Golan Heights, Explained
By Ben Sales
March 21, 2019
Donald Trump tweeted that
the United States should recognize Israelís sovereignty over the Golan
52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israelís
Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security
importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!Ē he wrote Thursday
does that mean, and why does it matter?
what you need to know about the Golan Heights, the 52-year argument over the
plateau and why Trumpís tweet is a big deal for Israelís upcoming election.
is the Golan Heights?
Golan Heights is a territory in Israelís northeast corner, on the Syrian
border. Itís rural, mountainous and mostly empty. Fewer than 50,000 people
live there ó less than 1 percent of Israelís population of 8.7 million. Half
of the Golanís residents are Jewish Israelis who live mostly in small
agricultural communities. The other half are from a religious group called the
Druze, who are mostly citizens of Syria.
Why are there Syrian citizens living in Israel?
question! The Golan wasnít always controlled by Israel. Until 1967, it was
part of Syria, but Israel took control of the area that year in the Six-Day War.
Israelis began moving there almost immediately, and Israel fully annexed the
Golan in 1981, treating it like any other part of the country. It offered the
Syrian Druze residents citizenship, but most of them have declined.
now the Golan is part of Israel?
of. Israel thinks so, but no other country has recognized its sovereignty over
the heights ó including the U.S. The international community sees the Golan as
Syrian territory occupied by Israel in a war ó a view shared by every
president before Trump.
has flirted with returning the Golan to Syria a few times in exchange for a full
peace treaty. In the 1990s, and as late as 2010, Israeli prime ministers
considered the idea in negotiations.
Israelis donít want to part with the Golan. In the í90s, as peace talks
advanced, bumper stickers that read ďThe Nation with the GolanĒ spread
around Israel. In 2008, when Israel and Syria conducted indirect negotiations,
nearly 60 percent of Israelis opposed returning the Golan in exchange for peace.
In addition to its stunning landscapes, the Golan holds strategic value for
Israel as a high ground that overlooks the countryís north.
even though no country recognizes Israelís claim to the Golan, it still
isnít that controversial. Most criticism of Israel relates to how it treats
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But there are no Palestinians in the
Golan, and the Druze residents there donít protest Israel. Even with a civil
war raging next door, the Golan is tranquil.
happening with the Golan now?
the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011, fragmenting and destroying much of the
country, talk of Israel giving back the Golan stopped. Israelis worried that it
would become a base for terror groups like ISIS, and there was no Syrian
government powerful enough to sign and enforce a peace treaty. Plus, did Israel
really want to negotiate with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad?
then, a range of centrist and right-wing Israeli politicians, including Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has called on the international community to
recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
can imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,Ē
the prime minister said Wednesday in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo. ďWe would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Itís
time that the international community recognizes Israelís stay in the Golan,
the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of
that talk has spread to the Republican Party. Last week, South Carolina Sen.
Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, called on the U.S. to recognize Israelís
claim to the Golan. Trump himself followed suit on Thursday, breaking with half
a century of U.S. policy.
sounds like a big deal.
is. First, it makes clear that peace between Israel and Syria isnít happening
anytime soon, even when the civil war ends. If Israelís hold on the Golan was
tight before, itís airtight now. U.S. recognition would give its annexation a
dose of international legitimacy, so Israel is even less likely to withdraw now.
also a big deal for Netanyahu, who is facing a credible challenge to his
premiership in the election a couple of weeks away. Trumpís statement is a
huge boost in a tight race. Netanyahu has bet heavily on Trump since he became
president, and itís paid off for him politically. Trump has basically
fulfilled Netanyahuís wish list on everything from recognizing Jerusalem to
withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement that Netanyahu vehemently opposed.
in a close race and with his career on the line, Netanyahu can tell Israeli
voters heís the prime minister who delivered U.S. recognition of the Golan
this mean anything for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control of five territories. In the
ensuing 52 years, itís withdrawn from two ó the Gaza Strip and the Sinai
Peninsula, both in the south ó with the goal of making peace.
has also annexed two ó eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Trump
recognized the Jerusalem annexation in 2017. Now Trump and his Senate allies are pushing
Congress to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, too. In February,
Republican House members introduced a bill to do just that.
fifth territory is the West Bank, which is way more complicated.
Israel hasnít withdrawn from nor annexed it ó yet. But a bunch of right-wing
Israeli politicians want to do just that ó declare Israeli sovereignty over
part or all of the West Bank, where 400,000 Israeli settlers and some 2.5
million Palestinians live.
Trump recognized Israelís annexation of the Golan and eastern Jerusalem, could
he recognize a West Bank annexation, too?
answer to that question used to be ďno.Ē Now itís ďmaybe.Ē