Trump Signs Golan Proclamation: What’s Next?

  • Posted on: 28 March 2019

U.S. president Donald Trump signed a presidential proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over occupied Golan Heights on March 25th. Experts believe that this decision could facilitate easier land grabs, even including Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

Looking back at history, Israeli forces occupied the Golan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the territory in 1981, which is recognized internationally and by the UN as Syrian territory, with UN Security Council Resolution 242 upholding the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” In addition to UN Security Council resolution 497, adopted unanimously in 1981, declared Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights "null and void and without international legal effect. Observers view Trump’s recent political act as a deliberate attempt to influence upcoming Israeli elections.

It’s not a coincidence that such a move concurs with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection battle on April 9th, especially given the multiple corruption investigations revolving around him. Policy director Michael Koplow from the New York-based Israel Policy Forum backs this up by stating that Trump’s Golan stance is “entirely about the Israeli election.” Another person who has a similar stance is Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, who agreed that Trump's Golan announcement was "transparently political, with an eye on the Israeli elections."

Netanyahu is leveraging his ability of taking Israeli foreign relations to unprecedented heights especially through his relationship with Trump and the United States. This would ultimately play as his strongest policy argument. Trump has always backed Israeli positions; in 2017, the president recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and last year, he took the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump’s Golan recognition has much to do with US domestic politics and may very well rally his evangelical Christian base by shifting partisan support of Israel from the Democrats to the Republicans. There are signs that attitude towards Israel within the Democratic base is changing. Evidence of this comes from a December 2017 CNN survey which states that 71 percent of Democrat respondents were against moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. In contrast, 79 percent of Republicans approved the move. Trump’s end game is to secure his spot in the 2020 presidential election, specifically winning over evangelical Christians, who make up 25 percent of America’s population. Trump is using his alliance with fellow right-wing Netanyahu to sway the U.S. politics to the right. While this strong alliance may secure short-term electoral gains for both Trump and Netanyahu, it risks derailing US foreign policy which could ultimately result in alienating Republican and millennial voters.

On another note, Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said that the basic principle of the post-World War II international system is gone. More specifically, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war would no longer be applicable as well as “the binding nature of UN Security Council resolutions, including ones drafted by and voted for by the United States in the past.” Ibish added that "the biggest danger is global and long-term. By recognizing and legitimating Israel's annexation of Golan, Washington is virtually inviting other international predators to seize what they want. Then, by this logic, all they need to do is hold onto that territory for long enough to call it 'reality' and demand that other countries 'recognize reality' by legitimating their land grab." Along that note, China, for example, may use this as an opportunity to strengthen its control over the South China Sea. Additionally, Russia would justify its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 despite five years of Western disapproval.

US recognition of the Golan could facilitate the Israeli right wing’s push for annexation of all or parts of the West Bank, thereby killing any prospect of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Koplow from the Israel Policy Forum stated “not only is it at the top of the right-wing agenda, Israeli politicians on the right […] have explicitly connected the Golan issue to the West Bank issue." If this is the case, then Trump would make it easy for the right wing to take the leap and grab more land as the US turns a blind eye.

So far, Netanyahu has opposed taking over the West Bank. However, he relies on right-wing religious-nationalist parties that support occupying more Palestinian land and expanding Israeli settlements. Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israel, believes that supporters of annexing the West Bank may feel emboldened after the election and that Netanyahu may even fold to the right wing to keep his position especially considering the corruption scandals circulating around him.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah urge regional Arab unity after Trump’s move on Golan Heights. In the words of Rouhani, “the excessive demands of the Zionist regime and the wrong decisions of Washington necessitate closer cooperation among regional countries.” On a similar note, Nasrallah believes this was possible after years of silence from the Arab countries, stating “Trump [was] emboldened by Arab silence after US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.”

All in all, the move, as stated by Saudi state news agency SPA, will “have significant negative effects on the peace process in the Middle East and the security and stability of the region." It is clearly a violation of the United Nations Charter and of international law. Qatar, one of the Gulf states, echoed similar sentiments by rejecting Trump’s move and ordering Israelis to comply with international resolutions.