U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement that “it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” received an enthusiastic welcome in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who got a shot in the arm from Trump at a low point in his election campaign, welcomed this “Purim miracle.” His rival Benny Gantz, whose party’s leading lights helped push for American recognition of the Golan’s annexation, said in a statement that Trump was cementing his place in history as a true friend of Israel.
That Netanyahu and Gantz were both delighted is no surprise; the annexation of the Golan and the settlements established there enjoy widespread support in Israel. Since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Syria has refrained from any attempt to recover the Golan by force, preferring to maintain the quiet and conduct peace talks that achieved nothing. The Druze residents of the northern Golan have also accepted Israeli rule without rebelling.
The settlements on the Golan were established by the Labor Party, rather than the messianic Gush Emunim movement that settled the West Bank, and the Israelis who live there are termed “residents” rather than “settlers.” The beautiful vistas, the empty spaces and the snow on Mount Hermon are especially beloved by Israeli tourists.
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Nevertheless, despite the quiet and the internal consensus that sees the Golan as an inseparable part of Israel, this is occupied territory that Israel retains in violation of both international law and the principle at the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 — that the acquisition of territory by war is unacceptable. Israel accepted this principle, and six prime ministers, including Netanyahu, have held talks with the Syrians on returning the Golan in exchange for peace.
The most recent talks were cut short by the outbreak of Syria’s civil war eight years ago, and the implosion on the other side of the border spurred appetites here for perpetuating the occupation with U.S. backing. During President Barack Obama’s tenure, that idea seemed hopeless. But Trump, no great fan of international laws and agreements, acceded happily to the Israeli request.
Trump’s announcement and the applause that greeted it in Jerusalem send the troubling message that Israel is no longer interested in a peace agreement. It’s true that Syria, having fallen apart, is now weak and will settle for diplomatic censure, and in any case the chance of resuming negotiations in the north is near zero. But Trump gave Syria and its allies a renewed pretext for possible military action.
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In the near term, the U.S. green light to annexing the Golan will deepen the Israeli delusion that U.S. approval is sufficient to revise the world map and contribute to erasing the 1967 lines as the relevant reference points for solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. The U.S. recognition will inevitably increase pressure from the right to annex Area C of the West Bank (which is under full Israeli control), intensifying the occupation and the bloody conflict with the Palestinians.