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Israel suffers 'significant blow' as Biden administration walks back on Trump's Golan Heights policy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) holds a proclamation signed by US President Donald Trump recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 14 April, 2019 [RONEN ZVULUN/AFP/Getty Images]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) holds a proclamation signed by US President Donald Trump recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 14 April, 2019 [RONEN ZVULUN/AFP/Getty Images]

The Biden administration has hinted that it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in a policy reversal viewed as a "significant blow" to the occupation state. The south-western Syrian territory was seized by Israel's war of aggression in 1967 but its sovereignty over the region has never been recognised by the international community. Annexation and territorial conquest are forbidden under international law.

However, former US President Donald Trump, seen by many as the most pro-Israeli American leader in the country's history, recognised the Zionist state's sovereignty over the Golan heights in 2019. Ecstatic by the decision, the Israeli's named an illegal settlement in the area "Trump Heights", to honor the 75-year-old whose last days in office were mired in controversy.

Trump's recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights was in addition to a series of steps taken by his administration that violated the international consensus, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel, and giving Netanyahu the green light to expand settlements, which are all considered illegal under international law.

Until now the Biden administration has avoided speaking plainly about its position on the status of Golan Heights. Secretary of State Antony Blinken first raised the question in February, when he would not say if the State Department continues to abide by the former administration's decision. At the time, Blinken would only say that the Golan Heights "remains of real importance to Israel's security," but that its formal status remains unclear.

Recently the Washington Free Beacon pressed the Biden administration on the matter. In response, a State Department official said the territory belongs to no one and control could change depending on the region's ever-shifting dynamics.

"The secretary was clear that, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel's security," a State Department official told the Free Beacon. "As long as [Bashar Al-Assad] is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself—all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan remains of real importance to Israel's security."

The above statement is seen as being a long way short of recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the territory. Acknowledging Israel's control as a "practical matter", is said to fall far short of the formal policy change ordered by the Trump administration, which became the first government to recognise Israel's complete control over the territory.

The comments have triggered a backlash with many viewing it as a policy reversal. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was central to US policy change on Golan Heights, accused the current administration of jeopardising Israel's security. The 57-year-old is an Evangelical Christian. A key tenet of their faith is the idea that God promised the land to the Jews, and that the gathering of Jews in Israel is foretold in the prophecy of the rapture — the ascent of Christians into the kingdom of God.

Others within the Republican party are seeking to pass legislation recognising Israeli sovereignty over occupied Golan Heights.

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