Golan: Trump upsets Arabs again - GulfToday

Golan: Trump upsets Arabs again

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s tweet favouring US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967, has been widely condemned in this region and Europe, but he is determined to go ahead with this move.

According to the UN Charter Israel’s seizure of the Golan violates the principle that acquisition of territory by force is illegal while the colonisation of occupied territory is branded illegal by the Fourth Geneva Convention. When in 1981 Israel annexed the Golan, the US voted in favour of a UN Security Council resolution which ruled this action “null and void and without international legal effect.” Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan would amount to a triple violation of international law. Of course, this does not impress Trump.

Golan Druze resident Ghassan Abu Jabal, a doctor who lives in Majdal Shams, regards Trump’s tweet as an effort to boost the chances of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to secure victory in Israel’s April 9th parliamentary election.

Abu Jabal summed up Trump’s tweet by saying, “It’s an idiotic decision from an idiot who gives something that does not belong to him to another idiot even more corrupt than himself.”

Today 26,500 Druze live in four Golan towns located near the Syrian border while some 25,000 Israeli colonists have been planted in the Golan.  Only a fraction of the Golan Druze have accepted Israeli citizenship. The overwhelming majority continues to be loyal to Syria, rendering themselves stateless in an area largely culturally and economically absorbed by Israel.

In 1967, the Golan Heights had a population of 130-150,000 Syrians residing in more than 340 villages and towns.  During the war and in its immediate aftermath, more than 120,000 left or were expelled.  Among the refugees were Syrians of Arab, Chechen, and Circassian origin and Palestinian refugees from Israel’s conquest of 78 per cent of Palestine in 1948. After hostilities and pressures to leave ceased, just 6,011 civilians remained in the occupied Golan, most in the Druze villages.

In 1974, as part of the disengagement agreement, Israel handed over to Syria the capital of the Golan province, Quneitra, which had been wrecked by Israeli army military exercises. Today the city is abandoned and there are more than half a million Golan refugees and their descendants living in Syria. They constitute a strong lobby against acceptance of Israel’s ingestion of their land as well as international recognition of this process.

The timing of Trump’s tweet is significant.  He called for conferring recognition on the eve of the three-day annual convention of the all-powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which opened in Washington yesterday. Netanyahu is to spend two days in the US capital to wait on Trump and speak to the convention, which is attended by some 18,000 activists from all around the country.  Scores are addressing the convention, including Vice President Mike Pence, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (a squatter supporter), special envoy on Syria James Jeffrey, envoy on Iran Brian Hook, and no less than 38 members of Congress. Some Democratic leaders are participating, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a fervent supporter of Israel, as well as senior Republicans.

However, none of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are attending the conference although several have taken part in earlier years. The absentees include leading figures: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Julien Castro. Their decision to stay away followed a call by the liberal advocacy group MoveON for US politicians to boycott.  MoveOn argued that AIPAC opposed the Iran nuclear deal and uses “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.”

Sanders policy adviser Josh Orton said Sanders is “concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution,” involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Their refusal to attend is also significant as it comes as Democrats are launching their campaigns to secure their party’s nomination for the presidency. But, since most are liberal progressives, they have taken seriously MoveOn’s call and feel they will not be harmed by boycotting AIPAC. They are relatively “safe.” While most members of the US Jewish community support the existence of Israel, 70 per cent do not like Netanyahu, oppose his alliance with extreme right parties, reject his expansionist policies, and support the two-state solution.

Among the Israelis attending are former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, head of the “centrist” Blue and White party challenging Netanyahu’s Likud in the coming election. Gantz became a serious contender because many Israelis are fed up with Netanyahu, who has been in office for a decade and who faces indictment for corruption. Although Gantz boasts of Israeli attacks on Palestinians during his period in command of the military, he also supports the “two-state solution” and rights for Palestinians. Netanyahu opposes any deal and has stepped up Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to make it impossible to create a Palestinian entity in these areas.

AIPAC is an important venue for Netanyahu to address loyalists. More than 35 years ago the Likud took control of the US lobby which is influential with right-wing members of the Jewish community and, more importantly, with pro-Israeli Evangelical Christians who belong to Trump’s “base” of support. This explains why Trump is eager to upset Arabs and flout international law to recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan.             

Once it attained power in Israel in 1977, the Likud took the advice of Israel’s founding father Theodor Herzl, who commanded the Zionists to reach out and “capture the communities.”  He meant, of course, worldwide Jewish communities rather than US Evangelical Christians who have been drawn into the AIPAC orbit.

Trump does not understand that his decision on the Golan will create a precedent for countries other than Israel to grab and annex territory belonging to their neighbours.  For one, Russian President Vladimir Putin should be pleased as Washington will no longer be able to complain about Russia’s return to the Crimea, a strategic peninsula which was handed over to the Ukraine in 1954 when it was part of the Soviet Union. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should also feel free to grab northern Syrian territory without the fear of punishment and, perhaps, to formally annex northern Cyprus, seized by the Turkish army in 1974 and politically dominated by Ankara since then.

By violating international law and traditional norms over the Golan to secure short-term political gains, Trump has, once again, been criticised by Nato allies and angered Arabs and Muslims, and strengthened the positions of US rivals Russia and Iran in this region.