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International Relations

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights hardly came as a surprise given his administration’s blatant pro-Israel stance. It may sound ironic that a President who promised to facilitate a deal between Israelis and Palestinians has turned out to be the most pro-Israel President in U.S. history. Mr. Trump has already recognised as Israel’s capital Jerusalem, a city it captured in parts in the 1948 and 1967 wars and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Before he announced his intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over Golan, a State Department report had dropped the word ‘occupied’ in references to Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, hinting at where the administration stood on the issue. Israel captured Golan, a strategically important plateau beside the Sea of Galilee, from Syria in the 1967 war. Among the territories it captured in the war, Israel has returned only the Sinai Peninsula, to Egypt. It annexed East Jerusalem and Golan Heights and continues to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 1981, as it passed the Golan annexation legislation, the Security Council passed a resolution that said, “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”.

Unlike Egypt in the 1970s, Syria has had neither the military ability nor the international clout to launch a campaign to get its territory back. President Bashar al-Assad tried to kick-start a U.S.-mediated peace process with Israel during the Obama presidency, but it failed to take off. And now, the Syrian government, after fighting eight years of a civil war, is debilitated and isolated, and the U.S. move is unlikely to trigger any strong response, even from the Arab world. But that is the least of the problems. Mr. Trump’s decision flouts international norms and consensus, and sets a dangerous precedent for nations involved in conflicts. The modern international system is built on sovereignty, and every nation- state is supposed to be an equal player before international laws irrespective of its military or economic might. The U.S., by recognising the sovereignty of Israel over a piece of land that the latter captured from Syria 52 years ago, is challenging this and normalising occupation. The decision also overlooks the wishes of the inhabitants of the territory. Most of the Druze population that has been living in Golan for generations has resisted Israel’s offer of citizenship and remained loyal to Syria. This they did even amidst Israel’s settlement activities. This is a conflict that needs to be settled between Israel and Syria at some point of time under international mediation. Mr. Trump is making the possibility of any future peaceful settlement difficult by recognising Israel’s sovereignty, just as he made any future Israeli-Palestinian settlement complicated with his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.


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