(CNSNews.com) – President Trump on Monday signed a proclamation recognizing “that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel,” challenging decades of largely unquestioned convention that the strategic ridge is occupied Syrian territory, to be returned as part of a future peace deal between the warring neighbors.
With Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence, and senior administration officials looking on, Trump signed an order at the White House citing “unique circumstances” making it appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
They included Israel’s capture of the ridge in 1967 “to safeguard its security from external threats,” aggressive actions by Iran and Hezbollah in Syria that “continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel,” and the fact that “[a]ny possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats.”
Netanyahu called the decision “historic.”
“Your recognition is a two-fold act of historic justice,” he told Trump. “Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s roots in the Golan go back thousands of years.”
(Jewish links to the Golan go back to the conquest of Canaan as recounted in the Old Testament (Joshua 20:8 and 21:27). The remains of one of the world’s oldest synagogues were excavated in the 1970s at Gamla, scene of a costly battle during the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the 1st century AD.)
In the years leading up the Six Day War the Syrians frequently launched artillery attacks from the Golan on Israeli communities in the Galilee valley to the west.
One week after Israel captured the territory in June 1967 it offered to return it in exchange for a peace treaty with Syria. The Arab states rejected the offer that September, declaring there would be no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel.
Israel formally annexed the Golan in 1981, although from the early 1990s, several Israeli governments mulled relinquishing it in return for a full peace agreement with Damascus.
A deal never materialized, and the Golan’s future has not featured meaningfully in peacemaking efforts since 2008, when Turkey tried to mediate between its then ally, Bashar Assad, and Israel.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the notion of Israel surrendering the Golan has looked increasingly remote.
“Your proclamation comes at a time when the Golan is more important than ever for our security, when Iran is trying to establish bases in Syria to strike at Israel,” Netanyahu told Trump. “From across the border in Syria, Iran has launched drones into our airspace, missiles into our territory.”
Trump’s decision brought praise from supporters of Israel inside and outside Congress.
“This show of support is a blow to Iran & its terrorist puppets who want to wipe Israel off the map,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voiced hope the Senate would take up his recently-introduced legislation to enshrine the move in U.S. law.
“Words have power and meaning when those words are linked to action,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said earlier.
“In the recent past, the words of America’s leaders have meant little to the international community because their words often stood alone without a commitment to action. Under President Trump, the world sees and understands that the United States is a true friend and ally of Israel as his words of support are followed by meaningful and historic action.”
‘Departure from the international consensus’
Condemnation was fast in coming, too.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call that the move “leads to a flagrant violation of international law, impedes the settlement of the Syrian crisis, aggravates the situation throughout the Middle East.”
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation called the move “a serious departure from the international consensus and a violation of the international legitimacy that recognizes the Golan as an occupied Syrian territory since 1967.”
Protests also came from the European Union, Iran, Turkey, and others.
“It is clear that the status of the Golan has not changed,” said U.N. secretariat spokesman Stephane Dujarric in New York. “The U.N.'s policy on the Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and that policy has not changed.”
Resolution 242 of 1967 called on Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and for all states in the region “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
According to published reports at the time, the drafters intentionally omitted the words “the” or “all” before the word “territories,” acknowledging that exactly what land would be surrendered would be subject to future negotiation – which should also take into the other central requirement, Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Another Security Council resolution (497), adopted after Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, called the annexation “null and void and without international legal effect.” It did not specifically call for Israel to withdraw from the territory.