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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Why Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights is so controversial

No other country recognises the strategic plateau as Israeli territory

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (Back C) holds up the pen used by US President Donald J. Trump (Front C) to sign an order recognising Golan Heights as Israeli territory. EPA
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (Back C) holds up the pen used by US President Donald J. Trump (Front C) to sign an order recognising Golan Heights as Israeli territory. EPA

On Monday, US President Donald Trump sat at his desk as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu passed him the pen with which he would recognise the occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli has long claimed the territory as its own after capturing it from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

So why is its claim, and Mr Trump’s recognition, so controversial?

The answer is simple: no other country in the world recognises Israeli ownership of the territory of which it controls two-thirds.

After that 1967 conflict, Israel beat back a Syrian offensive to retake the Golan and, in 1981, it annexed the territory in a move the UN Security Council declared unlawful.

In the war, most of the 150,000 Syrians who once lived there were displaced. Today, 20,000 Israeli settlers live in the territory, alongside 25,000 Druze Arabs who claim Syrian citizenship.

In response to Israel moving to annex the territory, the UN passed a resolution that condemned its actions and cast it as a breach of international law. It has called on Israel to withdraw from the territory and return it to Syria, but successive Israeli leaders have refused to do so.

Syria has called for the whole territory to be returned. But the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has left Israel unwilling to step back from the territory that operates as a strategic plateau from which to counter outside threats.

It sits at just under 3,000 metres above sea level and gives the Israeli military a significant advantage over adversaries. In southern Syria, the Syrian military is being aided by Iran and its Lebanese proxy militia Hezbollah, both arch-enemies of Israel.

This move follows his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by relocating the US embassy to the contested city in May 2018. It also appeared to come at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life ahead of the April 9 elections in the country.

The decision is therefore controversial because US President Donald Trump has once again done away with consensus and international law, applying his own rules to the global arena.

Updated: March 26, 2019 07:50 PM

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