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Territorial grabs expected after Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

Mar 27,2019 - Last updated at Mar 27,2019

Donald Trump’s formal US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is a thrice illegal act that risks wrecking the surviving remnants of the international order created in the wake of World War II. The basis for this order was the UN Charter, signed in San Francisco in 1945, which lays down the principle that acquisition of territory by force is illegal. The colonisation by an occupier of occupied territory is branded illegal by the Fourth Geneva Convention. When in December 1981 Israel extended its law to the occupied Golan, effectively annexing this strategic territory, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 497, which ruled Israel’s action “null and void and without international legal effect”.

Among the 51 signatories of the UN Charter were the five permanent members of the Security Council — the Soviet Union, the US, the UK, France and China. Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon were the signatories from this region. Unfortunately, the charter’s key prohibition against the acquisition of territory by force by state actors has been repeatedly ignored and violated, undermining the world organisation and international peace and stability.

It is significant that Israel, the only country created by UN action, was also the only member granted “conditional” membership. Admission in May 1949 was conditioned on Israeli implementation of UN resolutions 181 and 194. Resolution 181 was the resolution adopted in November 1947, favouring the partition of Palestine between Israelis and Palestinians, giving the Israelis 55 per cent of the country, the Palestinians, who were the majority, 45 per cent. Since Israel seized 78 per cent of the country during its 1948-1949 war of establishment, carrying out the terms of 181 would have meant ceding territory to the Palestinians. However, since Israel had planned to conquer as much territory as possible, it had no intention of withdrawing from areas it had occupied in violation of 181.

Resolution 194 of December 1948 called upon Israel to allow Palestinian refugees who were “prepared to live at peace with their neighbours” to return to their homes. Israel was obliged to compensate returning Palestinians for damage to their property and for the property of who chose not to return. Israel remains a UN member, although, with the connivance of the Western powers, it has ignored or blatantly violated the terms of 181, 194 and scores of other UN resolutions over the past 70 years.

As Israel’s de facto annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan in 1981 is one of these violations, Trump has now granted US “legitimacy” to this illegal act. This followed on from Trump’s illegal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and shift of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City. Under the UN partition plan, Jerusalem was meant to be a “corpus separatum” and placed under an international regime.

Israel violated the principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and the partition plan in April 1948 by seizing West Jerusalem and expelling its Palestinian population, and in 1967 by occupying and annexing East Jerusalem. UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 reiterated that principle and called on Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict”, both Syrian and Palestinian. The 1993 Oslo accord provided for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory in preparation for the emergence of a Palestinian state but Israel continued illegal colonisation and withdrew only from Gaza, which remains under Israeli domination from land, sea and air.

Although planting Israeli colonists in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories is illegal, the Trump administration decided that Israel’s expansion of its colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is not an “obstacle to peace”. Israel’s more than 220 colonies and 624,000 colonisers are certainly major obstacles. Trump’s latest decision to drop the words “Israeli occupied” when referring to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan amounts to yet another illegitimate act, as they are classified as “occupied” under international law. Trump’s dismissal of the term, deprives Palestinian East Jerusalemites, West Bankers and Syrian Golan residents of international protection.

This review of the illegalities of Israel’s actions shows just how far Trump and his officials are prepared to go in violating international law and norms to defend flagrant and constant violator Israel.

Israel, the US and the international community had an opportunity to provide partial redress to the Palestinians and Syrians following the 2002 Beirut Arab summit, which promised full Arab normalisation with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1967. Israel responded by invading the West Bank and the international community ignored the proposal.

Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights could lead to Israel’s formal annexation of the West Bank, a demand constantly put forward by the Israeli right-wing and the colonists. On the regional level, the precedent could encourage Ankara to seize more territory in north-eastern Syria, where Turkey already illegally occupies the district of Afrin in the northwest and a central triangle defined by the towns of Al Bab, Azaz and Jarablus. Furthermore, Turkey could formally annex the northern 36 per cent of Cyprus it has occupied and politically dominated since 1974. Iraqi Kurds could also be minded to attempt to reoccupy oil-rich Kirkuk and other areas they seized during the battle against Daesh in Mosul and surrounding areas. The Iraqi army and allied militias recaptured Kirkuk and the other areas in October 2017 following the Kurds’ aborted declaration of independence.

On the global level, Trump can hardly condemn and impose sanctions on Russia for returning to its rule the strategic Crimean Peninsula, which the Soviet Union gifted to Ukraine in 1954, when that country belonged to the Soviet bloc. Other territorial grabs could be expected as Trump is systematically taking a wrecking ball to the structures of international order adopted in 1945.

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