Trump’s Golan Heights Tweet Disregards History, Law and Ethics

On March 22, 2019, President Donald Trump unceremoniously tweeted that the United States would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights. He explained that such sovereignty “is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and regional stability.” Everything about this tweet is wrong – as a matter of law, policy and fact.

The Golan Heights, located in the southwest of Syria, was seized by Israel during the 1967 War when, in the course of six days, Israel also came to control Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The United Nations, which was in session during the war, deliberated the matter for nearly six months. Controversy revolved around whether Israel should be compelled to withdraw from the Arab territories immediately or whether it could, as the Lyndon B. Johnson administration urged, be able to retain them as consideration in exchange for permanent peace. Despite Syrian and Palestinian opposition, in 1967 the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 242, which established the land-for-peace framework sought by the United States and Israel that declared that the territories would be returned in exchange for permanent peace.

The Resolution proved ineffective due to a lack of political will to establish peace together with Israel’s desire to retain the territories. The Israeli government developed this legal argument: Because no sovereign existed in the West Bank and Gaza – Egypt and Jordan never had legitimate title and Palestinians were not sovereigns – no country could claim better title to the territory than could Israel. Thus, Israeli officials argued, the West Bank and Gaza could not be occupied as a matter of law and are better described as “disputed” rather than occupied territories. This novel legal argument enabled Israel to establish legal presence as a military authority in the Palestinian territory adhering strictly to Occupation Law, most notably its proscription…

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