Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese - GulfToday

Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese

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.

Syria

An Israeli military position is seen on the top of Mount Hermon.

Syrians preoccupied with daily financial pressures have nevertheless been infuriated by Donald Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights. A senior government official told Gulf Today that US policy is “to protect Israel” although Israel, which has built the most powerful military in the region, needs no protection. The countries of this region, rather, need protection from Israel. What the US is “protecting” is Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Arab territory and Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.

However, Trump’s unilateral decision to award Israel the Golan, seized from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981, had nothing to do with “protection” but everything to do with the re-election prospects of his chum, Binyamin Netanyahu.

In the run-up to polling day on April 9th, Netanyahu’s Likud faced a challenge from Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party. Trump wanted to ensure Netanyahu’s victory by providing a new gift to his right-wing and extreme right-wing coalition partners.

This was an unnecessary gift. The Likud and Blue and White were polling an equal number of seats before the vote but unless it secured five or six seats more than the Likud, the latter could not muster a 61-member majority needed to form a government. Blue and White holds about one-third of the seats and cannot secure a majority as potential coalition partners representing the political centre and left do not have enough seats to make up the difference .

Once all the votes counted, the Likud emerged with 36 seats, Blue and White 35, and Netanyahu prepared to form a 65-member coalition by recruiting right-wing, religious and extremist parties. These parties have already started to demand that he honour his election promise to annex Israel’s colonies which account for 42 per cent of the territory in the occupied West Bank. Since he is under indictment for corruption and breach of trust, Netanyahu could be expected to carry out his pledge soon in order to, somehow, escape the long arm of the law. Of course, he will receive warm backing from Trump whose days in the White House may, hopefully, also be numbered as he is standing for re-election in November 2020.

Trump’s recognition of an Israeli annexation of West Bank colonies is certain to anger Palestinians, disconcert Arab leaders, enrage the Arab public, and, by establishing a dangerous precedent, upset Europe which can do nothing to curb his impetuous moves. Trump, however, could expect that a fresh declaration of fealty to Netanyahu would be popular with his anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, pro-Israel know-nothing and evangelical Christian base. For Trump, providing Netanyahu with unconditional support is a win-win situation on the domestic level while his behaviour is destabilising on regional and international levels.

Syrian Golan expellees, who number half a million now, are furious. They have clung to the faint hope that some day they would be able to return to their lands and villages although more than 20,000 Israelis have established colonies in the occupied Golan. Former Golanis are officially recognised as a special group by Damascus, have settled in certain areas, and have established communal organisations across Syria which maintain their identity and keep alive their demand to go home.

Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan puts paid to any possible peace deal with Syria. It must be recalled that during 2000 there were indirect negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement between Syria and Israel. The deal involved the return of the Golan to Syria but negotiations failed because Israel insisted on holding onto territory on the edge of Lake Tiberias. Like Egypt in negotiations with Israel over Sinai, Syria demanded the return of every inch of its occupied territory in exchange for a peace treaty.

It is ironic, therefore, that the leader of al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra (now Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham), styled himself Abu Muhammad al-Golani (Julani), with the aim of winning popular Syrian support but then betrayed Syria. His group alienated his countrymen by deploying along the disengagement line between Syria and Israel and collaborating with Israel until the Syrian army recaptured the zone.  

Lebanese President Michael Aoun protested that Trump’s gift to Netanyahu included his country’s Shebaa farms and adjacent Kafr Shouba hills which Israel occupied along with the Golan. Lebanese land owners demand the return of the green slopes across the valley from the village of Shebaa.

Lebanon’s Hizbollah, which drove the Israeli army and surrogates from the occupied south in 2000, has also condemned Trump’s move and vowed to retake these lands.

Sovereignty had been undecided before the Israeli occupation because this area was left vague when the border between Syria and Lebanon was delineated by France since Lebanese owned property in and resided there.

The Golan disengagement zone – where the UN exercises control – could become a hot front if Israel decides to exert pressure on Damascus to order Iranian military advisers, troops and pro-Iranian militiamen to withdraw from Syria. Netanyahu has declared Iran his and Israel’s chief regional enemy, largely because Hizbollah, founded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards based in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, has defeated the Israeli army in the battle for Lebanon’s south and the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. Trump has also done his best to demonise and delegitimise Hizbollah because it is allied to the Syrian army in its battle to crush externally-backed rebels as well as Nusra and Daesh.

To further please Netanyahu, Trump has declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a “terrorist” organisation although Guards commanders, soldiers, and pro-Iranian Shia militias allied to the US-supported Iraqi army won the war against Daesh in Iraq. Trump seems to think some 5,000 US troops did this on their own.

Trump’s recognition of occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, persecution of the Palestinians and denial of their rights, and granting of US legitimacy to Israel’s colonisation of the Golan are certain to create fresh tension and violence in this region. His clampdown on Iran, which adopts an anti-US and anti-Israel stand, can only deepen alienation and frustration. Turkey has already followed Iran’s example by taking a strong line against Trump and Netanyahu and is hoping to reap benefits from this policy. Others will certainly follow suit. If ever his administration delivers Trump’s “deal of the century” to make peace between the Arabs and Israel, it will be dead at birth.



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