On Thursday, US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley, announced that she will not be abstaining, but rather voting against, a General Assembly resolution that calls Israel’s unilateral annexation (since 1981) and settlement (since 1967) of the Syrian Golan heights a flagrant violation of international law.
This would be a first, because earlier on, the US had abstained on that position, which is basically a yearly reiteration of earlier resolutions pertaining to the Syrian Golan, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Thus, as with the US embassy move to Jerusalem, legitimizing Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem (also in flagrant violation of international law), the US is now legitimizing Israel’s forceful takeover of the Syrian Golan. The US and Israel are thus openly defying the rest of the world in the UN, claiming that yet another chip in the Greater Israel plan is now Israel’s, international law be damned.
The UN Charter principle regarding the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force
The resolutions against Israel all relate to the UN Charter, its founding document in the wake of WW 2. A principle there, which has been repeated over and over again in UN Security Council resolutions regarding Israel’s 1967 occupation, is the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. This principle was central in the preamble of UNSC Resolution 242 calling upon Israel to withdraw armed forces from territories it had occupied in the 1967 war; it was repeated in UNSC Resolution 476 of 1980, which condemned Israel’s unilateral annexation of Jerusalem (de-facto from 1967, but de-jura in ‘Basic-law’ 1980) and stated that it had no legal validity and was a flagrant violation of international law; and it was again repeated in UNSC Resolution 497 (1981), which regarded Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan heights (in ‘Basic-law’) as null and void and without international legal effect.
This principle is so central, because the whole point of the UN was to ensure a post-WW 2 world wherein force would not be the determining factor of international relations.
But Israel wasn’t going to abide by international law and didn’t seem to care much if the UN Charter founding document was flouted. Israel didn’t get into the UN in order to abide by international law – it got into it in order to gain legitimacy so that it could continue violating international law, with the protection of a patron that could secure that condemnation mostly remained in words and not materialize too much in deeds.
Thus, Israel has been waiting, creating ‘facts on the ground’, in hope that at some point, these facts will be retroactively legitimized as ‘reality’. This is basically the working principle of the settler-colonialist venture which we know as Zionism.
Israeli Intelligence Minister said that recognition of Israeli control of Golan was “topping the agenda”
Already last May, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said that endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old hold on the Golan was “topping the agenda” in bilateral diplomatic talks with the US. He framed it as a supposed punishment of Iran:
“This is the perfect time to make such a move. The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognize Israel’s Golan sovereignty – with an American statement, a presidential proclamation, enshrined [in law]”.
Katz said it was only a matter of months before this materializes.
Since then, we’ve heard differing statements. Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said in August that a formal US endorsement of Israel’s control over the Golan Heights was not under discussion. However, David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel (and former personal lawyer), said the next month that he expected Israel to keep the Golan Heights “forever”.
So now it’s clear and in the open. The US will go with Friedman’s “forever” notion. No more pretending, no more ambivalence.
Israeli officials jubilant, calling resolution “despicable”
Naturally, Israeli officials were jubilant when Haley announced:
“The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights.”
And they loved her statement that
“the resolution is plainly biased against Israel”.
This is a classical Israeli hasbara point, that the UN is biased against Israel and that it is singling it out for condemnation. Thus, Israeli Public Security and Hasbara Minister Gilad Erdan called Haley’s statement and position “extremely important”. Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon called the resolution “despicable” and added:
“It is time the world distinguishes those who stabilise the region from those who sow terror”.
Haley retweeted Dannon’s message.
Of course, it is unthinkable that the US is biased towards Israel.
The resolution itself
So let’s look at that resolution. The basic text is known as “The occupied Syrian Golan”, here retrieved from the 2005 version:
“Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the relevant resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan, in particular Security Council resolution 497 (1981); also calls upon Israel to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and in particular to desist from the establishment of settlements; determines that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken or to be taken by Israel, that purport to alter the character and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan are null and void, constitute a flagrant violation of international law and of the Geneva Convention and have no legal effect; calls upon Israel to desist from imposing Israeli citizenship and Israeli identity cards on the Syrian citizens; deplores the violations by Israel of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protections of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 Aug. 1949; calls once again upon Member States not to recognize any of the legislative or administrative measures and actions referred to above; requests the Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly at its 60th session on the implementation of the present resolution.”
This is the “biased” and “despicable” resolution, according to Haley and Dannon.
The history of Israel overtaking the Syrian Golan
Israel has long claimed that the 1967 war was a defensive war. But statements from many Israeli officials contradict this. Israel started the war with an attack on Egypt, as even Prime Minister Menahem Begin admitted outright in 1982:
“In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President Gamal abdel Nasser] was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
The Israeli deliberations, as Defense Minister Moshe Dayan also revealed in his memoirs, were essentially concerning how to lie about it – whether it should be a big or a small lie. The big lie meant a concocted scenario in which the Egyptians would be the ones who fired the first shot, opened with an aerial and ground attack “in which we returned fire, and that is how the war began”. He opposed that plan, because “every lie will be found out in the end and could have serious consequences”, and this would “waste the moral and just setting of our actions”.
The small lie, which Dayan preferred, was:
“Right after the aerial attack, there will be a general announcement that won’t go into details and won’t say anything about who attacked first – something along the lines of ‘Hostilities broke out,’ and then the background that made it necessary for Israel to break the noose.”
