This week the American President Donald Trump declared that the USA recognizes that the Golan Heights is a legitimate part of the State of Israel. It was momentous on many fronts.
The border between Israel and Syria is on the eastern flank of the Golan Heights. In 1967 Israel was attacked in the”Six-Day” war by Syrian force. In the process of defending itself, Israel by force had to occupy the land from which they were assaulted. It has always been important strategic land from many perspectives. From the high elevation in Syrian hands , Israel could be easily monitored and shot upon. With the Golan Heights under Israeli control, this ceased and the nation no longer needed to fear Syrian access to the Sea of Galilee. The Kineret (its Hebrew name) holds most of Israel’s critical water supply. It is not unusual, historically for land to be acquired as a result of an aggression. Wars often result in the victorious country assuming control of such territory. It has occurred all over the world. Borders changed constantly throughout Europe as the result of World Wars I and II. Only Israel was expected to return land from which it was attacked in unwarranted conflict.
How many of us remember large banners hanging from buildings around Israel which read “Ha Am Em Ha Golan” [ The people are with the Golan] ? Cars were plastered with stickers with the same message. Rallies were held in city squares to support those who had settled in the Golan Heights. Those were the days when left-wing parties within the State of Israel were suggesting that the return of the Golan Heights to Syria would create a permanent peace on that border. It was only the “extremists” of the right at that time who saw the perpetual danger of allowing the Syrians to once again be so close to Israeli populations that they would place Israel at risk once more. It was an emotional time within Israel. Left and right were more divided than they are today. They had not yet experienced the disillusioning aftermath of ceding Israeli’s precious-little land (as they did with Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula ) to their Arab neighbors in the desperate hope that peace would ensue. Illusions are now shattered in that regard.
Fast forward to the current crises in Syria. On February 26, 2016, I published an article in the Jerusalem Post entitled: “Israel asked to be a “good neighbor.” In that article, I reported the request of the Syrian opposition for Israel to open her borders to allow busloads of Syrians to be transported to Haifa in hundreds (if not thousands) of buses, to be placed on boats to be transported elsewhere in the world to get away from the Syrian fighting. It was not at all clear who might be willing to receive such a massive population of Syrians. Israel could not take the risk that those busloads would ever arrive in Haifa, and the idea of hundreds of thousands of Syrians within Israeli borders was inconceivable to the Israeli government. The request did not come to fruition. Israel’s population was kept safe once again. Instead, the refugees flooded Europe and changed the face of that continent for eternity.
Even the United Nations which seems hell-bent on Israel’s deprecation and damnation passed UN Resolution 242 which called for “Safe and recognized boundaries from threats or acts of force.” Without the Golan Heights in Israeli hands, there is no doubt that the Syrian war would have entered Israel with a vengeance. With the land mass as a physical separation, Israel was able to survive unscathed from the conflict.
Those who question President Trump’s choice of the timing of a proclamation that the U.S. accepts that the Golan Heights rightfully belongs to the State of Israel, cannot doubt his intention to help to strengthen Israel in the International community. His timing was impeccable and some say it will ensure Prime Minister Netanyahu’s re-election. It was surely not accidental that the announcement came just days after the opinion polls showing Netanyahu’s popularity rising, and the Ganz-Lapid party declining in potential Knesset seats in the upcoming election. What needs to be remembered is that Trump has been a close friend of Netanyahu for a very long time. Their political visions are “ in sync.” They see Democratic nations as having very real enemies… Syria and Iran being among the worst in the pack. Trump has employed the power of the Presidency to empower the one nation in the Middle East that reflects his values. Moments like this change the course of history. Israel’s enemies will remain as such, but changing the discourse is valuable. As each of these peripheral controversies is resolved, the region is left with the really critical issues to reconcile.
Trump’s disdain for the United Nations and its sick obsession against Israel has brought him to moments in time which are outside of normal political processes. This is what the American people voted for… a man of action and commitment. It is critical to separate the man’s motives and his actions from the hype and showmanship. He is not really as complicated or unpredictable as many would have us believe.
Whilst the United States under Trump is concerned about the Israeli elections, there is no indication of any direct effort to participate in demeaning any of the candidates. This by the way, is unlike the efforts under Bill Clinton’s presidency during which his own Public Relations team headed by James Carville magically appeared to run the campaign of Ehud Barak to ensure his election against Benjamin Netanyahu. This was critical to President Clinton and the State Department as they believed it would allow the opportunity for the implementation of the Oslo accords of 1993. brought into existence with the help of Yitzhak Rabin. His subsequent murder left a political void in Israel that America needed filled with the “right candidate”. The murky waters of that campaign’s funding through illegal “amoutot” (charities) headed by Barak’s friends and family members was a scandal that was never fully revealed as all involved refused to testify. So, if in the current case of the outstanding relationship between Trump and Netanyahu, POTUS has used this moment in time to boost the possibility of a Netanyahu re-election… with the announcement of the recognition of the Golan Heights as legitimate Israeli territory…. It is a minor assist in the historic scheme of election interferences by the United States.
If one looks at the current political environment which both Trump and Netanyahu are enduring, one cannot avoid seeing the similarities of the scathing attacks they both encounter in spite of the outstanding international leadership they have both provided. Their personal friendship is based on much more than the acquisition of power. The Netanyahu-Trump relationship is clearly a product of a similar vision for the future of a Middle East which includes a thriving Israel- a nation which will continue on its path towards security and ultimate survival.