Calls for Israeli Sovereignty over
Schanzer and David Adesnik
March 21, 2019
Trump wrote on
Twitter this afternoon, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to
fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” The
announcement has been jeered by critics of the administration, but there is less
controversy than meets the eye.
captured most of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, which was
a pre-emptive war Israel launched in self-defense. United Nations Resolution
242, issued following the conflict, called for “withdrawal of Israel armed
forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” This text,
now somewhat famous for its ambiguity, never called for withdrawal from “all
territories.” Nevertheless, the Israelis offered to negotiate. In response,
the Arab League issued its famous “Three No’s” – no negotiation, no
recognition, no peace. Israel subsequently annexed the territory in 1981, a move
that was predictably condemned by the Arab world. Israel floated the possibility
of withdrawal from the majority of this territory during various rounds of peace
talks with Syria in the 1990s and 2000s, but failed to reach agreement with the
outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011 has changed Israel’s calculus. If Syria
had regained control of this territory prior to the outbreak of the current
conflict, Sunni extremists or Iranian proxies might now occupy the eastern shore
of the Galilee, opposite the town of Tiberias, which has a population of 40,000.
with full control of the Golan, Israel continues to face serious threats from
just across the border. Last week, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced its
discovery of a nascent Hezbollah cell in the Syrian Golan, led by U.S.-designated
terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, who spent four years in U.S. custody in Iraq
and killing five U.S. soldiers.
now, after eight years of war, the hollowed-out Assad regime is effectively a
subsidiary of Tehran and Moscow. In May, operatives from the Quds Force of
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly fired a salvo
of at least 20 rockets from Syria toward Israeli positions in the Golan
Heights. Israel responded with a wave of air strikes.
the short term, there is little risk of instability in the Golan in the event
the U.S. formally recognizes Israeli sovereignty. The Arab population there
consists of about 20,000 Druze who are loyal to the Jewish state.
most significant implication of Trump’s announcement may be its effect on
Israeli elections to be held in less than three weeks. Trump’s tweet may be
seen by some as an attempt to bolster Netanyahu, who is currently in a pitched
battle with challenger Benny Gantz, former chief of staff to the Israeli Defense
Forces, to be Israel’s next prime minister. The situation is reminiscent of
1996, when Bill
Clinton held high-profile meetings with Shimon Peres to improve his
chances just ahead of the election challenge from Netanyahu.
are unfounded that the move might reveal a bias against the Palestinians before
the administration’s long-awaited
peace plan is unveiled. The Golan is not contested by the Palestinians,
though they are likely to protest any concession granted to the Israelis from
the United States.
One area of concern could be a negative response from America’s Arab allies. But even this seems less than likely. There was only a minimal response when the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Fears of unrest were wildly overblown. This move should be far less controversial in the region.