Having altered the description of the Golan Heights from ‘Israeli-occupied’ to ‘Israeli-controlled’ more than a week ago, US President Donald Trump has confirmed that the US plans to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territory. Previous US administrations have continued to treat the Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory, in line with UN Security Council resolutions. But it is clear that Trump and his administration have no regard for the UN or international law. The Golan Heights were captured from Syria during the 1967 war – and have remained a disputed zone under Israeli occupation. Condemnations of the move have poured in from Turkey, Syria and a range of other countries, but there is little chance of swaying the US leader. Israel has always been a special case for all US administrations, whose many violations of international law and international human rights conventions continue to go unchecked. Trump’s move cripples a 52-year-old UN resolution which declares the ‘acquisition of territory by war’ to be inadmissible, which effectively undermined the Western position opposing the Russia’s annexation of Crimea. There is little doubt that Trump’s unilateral move will now leave many of American’s European allies red-faced.
The move comes in line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt at re-election. Netanyahu, one of the few Trump allies left, is facing a difficult re-election campaign. Trump’s move bolsters Netanyahu’s re-election bid while compromising much of the US’s own international agenda. This is not about regional stability as Trump would like to put it, but about supporting one of the only international leaders that praises Trump. The irony of which is that the Trump-Netanyahu relationship is not an equal one. Trump has effectively given Netanyahu whatever he wants, without much reciprocity.
If anything, rather than provide Israel more security over its occupation of the Golan Heights, Trump’s move pushes the issue back into the international agenda. The Golan Heights issue has been low on the international agenda, with Syria itself embroiled in a long civil war, and little real pressure for returning the Golan to Syria at a time when the Palestine question is finding little currency. The last attempt came in 2010 with talks moderated by Obama between Netanyahu and Bashar al-Assad on a peace treaty, which would involve Israeli withdrawal. This collapsed after the Syrian civil war started. Formal annexation of the Golan Heights will only make Israel’s position weaker, which neither Trump nor Netanyahu care about in the short-term.