As the 2020 US election campaign picks up steam, the Trump administration has gone above and beyond to attract the attention of its most loyal supporters in a bid to obtain their backing. While during his previous election campaign, Trump would use an “America First” slogan to win over the middle class, it’s hardly a secret to anyone that the outcome of each presidential election race is determined by the alignment of military contractors and the powerful Israeli lobby particularly well represented in Congress. Thus, we’re witnessing the White House making increasingly bold steps to support Israel’s territorial ambitions.
Last spring, US Senator Lindsay Graham and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Golan Heights together. After this visit the former promised to take steps to facilitate the process of Washington’s recognition of these land as Israeli territory. Against this background, it was particularly noteworthy that the US State Department in its annual report on human rights described the Golan Heights as “Israel-controlled territory” instead of applying the commonly used term “Israeli-occupied territory.”
It should be recalled that after a total of four Arab-Israeli wars, Israel has effectively occupied more than half of the territories that were originally anticipated as parts of the yet-to-be Palestinian state, with the international community strongly condemning this development. The Golan Heights is a part of the Syrian Arab Republic captured by Israel during the so-called Six-Day War. In 1981, the Knesset made the unilateral decision to recognize the Golan Heights as the sovereign lands of the State of Israel. The United Nations Security Council described this step as unlawful in its resolution passed on December 17, 1981, recognizing those lands as Israeli-occupied territories of Syria. The annexation would be condemned yet again by the UN General Assembly of 2008. Furthermore, the UN demands that the northern part of the Golan Heights (known as Shebaa Farms) be returned to a third party – the State of Lebanon, whose interests are typically overlooked in the ongoing debacle.
But, in spite of the international criticism, Trump signed a declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the course of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, last March. This allowed Trump to receive almost universal support inside this Middle Eastern country, which will inevitably transform into real assistance from across much of the Jewish community within the United States. It’s curious that the sitting US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is credited with saying that God himself may have sent Trump to save Israel. And since this development occurred on the Jewish holiday of Purim, some would go as far as to compare the US President to Esther, the biblical patroness of Jews.
Taking advantage of the possibility provided by Trump, Knesset member and co-chair of the New Right Party, Ayelet Shaked, has already submitted a bill regarding the annexation of the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion and Ma’ale Adumim, as reported by Israel’s Channel 20. Commenting on this initiative, Shaked made it clear that Israel is in position to take advantage of US support, pointing out that it doesn’t seem likely that there would ever be as convenient an opportunity as now to pass the annexation legislation.
His intention to enact the annexation law has already been announced by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who seeks reelection to advance this agenda. He emphasised that the annexation of the Jordan Valley is designed to ensure Israel’s security and that the present situation is particularly favorable for the adoption of such a law. It’s curious that Netanyahu outlined on a map the future borders of the State of Israel after the adoption of the annexation law. It will run through the Beit She’an Valley, Nahal Og, Nahal Arugot and Ein Gedi. Thus, almost all of the illegal Israeli settlements, as well as a number of Palestinian villages, will be within the borders of Israel. According to the still sitting Israeli Prime Minister, the Jordan Valley and the areas north of the Dead Sea are Tel-Aviv’s security belt, the defensive wall, which guarantees that Israel will no longer be a country that is only a few kilometers wide, adding that he’s convinced that the IDF must take the entire Jordan Valley under its control.
The UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia and France have already expressed deep concern over these statements, while pointing out that the actual implementation of this course of action could result in a rapid escalation within the region, undermining hopes to establish a long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
As for the reaction from across the Arab world, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict the tone of official statements released by the major regional players. The Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned that the announced steps contradict the principles laid in the foundation of Israel-Palestine negotiations, which means that they could lead to a serious escalation of tensions. The Hamas leaders called on the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas to end any and all cooperation with Israel. The Arab League issued a statement saying that this annexation would constitute a gross violation of international law and a number of existing UN resolutions.
But, focusing mainly on the position of the United States, Israel pays no heed to such warnings, believing that US support, which it enjoyed under all recent American presidents, is enough to annex the occupied territories. It’s no secret that Israeli authorities have been following in the wake of Washington’s policies, even when they contradicted the interests of their own fellow citizens. A vivid example of this is Israel’s refusal to pursue mutually beneficial military cooperation with Russia, although Benjamin Netanyahu has already paid three visits to meet with Vladimir Putin, including his September visit made on the eve of the announcement of the so-called “deal of the century” in Syria and on the eve of the election campaign in Israel. Has has also held consultations with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu. In spite of highly profitable multi-vector cooperation with Russia, Israel is prepared to receive purely symbolic tokens of support from Washington, like the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem or the above mentioned modified description of the status of the Golan Heights in American documents.
As for Europe, it has long turned a blind eye to most steps made by the Jewish state, due to its solidarity with Washington, or out of its Holocaust guilt complex. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that some particularly zealous “US allies” from Eastern Europe may follow Washington’s example by supporting Israel’s territorial ambitions. However, the position of the absolute majority of international players will remain unchanged.
Thus, there is no justification for the recognition of Tel-Aviv’s annexation of the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley. We must not forget that Israel’s national security does not benefit in any way from Tel-Aviv pursuing such policies, since it is based on agreements signed with its neighbors that are guaranteed by the international community. However, none of these will matter once Israel proceeds with its annexation plans.
There’s no doubt that by tacitly encouraging the territorial ambitions of Israel, Washington is opening a Pandora’s box. As of today, there’s more than 200 unresolved territorial disputes between states all across the world, with most states being able to present far more arguments in favor of their bids than Israel ever could, so it’s only natural that some of these disputes may lead to new disputes in the aftermath of Tel-Aviv’s decision.
Valery Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’