Golan Heights and the United States’ Dilemma

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with U.S. President Donald Trump/ Image: Politico

It was much speculated that some scenario is defiantly going to change after the US President Donald Trump’s tweet which stated for reversal of decades of US policy that has refused to condone the Israeli occupation of Golan Heights.

Trump urged that the dispute must be resolved diplomatically. After that Trump signed a presidential proclamation, formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Well, the process for this started way back a year ago when the US voted against a ritual annual UN resolution condemning Israel’s continued seizure of the Golan Heights.

Golan Heights, which still used to be considered as Syrian territory under international is a strategic high ground at the southwestern corner of Syria one side Israel and Syria below. It is roughly about 1,200 square kilometers and borders the Sea of Galilee. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 six war and applied Israeli law there in 1981 under then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The UN Security Council resolution 497 called Israel’s action as “null and void and without international legal effect.” The two sides of Israel and Syria appeared close to a deal in 2000, but disagreement over its fate ultimately foiled the talks. The civil war in Syria over the past eight years has been the priority and the areas adjacent to the Golan nearly fell to the rebels at one point.

Present decision comes at the time when the conflict in the region is at its peak. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, called American President’s decision as “historic justice” and gifted the president a box of wine from the occupied territory. As they embraced, Israeli forces began an aerial bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip after rockets launched from Gaza hit a house in a community north of Tel Aviv earlier that day.

No country in the world recognizes Israel’s rule over the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981. Trump has earlier also recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the American Embassy there from Tel Aviv, and stopped aid to Palestinian refugees. That too came under criticism. Many country of the world including India rejected the USA’s decision.

This time again 14 other UN Security Council nations are standing against the decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in violation of international law. The Security Council met on at the request of Syria, and called the American move a “flagrant violation” of UN resolutions. France has also warned that any attempt to turn away from international law will be “doomed to fail”.

Russia has helped Syria with regard to this issue many times in past as well as standing this time too. Assad and his allies have retaliated by stating that “If anybody feels any temptation to follow this poor example, we would urge them to refrain from this aggressive revision of international law”. Golan Heights has always been a “cat’s bread” in this region as it is strategically very valuable high-altitude plateau that overlooks Syria and the Jordan Valley. It is considered militarily significant for both Syria and Israel, and Israel also considers the territory a “buffer-zone” that contributes to its self-defense. The area houses the Jordan River’s drainage basin, Lake Tiberias, the Yarmuk River and underground aquifers.

There are around 50,000 people, with Israeli Jewish settlers making up nearly half. The rest are mostly people of Syrian ancestry who are Druze, a religion that has been described as an offshoot of Islam. Druze residents of the Golan Heights have largely resisted obtaining Israeli citizenship and have maintained a strong connection to Syria for decades. Israeli and Syrian armies are separated by a 400 sq. km demilitarized zone, which neither side can enter and Israel says that Golan Heights is a security buffer against the war in Syria.

Well USA has argued by saying that “To allow the Golan to be controlled by Syria, would turn a blind eye to the threats emanating from Damascus and from Iran and its Hezbollah allies, which want to use the territory to attack Israel”. In this response Syrian Ambassador have stated that

“Don’t be misguided by thinking that one day this land will be yours due to hypocrisy or due to being a pawn in the electoral game where you bring each other support, so the Israeli can succeed in their elections and the Americans can also get support from Israeli lobbying groups in the US”, he further added, noting that the Golan Height will ultimately “come back” to his country.

For decades, the United Nations and the USA refused to recognize Israel’s seizure of the Golan Heights and the West Bank in 1967, arguing that the contours of Israel must be negotiated diplomatically. Trump mentioned that, 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. Recognition of the Golan Heights could pave the way for US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Palestinian occupied territories.

Something more interesting can occur in near future as in a recent state department report on human rights, the administration has also changed its description of the West Bank and Gaza from “occupied territories” to “Israeli-controlled territories”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Shubham Singh

Shubham Singh is a Research Analyst at The Kootneeti. His area of research includes India’s Foreign Policy and Disarmament Studies. He can be reached on shubhamin94@gmail.com

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