President Trump’s recent announcement recognising Israel’s annexation of the occupied Golan Heights, which triggered outrage throughout the Middle East and condemnation around the world, had its thunder stolen by Sunday as Americans held their breath before the expected release that day of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Yet the announcement’s shattering implications did not pass unnoticed, for it effectively codified Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territory, reversed decades-old core US policy tenets, breached international law, put Washington at odds with most of its allies — not to mention the UN, which sees Israel’s 1981 annexation as illegal — and bilked the Syrian people, in a seemingly cavalier fashion, of a large swath of their national territory.
Let it not be said that we’ve not been there before.
“President Trump has just made history,” Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu gloated. “I called him. I thanked him ... He did it again!”
The adverb here refers to the US recognition in December 2017 of occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a recognition extended in an equally cavalier fashion.
And last Monday, in a red carpet, high-profile visit to the White House, the Israeli prime minister was received in the Oval Office by the president of the United States, who then and there formalised the transfer of sovereignty over the Golan Heights to the Israeli entity.
This is likely to encourage right-wing, expansionist-leaders in Israel, who are today clearly ascendant there. Well, it seems a precedent has been set, twice over.
New world order myth
One would have imagined that we live in a different world order from that, say, a century or so ago, when little nations were seen as sand to be ground under the wheels of big powers, and their people seen as cogs whose destiny could be regrouped, against their pleas and behind their backs, in pursuit of some strategic interest.
In our part of the world, the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917) would attest to how, in those days, with the mere flick of a finger or the stroke of a pen, these powers felt omnipotent enough to do just that.
Those days, however, were those days. Surely, you will agree, the times have changed. Ours is a new world order where international law is global law, human rights are universal, the territorial integrity of little nations is guaranteed, and, above all, humanity is expected not only to be possessed of reason but also guided by it.
In today’s canon of diplomatic norms you cannot, say, condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the Ukraine but condone Israel’s annexation of the Golan in Syria.
If appears that the Trump administration wants to play footsie with Netanyahu, by putting a finger on the scale in his favour. That’s between it and the Israeli prime minister, who badly needs its help to be re-elected to a fifth term in office. But it is not decent, moral or fair-minded to do it at the cost of giving away, with such impressive ease, the Syrian people’s national Golan Heights — incidentally, a 690-square-mile plateau blessed with lush land and abundant water resources — territory that had been part of their patrimony since time immemorial.
Nor is it plausible to expect people in our part of the world to make sense of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim, made while visiting the Middle East last week, that “God put Donald Trump in office to protect Israel”.
Insinuating theology into politics, I say, is like insinuating mysticism into logic, mysticism being a discipline, as Cardinal John Newman once quipped, that begins in mist and ends in schism.
The end result of the administration’s distressing Golan decision, as had been its decision on Jerusalem, was to poison the wells all around. Yet that administration is telling us that it is all to the good for America and Americans. Really?
Reminds one of Phil Lester, the wildly popular 32-year-old lad from Lancashire, who is noted for the pithy observations he comes up with on his weekly Sunday show on BBC Radio.
“Just picked up a black pair of scissors thinking they were my glasses,” he once bantered. “That definitely would’ve enhanced my eyesight.”
In short, America needs to chill out.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.