Over the past seven years, the extreme right-wing Israeli government has sought to exploit the Syrian crisis in order to legalise its annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights (occupied on 14 November 1981). Its diplomacy and lobbying efforts continued in Washington and international capitals to gain recognition by the international community of its expansion, but it did not succeed to do so, and the entire world has recognised Golan as being Syrian, through successive resolutions issued by the Security Council and the General Assembly, and other international forums.
Today, however, with the presence of a right-wing administration that fully embraces the Israeli right-wing narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel has an opportunity to renew its efforts, at least to extract an American recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights, similar to the decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital and to transfer the US Embassy from Tel Aviv. It was notable when Ambassador Nikki Haley, known for her pro-Israel positions and fierce hostility toward Palestinian and Arab issues and rights, voted against a routine resolution issued annually by the United Nations condemning Israel’s annexation of the Golan, which considers it an occupied territory protected under international resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 and 338.
This is a precedence in the pattern of US votes on resolutions of this kind and it is an indication of a change in the position of the Trump administration from the future of the Syrian plateau … It does not matter if America finds itself isolated alongside Israel, against the will of 151 countries who voted against the annexation, (there were14 abstentions). The United States’ decision on Jerusalem was also against the will of the international community and the vast majority of state members of the international community.
Sources and leaks have revealed, in previous years, an Israeli desire to make good use of the presence of an administration that is biased towards Israel’s right-wing in order to get American recognition of the annexation of the Golan. At the time sources added that the Netanyahu government spoke to the Trump administration about it but the US administration’s response to the Israeli demand was not clear, until the new vote at the UN came to reveal the American position.
Tel Aviv is optimistic about the success of its efforts, and it’s betting on two things; one is declared while the other is secret. The first thing it’s betting on is that this administration has almost completely adopted, with no conditions, Israeli demands concerning the final status issues with Palestinians, so why not adopt Israeli demands regarding the conflict with Syria: the annexation of the Golan? The hidden bet is that this administration, which is in confrontation with Moscow, Tehran and Damascus, may find such a step acceptable even if only to weaken the regime in Damascus, or exploit its weakness to close this file, and finish the so-called Rabin Deposit, in which the former Israeli prime minister pledged to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for comprehensive peace with Syria, but then negotiations got complicated after the elections in both Israel and the United States.
We can add one more thing which is still hidden: Trump and his administration may encourage Israel to withdraw or redeploy from areas in the West Bank, not including Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and West of the Separation Wall, to facilitate the presence of vital areas for Palestinians to form an entity for them that is less than a state and more than autonomy. Such a request would be viewed by Israel as a sort of painful concession that needs to be compensated not only with arms deals and extremely large sums of money as usual, but with a consolation prize the size of the Syrian Golan.
We are not yet sure whether Trump will actually agree to add the Golan to the “Deal of the Century” or not, but in light of his patterns of behaviour, specially what happened a few days ago at the United Nations, we do not rule out the possibility that his administration turning the Syrian Golan into a consolation prize for the extreme right-wing government led by Netanyahu.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 25 November 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.