By Ben Evansky
Published March 21, 2019
President Trump on Thursday tweeted his support for the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but like his move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump's decision is at odds with United Nations resolutions and likely won't bode well with U.S. critics at the world body.
Trump tweeted, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
Israel captured the strategically important Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. Israeli officials have argued Iran’s growing military footprint and influence in Syria has made the Syrian side of the divide a growing security threat given Tehran’s continued threats to annihilate Israel.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon wrote, "We are at the beginning of a historic moment for the State of Israel. President Trump once again proves the strength of the alliance between the US and Israel. The time has come for the world to recognize that the Golan Heights is an inseparable part of the State of Israel."
A spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded with no comment when asked for reaction to Trump’s tweet.
Last month Guterres’ Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen was dismissive when asked about a push by Congress to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. He told reporters, “Obviously the Security Council is very clear that Golan is Syrian territory.”
Under former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law in 1981 that officially annexed the Golan Heights. Begin cited serious security threats from Syria including the threat of missile attacks. Days later the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that condemned the move, adding to its resolution 242 of 1967 that called for the removal of Israeli forces from its recently conquered territory during the Six-Day War.
U.N Security Council Resolution 497 from 1981 stated in part “that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of international law at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., and director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, told Fox News the resolution, “is not binding and has no legal force; it was merely a statement of the Council’s opinion. The U.S. has a sovereign right to disagree.”
Kontorovich, who has advised senior members of the U.S. administration on the Golan Heights, praised what he described as Trump’s courage. “Only a clear statement that the Golan is part of Israel can deter Iranian and Syrian attempts to challenge Israel’s control. While American politicians of all stripes claim they support Israel’s control of the Golan, most lacked the courage to translate this into the necessary diplomatic language of sovereignty - until Pres. Trump.”
In February, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas were joined by Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin as the lawmakers introduced bills in both chambers that would establish Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as official U.S. policy. In a joint statement Thursday, the lawmakers applauded Trump’s tweet while warning of the serious security threats posed by Iran.
"At a time when Israel's northern border is threatened by Iranian forces and their proxies in Lebanon and Syria, including by Hezbollah's rockets, armed drones, and newly discovered terror tunnels, this recognition will be great news for our ally and its right to self-defense. More work remains to be done to align American policy with today's recognition. We look forward to advancing our bicameral legislation on the Golan Heights which acknowledges Israel's sovereignty over its territory, streamlines Congressional language, and expands the basis for joint projects on the issue."
A senior Republican congressional staffer scoffed when asked about possible U.N. criticism. “The United Nations operates in a parallel universe where they make things up so they can demonize Israel. That’s nice, but we prefer to exist in actual reality, and anyway the United States makes our own decisions with respect to issues of sovereignty. We didn't care when the U.N. threw their temper tantrum over recognizing the reality of Israel's capital of Jerusalem and we're not going to care when they have fainting spells this time either.”
Trump’s tweet came ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned visit next week to the White House.
In January, Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari blamed the Security Council for its inaction on what he said was Israeli aggression against his country. He noted that his country would work to restore its sovereignty by “all means possible.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.