On 21 March 2019, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that the time had come for the United States to ‘fully recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights’. He followed that tweet by signing a Presidential Proclamation on 25 March, formally recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Heights. For years this territory was seen as a bargaining chip by both Israel and the international community, which could be used to implement a peace deal between Syria and Israel. As Iran’s influence continued to grow in nearby Damascus, however, the Israeli Government began to lobby for this recognition. President Trump’s decision has gone against decades of US foreign policy, as well as against the stance of the United Nations, which has rejected Israel’s occupation of the territory since it was captured from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967.
Mr Trump’s proclamation was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it also met almost zero international support. All 28 members of the European Union and several Gulf States have rejected the notion. Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon are all opposed to it and stand by their position that the Golan Heights is Syrian territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. For decades, the US concurred with most of the international community in that it viewed the Golan Heights as occupied territory. Since Trump took office, however, a series of moves has radically re-shaped the United States’ involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict; this proclamation is just the latest example.
The issue of the sovereignty of the Golan Heights lay dormant for a long period of time, with Syrian forces making no attempt to take back the land since 1973. Former US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, is concerned that this was an unnecessary proclamation that could inflame a previously inactive issue. It raises the possibility that it could embolden other leaders who have seized territory in violation of international norms. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin could use this proclamation as justification for Russia’s annexation of Crimea or Israel could possibly go further and use it to justify a future annexation of the West Bank.