Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

Golan Heights

| Apr. 03, 2019

For Europeans and the international community, including the US until the Trump Administration, the Golan Heights represented the classical case of a frozen conflict where military action had come to an end but where no political agreement, let alone a peace treaty, had provided a mutually accepted solution among the conflict parties. Israel conquered this region of Syria in the 1967 war because of its strategic importance, and anybody who has ever experienced the commanding view into the depth of Israel from the top of theses heights realizes the extraordinary military value of the area.

It was generally believed that Israel could use the Golan Heights one day as a bargaining chip to obtain a peace deal with Syria.  Negotiations on a peace deal were tried but failed. The international community refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan heights. When Israel formally annexed the territory in 1981 the UN Security Council restated that position and the US under Ronald Reagan even suspended a security treaty with Israel.  But since then the issue had moved to the background of international attention as a result of the Syrian civil war and the focus of the Sunni Arab states on the conflict with Iran as well as other regional issues. It would probably have stayed there had it not been for the sudden decision of President Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area, not as a result of an internal review of Administration policy but in a personal tweet followed by a presidential directive.

As on other occasions like the nuclear deal with Iran or the Paris Climate Accord President Trump has again unilaterally broken with an international and Western consensus. But this case is particularly serious since a central principle of world order and international law is at stake: the prohibition against conquering territory by force. Now this land grab has been sanctioned how is the US as a leader of the West going to oppose other territorial conquests? Will this not encourage authoritarian leaders to do exactly that?

Europeans are particularly affected by Trump’s decision. Europe has a long history of wars over territorial issues and of constantly changing borders. Peace in Europe is based above all on the acceptance of the borders as they are today whatever their checkered history might have been. For this reason the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe of the 1970’s made the inviolability of borders and the commitment to refrain from assaulting any of them a central principle of the 1975 Final Act of Helsinki. Since Russia, one of the signatories, violated that very principle when annexing Crimea Europeans fear that Trump’s action undermines their opposition to Russia’s territorial conquest. As a consequence the European Union has restated its continued non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Trump’s action on the Golan Heights follows his earlier decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Like the international community as a whole, Europeans always wanted to settle the issues of territory and Jerusalem within the context of a peace agreement. In both cases Trump acted without getting anything in return and possibly encouraged forces in Israeli politics to work toward annexing parts of the West Bank.

The European Union - and Germany in particular -  is committed to the security of Israel.  Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights has obviously been made to achieve short term domestic gains for the two leaders involved but it undermines the prospect of a long term solution that brings peace to Israel and the Palestinians.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“Golan Heights.” METRO U.N., April 3, 2019.

The Author