Continuing to live up to his reputation for unpredictability, reckless upsetting of apple carts and reckless toying with international peace, President Donald Trump changed long-standing US policy of many decades by signing a proclamation officially recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. This land, which Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War, is internationally regarded as one of the Occupied Territories along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula once belonged to the same league.
Mr. Trump had, within the two years he has been US President, done at least two other things to aggravate the volatile situation in the Middle East. First, he recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel, even though previous US administrations over several decades maintained that Tel Aviv is the Israeli capital. Trump’s move to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem provoked anger in Palestine and led to skirmishes in which many people died. Just as dangerously, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, against the advice of European nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA.
All three moves by Trump failed to gain international support. European nations, for example, refused to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. After Trump’s Jerusalem move too, very few countries followed suit. His latest move to recognize Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights has also not attracted support from any other country, since it is a flagrant violation of international law and a repudiation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 497 of 1981.
Mr. Trump first said in a tweet, “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!” He saw no irony in his administration’s sticking to the policy of not recognizing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region since 2013, for the same reason that it was seized by force.
As to the “after 52 years” remark, longevity is not enough under international law to turn an illegality into a legality. Many territories across the world are still the subject of legal and political disputes between nations though they have lasted much longer than the Israeli occupation of Golan Heights. These include Taiwan, Kashmir, Kurile Islands, Falkland Islands, Tibet, Kosovo, Gibraltar, Melilla, Ceuta and Western Sahara. If nations can gobble up other nations’ territories with military force, why did the US and nearly 40 other allied countries go to war in 1991 because Iraqi troops invaded and annexed Kuwait?
Mr. Trump’s remark that Golan Heights is of “critical strategic and security importance” to Israel is hypocritical, to say the least. Russia could plausibly argue that Crimea is of critical strategic importance to it, since it gives the Russian navy access to the warm waters of the Black Sea. South Africa was forced to give up Walvis Bay to Namibia even though it was of strategic importance to it and it had occupied it since the days of the League of Nations. Closer to home, Nigeria gave up sovereignty over Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon when the International Court of Justice ruled that it belonged to that country. We gave it up despite the fact that it is of strategic importance to us and handing it over has caused a big refugee problem for us.
The truth is that Trump did his Golan Heights move in order to politically shore up hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his country’s upcoming elections, which he is in danger of losing. For Trump to gamble so recklessly with international peace and trample so badly on a UN Security Council resolution in order to boost the anti-peace Netanyahu is the height of impunity and recklessness. This, from a country that was so riled up when its intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the US elections of 2016. Golan Heights is Occupied Territory under international law and one thousand Donald Trumps cannot change that fact.