US President Donald Trump has signed a presidential proclamation, which officially recognises Golan Heights as part of Israel. He announced this massive shift in US foreign policy unexpectedly on Thursday, March 21. Golan Heights is a disputed territory between Syria and Israel since 1967.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
On March 25, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump met at the White House while the latter signed the order. The two leaders embraced and spoke to the press afterwards.
What is Golan Heights?
Golan Heights is a 1,200-square kilometre plateau that overlooks Lebanon and borders Jordan, says Reuters.
The area was a part of Syria until Israel took over in 1967. The next year, Israelis began building settlements and living there. Currently, over 40,000 people live there.
Syria did not take kindly to the occupation as it put Israel extremely close to its capital city, Damascus. The annexation was not internationally recognised either.
In the 1973 Middle East war, Syria tried to take Golan Heights back, but was unsuccessful. The two countries signed ceasefires and an armistice after. In 2000, they also held talks for a peace agreement and return of Golan Heights to Syria, which failed.
The area on the map highlighted in red is the Golan Heights plateau. It acts as an elevated buffer zone, a strategic geographic advantage for Israel.
This is the second time Trump has announced such a substantial shift in US policy in the Middle East; the first was when he recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Experts say Trump’s decision on Golan Heights, although not binding, will further mar chances of a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
To make things more complex, most countries, including those in the Middle East, believe that Israel is illegally occupying Golan Heights.
Netanyahu wins big, but Middle East says no
The US said “aggressive acts” by Iranian and Syrian terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, threaten the security of Golan Heights. It added that Israel needed protection from Syria and other regional actors.
“Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” said the White House in a statement.
Netanyahu concurs that Iran is unfairly using Syria and its claim over Golan Heights to dislodge Israeli sovereignty. He thanked Trump for the proclamation.
Trump’s decision will boost Netanyahu’s chances to be re-elected as prime minister in April, especially because he faces an indictment for corruption.
However, Iran and Syria slammed Trump’s proclamation, saying it violated international resolutions, namely United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 497.
Resolution 242 is called the “land for peace” resolution that outlines a peace process post the Six Day war, and Resolution 497 prohibits countries from acquiring territory by force.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has not yet commented on the matter.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Turkey support Syria.
Gheit said, “The Arab League stands fully behind the Syrian right to its occupied land.”
Impact on India
India and Israel have always shared amicable diplomatic relations. Under PM Modi, Indo-Israeli relations have only become stronger as the two leaders made state visits and signed trade and security agreements.
Netanyahu also denounced the Pulwama attack in February.
It’s important to understand that Presidential Proclamations are ceremonial, not legally binding like Executive Orders. This means that Trump recognising Golan Heights as Israeli land is symbolic rather than an actionable piece of policy.
However, the proclamation, as publicly and celebratory as it was, is in and of itself a strong statement from Trump on US policy towards Israel and, by extension, the rest of the Middle East.
In fact, at the signing, Trump called the alliance between the US and Israel “unbreakable”.
Even so, the public nature of such a controversial declaration becomes a precedent for other disputed areas, such as Kashmir, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.
India could potentially ask the US to recognise Kashmir as Indian territory. But this hinges on the US being as close to India as it is to Israel, its relations with Pakistan souring, and, some would say, an impulsive leader like Trump being in power.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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