Nasser was actually showing muscle in solidarity with Syria, with which he had an agreement, responding to signs and information indicating that an Israeli war with Syria might be imminent.
The battle with Syria came on the fourth day of the war. It was initiated by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, when he went behind the back of Prime Minister Levy-Eshkol as well as the whole cabinet. Dayan gave the directive straight to Chief of Northern Command David Elazar in the morning, although the matter had been left undecided in an evening cabinet meeting.
In a later interview in 1976, Dayan revealed the motivations to go to war with Syria in a rather unfettered manner. The interview only came to light in 1997 (in the Israeli Yediot Aharonot and translated in New York Times). Here, Dayan tells how the clashes with Syria preceding the war started:
”I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was”.
Dayan explained that the real motive behind the provocations and the subsequent conquest was actually just greed – greed for the land:
”The kibbutzim there saw land that was good for agriculture,” he said. ”And you must remember, this was a time in which agricultural land was considered the most important and valuable thing.”
The interviewer was wondering whether there really was no ‘security’ issue here. ”So all the kibbutzim wanted was land?” he asked.
Dayan, while confirming that they of course “wanted the Syrians to get out of their face”, nevertheless said:
“I can tell you with absolute confidence, the delegation that came to persuade Eshkol to take the heights was not thinking of these things. They were thinking about the heights’ land. Listen, I’m a farmer, too. After all, I’m from Nahalal, not from Tel Aviv, and I know about it. I saw them, and I spoke to them. They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land.”
Dayan made it very clear that the Syrians were not a threat a threat to Israel:
”You don’t strike at the enemy because he is a bastard, but because he threatens you. And the Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.”
Israel ethnically cleanses most of the Syrian inhabitants
Israel ethnically cleansed the Syrian Golan of all but about 6,000 of its original 130,000 Syrian inhabitants, and destroyed about 200 villages there. It has allowed Druze inhabitants to remain, apparently in order not to upset relations with the Druze in Israel, a community which is generally loyal to Israel. Nowadays, there are just over 20,000 Israeli settlers in the Golan, and a similar number of Syrian Druze. The Golan seems to feature much less prominently in international awareness, as it involves much less overt current clashes in comparison to those which we see in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, and the whole context of this being an occupation of Syrian territory means that it is not directly connected in awareness to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. This is the kind of occupation that Israel would very much prefer – “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”, as is the motto of ‘liberal centrist’ Israeli lawmaker Yair Lapid. In this case, the “minimum Palestinians” actually means “minimum Syrians”.
Israel has promoted settlement in the Golan, including its ‘capital’ which is the town of Katzrin, numbering over 7,000, which Golda Meir’s government decided to establish in the wake of the 1967 war (official government decision in 1973 and establishment in 1977).
Other, more agricultural forms of settlement have preceded Katzrin, and go to make the Golan’s 30 Israeli settlements – including kibbutzim. Last year, in the context of Israeli celebrations of “50 years of settlement in the Golan”, kibbutz movement secretary Nir Meir said: “The thousand kibbutzniks living in the Golan are no less a part of our movement than the ones making arguments against them”.
He was responding to critique about these people being occupiers. Meir boasted further:
“The very first settlements on the Golan were kibbutzim and we’re not ashamed of that. In fact, we’re very proud. Settlement in the Golan was never controversial, and the attempts to generate controversy are irrelevant now that Syria has ceased to exist and there is no partner on the other side.”
Syria turmoil and oil
Meir’s treatment of turmoil in Syria as “Syria has ceased to exist” appears to be the context by which Israel and the US seek to legitimize Israel’s acquisition of territory by force, in flagrant violation of international law. The claim is essentially similar to the classical old Zionist propaganda of “a people without a land for a land without a people.” If Syria “doesn’t exist,” just like Palestine “didn’t exist”, if the Syrian inhabitants are largely evaporated from existence by ethnic cleansing like the Palestinians were, then it becomes easier to say that there’s no one over there anyway, what’s the big fuss.
And there’s oil. In 2013, Afek, a local subsidiary of the US based Genie Energy, got a license for an exploratory oil drilling in the Golan, to determine existence and viability of future oil drills there. In 2015 Afek declared that it found an oil reservoir, and in 2016 the company was given a green light for further drillings.
Afek’s CEO is himself a settler in the Golan, former lawmaker Effie Eitam. The ultra-nationalist religious settler is genocidal. When he was Housing Minister in Ariel Sharon’s government in 2004, he opined that Palestinians are “creatures who came out of the depths of darkness” and that “we will have to kill them all”.
It may be completely incidental that Eitam is the one drilling oil in the Golan. And maybe he even regards Syrians as humans, as opposed to Palestinians. It may be completely incidental that there are oil interests in the Golan, and that Nikki Haley now votes in favor of Israel keeping the Syrian territory. But there’s a logic here, and it’s hard to ignore it. Israel has now gotten its golden chance to have its takeover of occupied territories openly legitimized, by a US government that is swaggering in its support of Israel and Zionism, and which shows unabashed contempt for international law.
US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a one step. This endorsement of Israel’s annexation of Syrian territory is another. If it keeps going like this, there’s no reason why the US won’t endorse an Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank. Before we know it, Trump’s US will not only make America great again, but also Israel.