Trump’s Golan pledge draws Mideast anger

A file photo taken on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on July 18, 2013 shows a United Nations peacekeeper sitting in a watchtower near the Quneitra crossing in the demilitarized United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) zone. — AFP

Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — US President Donald Trump’s pledge to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights was met with anger, rejection and skepticism in the Gulf countries, the Middle East and the Western capitals.

Reacting to the development, the Gulf Cooperation Council expressed regret on Friday at the Trump’s call.

Trump’s statement “will not change the reality that (...) the Arab Golan Heights is Syrian land occupied by Israel by military force in 1967,” said Abdul Latif Al-Zayani, the GCC secretary general. “The statements by the American president undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

The Arab League said Trump’s comments were “completely outside international law”.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said lasting peace in the region requires Israel to withdraw from all Arab territories it occupies, including the Golan.

Egypt urged “respect (for) legitimate international resolutions and the United Nations Charter on the unacceptability of land appropriation by force”.

Condemning the move, Moscow warned the policy U-turn could spark new conflicts.

“Such appeals can considerably destabilize an already tense situation in the Middle East,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“Hopefully it will remain (just) a call.”

Any such move would break with UN Security Council resolutions and with more than half a century of US foreign policy, which treated the Golan as occupied territory whose future would be negotiated in talks with Syria on a comprehensive peace.

The territory’s return has always been a key Syrian national demand, championed by government and rebels alike throughout the bloody civil war that has ripped the country apart since 2011.

In an angry retort, the Syrian government said Trump’s comments disregarded international law.

“The American position towards Syria’s occupied Golan Heights clearly reflects the United States’ contempt for international legitimacy and its flagrant violation of international law,” a foreign ministry source told the official SANA news agency.

Trump’s comments showed the extent of his administration’s “blind bias” toward Israel.

“The Golan was and will remain Arab and Syrian,” the source said.

The foreign ministry sent a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, urging him to reiterate the UN’s rejection of Israeli claims over the Golan, SANA said.

Turkey said the change risked plunging the region into a “new crisis”.

“We will never allow the occupation of Golan Heights to be made legitimate,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted he was “shocked by @realDonaldTrump continuing to try to give what is not his to racist Israel.”

And France added its voice to the chorus of outrage, saying the Golan had been “occupied by Israel since 1967” and it did not recognize Israel’s annexation.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election next month, swiftly thanked Trump for his announcement.

“At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the right-wing prime minister wrote on Twitter.

Leon Panetta, a veteran Democrat who served as CIA director and defence secretary among other roles, blasted Trump for “tweeting out another policy that obviously has not been worked out with our international partners”.

The Golan move is Trump’s latest diplomatic bombshell as he seeks to redraw the fraught Middle East in Israel’s favor.

In 2017, Trump went against decades of practice in recognizing the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rather than the previously accepted Tel Aviv. — With input from agencies