In the wake of his recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received an unprecedented gift from his close ally. On Thursday, March 21st, President Trump announced the U.S’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights, which by far remained a disputed territory between Israel and Syria. President Trump specifically tweeted the following to rationalise his decision: “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!” For Mr. Netanyahu, who has been lobbying for such recognition for years, the recognition from the US was a victory for his government and himself. Thus, after Trump’s announcement, Mr. Netanyahu immediately expressed his excitement and happiness, claiming that President Trump has “made history”.
While the U.S. is making Israel happy, such formal recognition of Israel’s sovereign right over Golan Heights could be a disaster for regional, and even international, peace and security. In particular, the U.S.’s diplomatic move will be likely to make the existing Arab-Israeli conflict even more complicated and difficult to be resolved. As noted by scholars such as Dina Badie, Israel has historically attacked, occupied and controlled the territory of its neighbouring countries; for example, during the 1967 War, Israel successfully occupied the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Nevertheless, given the strong condemnation and pressure from the international community, especially from the UN Security Council, Israel has rarely dared to claim sovereignty over these territories. On the contrary, in the 2000s, Israel was even internationally pressured to negotiate with Syria for resolving the territorial dispute over the Golan Heights. However, with the U.S. now supporting its claim over the occupied territory of Golan Heights, Israel will be in a much stronger position to deal with international pressure and secure its control over these territories – in other words, Israel may feel much less pressured regarding its territorial disputes with neighboring countries. On the other hand, the formal recognition of Israel’s sovereign rights over the Golan Heights will be likely to instill fear and anti-American sentiments among Arab countries. Haaretz reveals that Lebanon immediately denounced the US’s diplomatic move, arguing that this may allow Israel to further legitimise its control over occupied territories like Southern Lebanon.
An even greater implication of this recognition lies in the fact that in formally recognizing Israel’s control over Golan Heights, the U.S. has created a dangerous precedent that permits countries to capture territory through war. Indeed, by publicly defying the UN Resolutions 242 and 497 that deemed “the acquisition of territory by [Israeli] force…inadmissible”, the U.S. has effectively allowed countries, especially those which have historically occupied others’ territories, to justify their territorial ambitions. The Deutsche Welle points out that Russia, which desperately looks for any chance to defend its annexation of Crimea from international condemnation, will probably take note of Israel’s legitimate occupation of Golan Heights and criticize the West’s inconsistency in determining the admissibility of an attack. Many scholars and policy makers are even concerned that in permitting countries to legally attack and occupy others’ territories through the use of force, the U.S. government has seriously challenged and weakened the building block of the current international system – that is, the mutual respect of sovereign equality between countries and the prohibition of aggression.
How, then, should the international community respond and prevent the U.S. and Israel from undermining the international peace and security? As far as I am concerned, international solidarity and condemnation is the key to prevent the US’s diplomatic move from harming the international system. In particular, it is important for China, the E.U., and many other countries that are concerned with Israel’s occupation of Golan Heights, to unanimously condemn the legalisation of such occupation. To be sure, it is possible that the U.S. may seek to convince and pressure other countries, especially its allies like the U.K. and other European countries, to follow suit. In this case, it is even more important for different countries to support each other’s stance, and to make it clear that the capturing of territory (through the use of force) will never be permissible in the international system.
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