ANALYSIS: Why the world got Israel's Golan sovereignty all wrong

Israel and the US agree that the transfer of the plateau is no longer negotiable due to the changed situation in Syria.

Yochanan Visser ,

Paratrooper praying on Golan Heights
Paratrooper praying on Golan Heights
Flash 90

The recent recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights by the US government of President Donald Trump has led to a predictable series of condemnations.

As we will see these condemnations are based on distortions of international law and refuse to take in account the radically changed situation in Syria.

All European Union countries and the UN Security Council rejected Trump's decision, while the Arab League slammed the measure at a meeting in Tunis last weekend.

The League called Trump’s decision “absolutely worthless, invalid and illegitimate” and “affirmed that the Golan is occupied Syrian territory according to international law, the decisions of the United Nations and the Security Council".

The EU pointed to UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 497, referred to “international law” and said in a statement that it rejected Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. The EU, furthermore, claimed t Israel had forcibly annexed the mountainous plateau.

Frederica Mogherini, the EU Commissioner for Foreign Policy, claimed in Tunis that Israeli sovereignty over the Golan was "not a solution."

Mogherini didn’t make clear which other solution for the Golan she envisioned now that Syrian tyrant Bashar al- Assad has consolidated his presidency with Russian and Iranian assistance and is threatening to use force in order to ‘liberate’ the Golan Heights.

Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett harshly criticized the EU and said the organization should be ashamed.

Bennet pointed to the fact that the Golan Heights were part of Jewish heritage long before the establishment of the modern state of Israel and suggested that Israel stop ‘defending’ Europe against radical Islam.

He referred to the numerous terrorist attacks that Israel prevented in Europe by providing adequate intelligence on planned atrocities to European security services.

A closer look at Israel’s claim on the Golan makes it clear the EU has it all wrong and is once again showing its anti-Israel bias.

UN Security Council resolution 242 was adopted after the end of the Six-Day War in 1967 and dealt, among other things, with Israel's defensible borders and its right to live in peace.

This is what the resolution says about secure defensible borders and the right to live in peace:

“Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

The resolution, furthermore, called upon Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in recent conflict.”

Note that resolution 242 didn’t use the word “the” or “all” when it called upon Israel to withdraw from territories it conquered during the 1967 Six Day War.

If we now take a look at the situation before 1967, we see that the then-existing 1949 armistice line on the Golan posed a direct threat to the security of civilians in north-east Israel.

Israeli villages and kibbutzim near the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret in Hebrew) were terrorized for years by the Syrian army, a fragrant violation of the 1949 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria.

The geographic position of the armistice line made Israel extremely vulnerable to shelling from Syria since the Golan Heights overlook the Hulah Valley and the strip of land next to the lake that houses Kibbutz Ein Gev and Kibbutz Haon.

Israel, furthermore, conquered the Golan in a war of defense after initial Syrian aggression. It was Syria that attacked Israel and not the other way around.

It would be a novelty in world history and the history of the laws of war if the international community demanded that an aggressor be entitled to restitution of areas lost to those it attacked.

Writing for the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, Ambassador Alan Baker quoted Stephen Schwebel, former judge in the International Court of Justice, who wrote the following:

“[Regarding] the Golan Heights, it follows that no weight shall be given to conquest, but that such weight shall be given to defensive action as is reasonably required to ensure that such Arab territory will not again be used for aggressive purposes against Israel.”

Baker also wrote that Syria “cannot claim a bona fide right to claim back” the Golan Heights as an aggressor which after an offensive war consistently refused all efforts to make peace for over half a century.

The fact that Syria used the Golan Heights as “a launching path for ongoing aggression and violation of its commitments in the 1949 Armistice Agreement and against Israel’s sovereignty, including by hosting and sponsoring terrorist groups and committing acts of violence and bombardment of Israel’s northern towns, villages, and farming communities” gave Israel the right to conquer the Golan Heights and to exercise its right to self defense, according to Baker.

The fact that Iran repeatedly has already used force against Israel from Syrian soil in order to ‘liberate’ not only the Golan Heights but the whole of Israel makes Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the mountainous plateau “logical and necessary” Baker concluded.

Aside from this there is the fact that Israel has a better claim on the Golan Heights than Syria, which only administered the area for 21 years.

Present-day Syria is a country formed by the colonial powers England and France under the so-called Sykes-Picot agreement from 1917. Under this agreement, the Middle East was divided into newly formed and existing states that came under French and British rule after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

France did not give the Golan Heights to Syria until 1946, which historically had not been the owner of the plateau.

So who owned the Golan before the establishment of the state of Israel?

The area was for centuries in the hands of the Ottoman Empire and in 1923 became a part of the French mandate under the so-called Paulet-Newcombe agreement. In 1946 France decided to hand over control to the newly formed Arab Republic of Syria which administered the area until the Six Day War in 1967.

Before the Ottomans occupied the area, the Golan was in the hands of Arab Muslims who violently added it to the first Caliphate. The Caliph who took the Golan by force was Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb who lived from the year 584 to 644.

Prior to the Muslim occupation, other illegal occupiers such as the Romans took possession of the Golan Heights.

When we go further back, we will see that the Golan was part of ancient Israel.

The Hebrew Bible, tells us that the Golan was the scene of wars between the Israelites and the Aramaic kingdom that had its capital in Damascus, Syria.

Bashan is the name that the Bible uses for the Golan and the area was assigned to the tribe of Menashe.

The city of Gamla on the Golan Heights was later the site of a major battle between the Israelites and the Romans which was described by Jewish historian Josephus Flavius who deserted to the Roman camp.

Since Israel conquered the Golan Heights in 1967, 25 synagogues have been excavated and these excavations delivered evidence that the Jewish presence continued until the Umar Muslims conquered the area in 636.

The Jewish presence on the Golan was restored in 1886 when the Bnei Yehuda community bought a plot of land four kilometers away from current moshav Keshet.

The Bnei Yehuda Jews later also bought land near Kibbutz Ein Gev while other groups of Jews purchased land that is now part of the Syrian Golan Heights.

Jewish history on the Golan is, furthermore, explained in a museum in the town of Katzrin on the Golan Heights and covers the period after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Since the beginning of the nineties of the last century Israeli governments tried to attempt reaching a peace agreement with Syria whereby a large part, but not the entire Golan, would be returned to Syria.

The talks ended up being unsuccessful due to maximalist demands by the Syrian government and both Israel and the US now say that the transfer of the plateau is no longer negotiable due to the changed situation in Syria.

Iran is constantly trying to approach the Israeli border on the Golan Heights, and the area has already seen cross-border rocket attacks which were organized by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

A White House official said on Monday that Trump’s decision is of “critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and the stability of the Middle East”.

"To allow the Golan Heights to be controlled by the likes of the Syrian and Iranian regimes would turn a blind eye to the threats emanating from a Syrian regime that engages in atrocities and from Iran and terrorist actors, including Hezbollah, seeking to use the Golan Heights as a launching ground for attacks on Israel,” the official told the Washington Free Beacon.




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