Playing politics over the Golan Heights

After 52 years, on 21st March, US President said that the US fully recognizes Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability.

Why is Golan Heights so important?

  • The 1,200sqkm plateau beside the Sea of Galilee offers expansive views over Syria and Israel, giving it Strategic Military Importance.
  • Population: 40,000 with Israeli Jewish Settlers Making up half of it. Arabs from Druze sect make the other half.

Why does Israel want Golan?

  • Israel says that the civil war in Syria demonstrates need to keep all the plateau as a buffer zone.
  • It fears Iran is seeking to establish itself permanently on the Syrian side of the border in order to attack Israel.
  • Both sides covet the Golan’s water resources and naturally fertile soil.

How did it come under Israeli control?

The Six-Day War 1967:-

  • Golan Heights were a part of Syria until 1967 when Israel was forced to defend itself when Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq intensified their terrorist attacks and Egypt illegally blocked Israel’s access to international waters and expelled UN peacekeeping forces.
  • The 4 Arab countries mobilized more than 250,000 troops, armed with Soviet-supplied tanks and aircraft, on Israel’s borders in preparation for a full-scale invasion.
  • The Iraqi defence minister ordered his troops to strike the enemy’s civilian settlements, turn them into dust and pave the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews.
  • Israel preempted them in a defensive war and managed to capture the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Trump’s Recognition and Israel

  • Trump declared that the US fully recognizes Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
  • His base among Evangelical Christians backs Israel.
  • Moreover, some of the major contributors to his campaign are also very ardent supporters of Israel.
  • Moreover, last year, the US voted against a ritual annual UN resolution condemning Israel’s which is a continued seizure of the Golan Heights.
  • Trump Recognition of Israel's Golan Heights Annexation is contrary to positions U.S. has taken elsewhere, as for instance in its response to Russia and Crimea.
Because nothing is happening on Golan and nobody expects Israel to pull back, Trump’s tweet does not change anything — what it does, however, is extend legitimacy to Israel’s position, and boost Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s hardline agenda as he seeks a 5th term in the April elections. Mr Trump’s decisions have a bearing on U.S. and Israeli domestic politics.
  • It would give Israel’s right-wing parties an opening to argue for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.
    1. The American Jewish community (traditionally around 65% Democratic), has grown its support for him, despite an increase in anti-Semitism within the US because of his encouragement to right-wing groups.
    2. Israeli PM, facing a tough election on 9th April, and under threat of indictment for corruption and misdemeanour, is touting his influence on Mr Trump as having the potential for further gains for Israel.
  • It would crush Palestinian remaining hope for statehood.
  • Moreover, it will put Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy at high risk. But, to consolidate some right-wing support for himself, then Trump announced that if re-elected he would not carry out any kind of withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank, putting an end to the “land for peace” formula advocated since the Camp David Accords in the year of 1979.
Read Also: What is a real estate investment trust?

US previous policies for Israel

  • Any formalization of status changes on the ground, following Israel’s victory and gains in the 1967 Israel-Arab conflict, could only flow from negotiations among parties concerned.
  • UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and also 338 had asserted some inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory.
  • UNSCR 497 had declared that Israel’s decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.

Pro-Israel steps by Trump:

  • 8th May 2018: Opposing Sanctions relief for Iran: Trump walked out of 2015 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) with Iran, negotiated by the Obama administration with provisions for sanctions relief for Iranian restrictions on its nuclear programme. However, Israel had opposed the agreement and also any sanctions relief for Iran, seeing a continuing threat to itself from Iran’s growing presence in Syria, its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, its refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist, and its military capabilities.
  • 6th Dec 2017: Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:
    • Last year the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and also relocated its embassy there, upending U.S. policy toward one of the best and most explosive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    • The administration has also slashed approx millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, which include assistance to hospitals and also peace-building programmes.
  • Close the Palestinian Office in Washington DC & US consulate in Jerusalem dealing with the Palestinian Authority. In fact, the Trump administration has cited some reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter some peace negotiations with Israel.
  • Moved the American Embassy there from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
    •  Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in the year of 1967 Middle East war and also annexed it in a move not recognised internationally. The last round of peace talks on a Palestinian state in the West Bank and also Gaza Strip collapsed in the year of 2014.
    • The boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to negotiations between the parties.
  • Stopped aid to Palestinian refugees: More than $60m (£46m) in annual funds for the Palestinian security services has now ended and - while Israel has backed some previous cuts in US aid for Palestinians. All USAID assistance in the West Bank and Gaza has been ceased.
Israel and its supporters have leveraged the support of the leading global power to advance their cause.
  • 2nd November 1917: Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, declared that His Majesty’s Govt view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.
  • This eventually led to the establishment of Israel in 1948, despite Palestinian and Arab opposition.
  • 14th April 2004: In a letter to Israeli PM, US President Bush stated that in light of major Israeli population centres, it was unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949 (position before the 1967 conflict).
  • This has been interpreted by many in Israel as the beginning of the process of establishing the legitimacy of Israeli/Jewish settlements in the West Bank and denting the viability of a fully sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state.
  • Trump’s announcement: The Syrian Golan was part of the French post-World War I mandate, and hence technically not covered by the Balfour Declaration. Mr Trump is now seeking to extend recognition of Israeli sovereignty to an area that is beyond Balfour, beyond the UN partition plan for Palestine in the 1940s, and also beyond the outcome of the 1948/49 Arab-Israeli conflict.
    • In his proclamation of 25th March, Trump cited Israeli security interests and regional threats.
    • The present situation in Syria is no doubt a factor. The S. wants to draw down its military presence. Russia and Iran have significantly enhanced their presence and influence.
    • Israel is concerned about Iranian presence beyond Golan in Syria and Hezbollah on the Lebanese side. Moreover, it has repeatedly targeted Iranian positions and also supplies, which include to Hezbollah.
    • Following Mr Trump’s announcement, U.S. National Security Adviser tweeted that to allow Golan Heights to be controlled by the Syrian or Iranian regimes would turn a blind eye to the atrocities of Assad and the destabilizing presence of Iran in the region.
In Israeli political discourse, which has moved over time to the right, many now question the possibility of a two-state solution. The constraint for Israel is that its goal of a democratic and also Jewish state would be difficult to achieve in only one-state solution with some current near equal proportions of Arab and also Jewish populations.

Tepid global response

  • The new U.S. position has not received support from any other countries, which include its European allies.
  • While Iran, Russia, Turkey, among others, have been critical, the Arab response has been assessed as insufficiently strident. It reflects:
    • Reduced influence in Washington.
    • Greater U.S. leverage on oil supplies
    • Divisions among Arab countries over Qatar
    • Pressure on Saudi Arabia because of Yemen
    • Jamal Khashoggi issue.

India’s interests

  • Trump’s move is indicative of shifting geopolitics in the West Asian region.
  • It will have longer-term implications for India.
  • India has a strong and growing relationship with Israel and has maintained its relations with Syria.
  • Indian troops have been a part of UN peacekeeping presence on the Golan Heights.
  • It also asserts unilateralism, is a challenge to a rules-based international order.
Read AlsoRise in foreign investment in India