International condemnation flowed in on Friday in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Germany, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Syria all criticized the move, saying it would only serve to further destabilize the region. The European Union and Arab League also reaffirmed that Trump’s announcement will not change how they view the Golan Heights.
“The European Union, in line with international law, does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, including the Golan Heights and does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory,” an EU spokeswoman told reporters Friday.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 war and illegally annexed it in 1981. The annexation has been rejected by the international community, including the United Nations.
Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the move didn’t have legitimacy, and that “no country, no matter how important it is, can make such a decision.”
The Golan Heights briefly became a flashpoint in the Syrian civil war after Iran and Israel exchanged fire there in May.
The Syrian government also accused Trump of disregarding international law. A statement out of Damascus vowed to recover the Golan Heights, which it said will always be “Syrian, Arab.”
Middle East peace prospects
Trump has repeatedly promised to bring peace to the Middle East, after placing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of creating the peace plan. But Kushner — who lacks any experience in diplomacy — has failed to deliver anything other than an economic version of the plan.
There have been reports, disputed by the White House, that Kushner’s plan involves Jordan giving land to Palestinians (currently living predominantly in Gaza and the West Bank) in exchange for land from Saudi Arabia.
Even for those who like the president’s support of Israel, the Trump administration’s approach seems lopsided.
Robert Welxer, president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, said that the Trump administration had “addressed several of Israel’s important and legitimate, strategic, security, political and diplomatic objectives — and that’s fantastic. That should be congratulated and celebrated.”
But, he added, “With the same degree of urgency, the administration now needs to address providing hope for the Palestinians and Palestinian political and diplomatic objectives.”
What has the Trump administration done so far to provide Palestinians with hope?
“They haven’t,” replied Wexler, who remains optimistic that the United States can still broker a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis, with the immediate goal being to “preserve the opportunity for an agreement.”
The Trump administration has thus far done the opposite: It unilaterally recognized Jerusalem — a disputed territory that is subject to negotiation — as the Israeli capital. It cut aid to Palestinian refugees. It shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, D.C.
And when deadly violence broke out at fence between Gaza and Israel in May, the Trump administration falsely claimed Palestinian protesters were armed Hamas fighters.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the status of the Golan Heights, like Jerusalem, will be determined by Palestinians and Syrians.
Trump’s decision, he added, has “no value, it won’t give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation, and it will remain a dead letter.”
The real winners: Netanyahu and Trump
The only congratulations for the move came from embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted, “Tonight on the phone call with my friend, President Trump. President Trump made history and recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. We don’t have a better friend than him!”
הערב בשיחת הטלפון עם ידידי הנשיא טראמפ. הנשיא טראמפ עשה היסטוריה והכיר בריבונות ישראל על הגולן. אין לנו חבר טוב ממנו! pic.twitter.com/iGmMAhXV6d
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 21, 2019
Netanyahu is in dire need of friends: He is running for re-election in roughly two weeks while facing indictment over corruption charges (specifically, bribery and fraud) and facing a non-stop barrage of unfavorable headlines in Israeli press.
The Golan Heights decision, coupled with a Thursday visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (an unexpected move for a diplomat with an election so close), is seen as a life raft for a politician mired in scandal.
Former Ambassador Richard LeBaron, who has served in several countries, including Kuwait and Egypt, told ThinkProgress that the timing of the visit was unusual diplomatic practice.
“Normally, we wouldn’t want to be seen as trying to influence the outcome of somebody else’s elections. But clearly this administration does want to influence them, so it’s unorthodox for normal diplomatic practice, but it’s not unorthodox for this administration,” said LeBaron.
He called Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights “ill-advised” and said it’s “an effort to support the re-election of Prime Minister Netanyahu rather than being a thought-out foreign policy decision…these moves don’t have any coherent strategy.”
He added that both the Jerusalem and Golan Heights decisions were about “domestic U.S. politics.”
Pompeo is known to be deeply devout, whereas Trump is not, but in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Thursday, the secretary of state nonetheless said the president could be like Queen Esther, a biblical figure, sent to be the savior of the Jewish people. (Esther married a Persian king).
This decision, said LeBaron, is likely more about giving “credence to the notion that this president is more supportive of Israel than any of the Democrats are — and that’s the narrative they are pushing hard, that the Democrats have turned against Israel in some way, and that the Trump administration and the Republicans are on Israel’s side.”