March 26, 2019
Yesterday was a day of jubilation at the Trump White House, perhaps more than the Inauguration Day. Perhaps, it will be remembered as the beginning of Mr. Trump’s campaign for the 2020 presidential election. Because, the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence that Mr. Trump or any of his aides were involved in Russian government’s 2016 election interference. The conclusion of the probe is likely to lead to many foreign and security policy questions, first and foremost, the future of US relations with Russia.
And, who could possibly be the lucky foreign leader to be there on the spot to share Mr. Trump’s joy other than Prime Minister Netanyahu who cut his Washington visit short because a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, reportedly by mistake, injured seven civilians in north-east of Tel Aviv on Monday morning. The image of a leader returning home immediately to take the helm might help his election campaign, who knows.
In a message on twitter last Thursday, President Trump announced his intention to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights which he said is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and regional stability. PM Netanyahu and his political opponents immediately welcomed the announcement. In the case of the latter, they did not have a choice. And yesterday, Mr. Trump signed the proclamation formalizing his announcement. The Golan which has remained under military occupation since the Six-Day War was annexed by Israel on December 14, 1981.
President Trump and Mr. Netanyahu consider each other family. Together, they defy an irrefutable law of physics, like poles repelling each other. A recent Washington Post article said Netanyahu’s kinship with Trump has never been clearer. (*)
Mr. Trump’s decision on Golan and his hosting PM Netanyahu in Washington on Monday constitute an intervention in Israel’s April 9 election campaign. One may recall in this connection that Mr. Netanyahu, in a breach of protocol, challenged President Obama’s Iran policy before the US Congress on March 3, 2015 only two weeks before Israel’s national election and this served him extremely well at the ballot box. How Israelis would react this time remains to be seen.
Some countries, the EU have reacted to Mr. Trump’s decision which Secretary Pompeo said will “increase the opportunity for there to be stability throughout the region”. Gulf states reacted in whispers as compared to the past. The Turkish government reacted stressing respect for Syria’s territorial integrity which has become central to its failed Syria policy of eight long years. Some said the international reaction was “strong” while others called it “muted”. Regardless, some pundits have reservations about the benefits of the move to Israel as Raphael Ahren has reported in the Times of Israel. (**)
Interestingly, in his interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network Secretary Pompeo was asked, “… Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?”
And he responded, “As a Christian I certainly believe that’s possible… I am confident that the Lord is at work here.”
One may conclude, therefore, that according to Secretary Pompeo the Lord disapproves the unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 which says that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
“(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
“(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Moreover, it seems that the Lord also disapproves UNSC Resolution 497 (1981). This Resolution says Israel’s decision to annex Golan is null and void, without international legal effect and it and demands that Israel, the occupying power, should rescind forthwith its decision.
Neither President Trump’s decision nor the reaction it has provoked is likely to ignite a profound debate on broad Middle East peace until this becomes, if ever, a priority issue. Whether it means anything in the context of the Palestinian question might become clearer if and when Jared Kushner’s peace plan is made public. Is this a priority issue? It does not look like it unless Mr. Trump decides to put his signature on Middle East peace and ask for a modest price for the favors he has extended Mr. Netanyahu if the latter emerges as the victor of the upcoming Israeli election.
Beyond the Middle East, “recognizing the reality on the ground”, as Mr. Pompeo defines the Golan Heights move, will surely set an example for realities elsewhere. A question already asked is “What about Crimea?” After all, there is not even a UNSC resolution on withdrawal from Crimea.
In the same interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network Mr. Pompeo also said, “…The challenges in Syria remain. The United States intends to remain…” contradicting President Trump who had tweeted on December 20, 2018 that the US was getting out of Syria. And, throughout his recent tours of the Middle East Mr. Pompeo put the emphasis on fighting “Iran’s malign influence across the region” unsettling Iran’s neighbors, particularly Iraq which has not seen peace for the last four decades and where the Islamic State remains a threat.
In another surprise last Friday President Trump tweeted, “It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”
All of this confirms that the priority issue for the Trump White House is neither Middle East peace in its multiple dimensions nor North Korea’s nuclear program, but it is Iran.