Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN, September 18, 2017
Donald Trump declared on Thursday that the US should recognize Israeli annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights.
Trump issued the announcement via Twitter:
After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2019
Israel took part of the Heights in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It formally proclaimed its sovereignty in 1981. However, almost all of the international community — including the UN via a resolution — do not accept the claim.
Trump’s declaration is likely to undermine the still-to-be-presented Israel-Palestine “peace proposal” supposedly being developed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
But Trump’s priorities, and perhaps those of Kushner and other advisors, lay elsewhere: a bid for support in Trump’s 2020 re-election effort and backing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces the ballot box on April 9.
Netanyahu has pressed Trump for weeks for a high-profile announcement. The Israeli leader visits the White House on Monday.
Netanyahu said Trump’s declaration was “a miracle of Purim”, an ancient Jewish holiday celebrated this week: “President Trump has just made history. He did it again.”
He used the eight-year Syrian conflict, where Iran is an essential ally of the Assad regime, to bolster Trump’s statement:
At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump! @realDonaldTrump
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 21, 2019
Trump went on his favored outlet Fox, in an interview to be broadcast on Friday, to tout his brilliance: “I’ve been thinking about doing that for a long time. Every President has said ‘do that’. I’m the one that gets it done.”
He claimed that he was only vaguely aware of the political situation of Netanyahu, who is also facing indictment on corruption charges.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Jerusalem, was surprised by Trump’s Twitter intervention. Hours earlier, he told journalists that long-standing policy on the Golan Heights had not changed. In 1981, when Israel annexed the Golan, the Reagan Administration suspendied a strategic cooperation agreement with Tel Aviv.
But after Trump’s statement, Pompeo and Netanyahu appeared at a news conference almost an hour late for a news conference. The Secretary of State, rearranging his line, said Trump’s decision was a tribute to Israel’s military forces and “amazing Israeli bravery” with the 1967 seizure of the Golan Heights.
Analysts noted that the Assad regime will use the announcement to cover its killing of 100,000s and displacement of more than 11 million Syrians since 2011, portraying itself as the victim of the US and Israel and their support of “terrorists”.
Martin Indyk, a former US Ambassador to Israel, added, “[President Vladimir] Putin will use this as a pretext to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”
Dennis Ross, another former Middle East negotiator, set out the consequences for Kushner’s “peace plan”, which is supposed to appear after the Israeli election.
If it looks like [the Administration is] acquiescing to the giving up of Arab land, that makes it harder for them to support a plan that will require other compromises. If what you wanted to do was to present a plan that is likely to succeed, this is not a step you would take.
While Trump’s Twitter move was a surprise, it was only the latest initiative in favor of Netanyahu rather than any “peace process”. In December 2017, Trump ordered the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, even though the city has been formally considered “international” by the UN since 1948.