U.S. Subverts Peace and Israel by Affirming Land Grabs

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- President Donald Trump’s proclamation on Monday recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights sends Israel a clear and dangerous message: If you want land, annex it, and eventually it shall be yours.

That departure from U.S. and international norms will weaken both Israeli and Arab incentives to seek peace.

By rebooting American expectations, the Trump administration is revising Israeli calculations. For Israeli annexationists, the sky is now the limit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by people in his own Likud party and among his coalition partners who favor annexing parts of the West Bank, notably the areas on the western side of a separation wall built since 2002 along with major settlement blocs and the Jordan River valley.

Last year, Likud endorsed the de facto annexation of many Israeli settlements. So did the Knesset before being restrained by cooler heads, including Netanyahu himself.

Whoever wins the upcoming Israeli election, the drive towards annexation in the West Bank is likely to pick up speed. What argument is left against it?

Until now, that argument was decisively made by history and international law.

In the early 1980s, Israel effectively annexed first East Jerusalem and then the Golan Heights, which it had seized from Syria in the 1967 war. The administration of President Ronald Reagan pushed back, joining the rest of the international community in rejecting those claims and upholding the principal enshrined in the United Nations charter of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.

Every subsequent administration has done the same. Until now.

For Palestinians, there can now be no doubt that the U.S. government has signed on to the expansionist ambitions of Greater Israel advocates on the Israeli right.

That’s in conflict with the principle that the U.S. has upheld since the 1993 Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, which stipulated that any territorial adjustments to the 1949 armistice lines had to be mutually agreed.

With the Oslo framework discarded, Palestinians have no reason to hope they can win their independence through negotiations with Israel.

Violent factions like Hamas will be strengthened despite the bitter Palestinian history of military defeats.

Also emboldened will be the “one-state” movement that seeks to unite Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a single nation where Palestinians would enjoy demographic dominance (the combined population of those regions is already more than half Palestinian). The goal would be to discredit and eventually eliminate the Jewish state as an example of minority rule comparable to the apartheid system once used in South Africa.

Annexationist Israelis seem comfortable with the same trajectory. Both sides are convinced they can win a demographic battle that will more likely yield a bitter stalemate.

U.S. recognition of Israeli expansion is also likely to backfire against Israel itself by straining its emerging partnership with Arab countries, especially U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is relying on cooperation with those countries against Iran and, increasingly, Turkey, as a basis for new approaches to Palestinian peace.

I was in Riyadh in May 2018, when the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and the consternation of Saudi officials was unmistakable.

Now, the Arab world, including the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt, is united in rejecting Monday’s Golan proclamation. Arab leaders consider the U.S. move to be a gift to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and other radical groups in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s bitter statement went far beyond what would be required to satisfy Arab political correctness on this matter.

Trump justified his Golan declaration on the grounds of Israel’s security. The Saudi statement flings that logic back at him and raises the stakes. “The declaration,” the Saudi statement correctly notes, “will risk the security and stability of the region.” 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

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