Recognizing Israeli Control of Golan May Hurt Peace Plan's Chance With Arab World, Former U.S. Officials Warn

Former American mediators and envoys say that if the Trump administration wants their proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to have a chance at success, then this move is a mistake

FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chats with Israeli soldiers at a military outpost during a visit to Mount Hermon in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in February 2015.
\ BAZ RATNER/ REUTERS

U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would make it harder for Arab states to accept the proposed American peace plan, set to be unveiled after the April 9 Israeli election, former American officials warned.

Dennis Ross, who served in various capacities under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, told Haaretz on Thursday that the move - currently opposed by Arab states as well as the European Union - would be a mistake.

"I don’t think it will contribute to their desire to present their peace plan," Ross said. "I think it will make it harder for Arab leaders to be responsive. If they want the peace plan to have a chance of success, they also need to be thinking about how you create a context that makes it easier for Arab leaders to respond to them, not harder, and this will make it harder.”

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In a blog post, former American envoy Frederic C. Hof wrote that formal annexation of the Golan Heights is "music to the ear of Bashar Assad," a delight for Iran and Hezbollah, and that "there is nothing substantive to be gained by Israel." He suggested that move is motivated by local elections in Israel. From an American perspective, Hof wrote, "caution is in order."

"President Trump’s desire to please a part of his political base and perhaps indicate his personal preference for the Israeli incumbent are not hanging offenses. But no American leader should jeopardize Israel’s security by inadvertently helping Assad, Iran’s Khamenei, and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah make the case to Syrians, Iranians, and Lebanese that anti-Israeli terror has a supposedly renewed basis in legitimacy," Hof wrote. 

Another former top American official has said he could understand the timing from Netanyahu’s point of view, given the upcoming election, but that it is "an own-goal for relations with the Arab states. And it could cause Trump’s successor to reverse the decision – a pattern we are seeing a lot these days."

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that it was time the United States recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory it occupied in the 1967 war. 

Fox News, the right-wing channel known for backing Trump, reported that his support for recognizing Israel’s jurisdiction over the Golan Heights will become official next week, when he will sign an executive order, likely during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.

The peace plan, put together by Trump's son-in-law and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, has a strong "regional context" behind it, according to a senior White House official who spoke to Haaretz last month

In a tweet on Thursday, Jason Greenblatt rather welcomed the news of Trump's intention to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, bolstering him as someone who "understands Israel and its security needs." 

Kushner visited several Gulf Arab states last month in order to seek support from Arab leaders on the economic portion of the proposal. 

Kushner has only given a broad outline of the plan, saying it would address final-status issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including establishing borders.