There were news reports recently that during Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to D.C., during which he will meet with Trump, the United States would recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The Heights had only been Syrian territory since 1948, after the end of the French Mandate, Syrian independence, and the Arab attempt to destroy Israel.  Syria used the Golan Heights to aim artillery and sniper fire on Israel. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the 1967 war, and almost lost it during the surprise attack in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Trump didn’t wait for Netanyahu’s visit, tweeting today:

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!

It’s unclear if this makes it “official” or just an aspiration. Netanyahu is treating it like a done deal, tweeting in response:

At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump!

Netanyahu called Trump to thank him:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke this evening with @POTUS Donald Trump and thanked him for the decision to recognize the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Netanyahu told US President Trump: “You made history.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced the decision in Jerusalem:

“Tonight President Trump made the decision to recognize…[the Golan Heights] is proper to be a sovereign part of the State of Israel. The people of Israel should know the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy and meaningful.”

The move not only made history, like the move of the Embassy to Jerusalem, it also gives Netanyahu a big boost barely two weeks before the April 9 elections.

This is a hugely important development because of the strategic value of the heights, which tower over not only the Sea of Galilee (what Israelis call the Kinneret), but also the Galilee region of northern Israel.

I have visited the Golan Heights multiple times, the first time being in 1980 when I worked on a kibbutz in the Galilee. I remember hiking with our group, led by an kibbutz member who was a commando, and hearing the thunder of tank practice fire. I also remember the beauty of the area.

I visited again in 2013, and you can read my posts about the battle sites I visited:

[Tel Saki Battle Memorial, Golan Heights][Photo by William Jacobson 2013]

[Valley of Tears Monument – Golan Heights – Israeli and Syrian Tanks][Photo by William Jacobson]

This shows the view from inside a captured Syrian bunker on the heights looking over northern Israel:

[Kibbutz Kfar Haruv, Israel, View from Syrian Bunker][Photo William Jacobson 2013]

You can read about Israel’s claim under international law to sovereignty over the Golan Heights in this 2018 congressional testimony by law professor Eugene Kontorovich:

The widely-repeated view that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be contrary to international law is based on one fundamental assumption: that at least since the adoption of U.N. Charter, international law prohibits any acquisition of foreign territory by force. While such a formulation of the rule is largely accurate, it omits crucial exceptions quite relevant to the case of the Golan Heights.

Whatever the current status of an absolute prohibition on territorial change resulting from war, there was certainly no such blanket prohibition in 1967, when the territory came under Israeli control. At the time, international law only prohibited acquisition of force in illegal or aggressive wars. This is evident from the source of the prohibition in the UN Charter, post-Charter state practice, and the understandings of international jurists at the time. There is simply no precedent or authoritative source for forbidding defensive conquest in 1967.

Professor Kontorovich further explained the point in this interview:

The move also has domestic U.S. political implications. It is another embrace of Israel by the Trump administration at a time when Democrat presidential candidates are bowing to the will of Ilhan Omar and are boycotting the AIPAC annual conference, at which Netanhayu will be speaking:

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former House of Representatives member Beto O’Rourke and Senator Kamala Harris of California, all of whom announced they would run for the Democratic primaries next year, decided not to attend the conference. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who considers running for president as an independent candidate, will also avoid attending the conference.

The absence of these Democratic candidates comes as the organization MoveOn called on the Democratic presidential candidates not to attend this year’s conference, claiming that AIPAC worked to derail the nuclear agreement with Iran, on which former President Barack Obama worked hard, and on the grounds that the lobby uses “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.” According to MoveOn, by boycotting the conference, Democratic candidates will be able to show that they are truly progressive.

Omar and anti-Israel activists are giddy and bragging about Democrats dropping like flies from the AIPAC conference:

The question is whether there will be an electoral price tag for Democrat presidential candidates genuflecting to the anti-Israel hard left and Islamists.

AG Conservative on Twitter summed it up:

Omar’s smear clearly worked. AIPAC is the most moderately pro-Israel group in the country. Every major Dem has spoken at the conference for decades. This is a direction they are actively choosing and voters should take notice.

[Featured Image: Golan Heights over Sea of Galilee, Photo credit: William Jacobson 2013]


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