Western Jerusalem. Some major powers could follow the example set by America to increase the use of force so as to take control of other countries’ territory without facing any preventive measures from international law. The US decision on recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights could push the region and the world into a period of instability.

The Middle East holds a position of paramount importance to the world as many intertwined benefits and conflicts exist in this region, which has made it a “hot spot” of the world for decades. Among the conflicts taking place in this region, the conflict between Israel and Arab countries has been the most persistent and grievous. The international community has made a lot of efforts and introduced various initiatives to settle differences and conflicts and restore peace in the Middle East. In 1979, it was America that acted as a mediator and succeeded in persuading Egypt and Israel to sign the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty following the 1978 Camp David Accords. According to the Peace Treaty, Israel handed over Sinai to Egypt while Egypt agreed to restore peace with Israel. Grounded on those results, in 2010, Israel and Syria conducted many rounds of negotiation with the hope that Israel would return and trade the Golan Heights to Syria for peace. However, the outbreak of conflict in Syria disrupted the negotiation process between the two countries. The complete change made by President Donald Trump in the policy followed by his predecessors and his disputable decisions on the Middle East reveal that America is reshaping the strategy for this key region in a more rigid manner. The US Administration’s decisions and their implications for the region and the world in the upcoming time will be unpredictable.

According to many experts all over the world, any solution to settle differences and conflicts and restore peace in the Middle East must be based on international law, the United Nations’ Charter, regional countries’ national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity as well as benefits and legitimate aspirations of the peoples in the region. It is imperative that countries must not rely on their power to impose or establish “hegemonic control” in the region and the world. Only by doing so could the Middle East achieve peace, stability, and development.

Duc Minh

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