Israel has chosen to finalize the annexation of the Golan Heights under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The United States, in turn, has chosen to recognize the annexation of the Golan Heights under the leadership of President Donald Trump. Seized in 1967 from Syria during the Six-Day War, Israel’s prolonged occupation of the territory has meant a de facto annexation, but the move solidifies Israel’s intention to seize the territory of another country under the guise of security concerns. Quite frankly, the official annexation of the Golan Heights, coupled with US support, is an attempt to legitimize the theft of a population’s territory. Despite the reality that Syria is a failed state lacking true sovereignty, Netanyahu’s decision is akin to Russia’s 2014 seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea with far-reaching implications for the US, Israel, and the International Community.
Faced with a damning corruption probe and one of the most daunting reelection challenges of his political career, the move can easily be interpreted as yet another effort on behalf of Benjamin Netanyahu to rally his far-Right political base to his defense. Although a lack of criticism from Washington is expected when it comes to Israel, Trump’s decision to buck established US foreign policy and support the annexation of an occupied territory violates modern international norms. While it can easily be interpreted as the US President pandering to his far-Right base and lending the embattled Prime Minister political support, which would mean a US political leader was colluding with an Israeli political leader to interfere in an Israeli election, the move certainly threatens America’s moral authority on the global stage as well as Israel’s survival.
When Russia seized and annexed Crimea, the United States under the leadership of Barack Obama stood by Ukraine and against Russia. It was a position that showed support for Ukraine’s rights as a sovereign nation. It also sent a powerful message to the International Community: even the weakest of nations have rights and world powers cannot simply ignore those rights, even if there are legitimate security concerns, which Russian officials used to defend their actions. In response, Russia sought to use events like the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan to frame the US as nothing more than a hypocrite. In doing so, the Putin government was hoping to legitimatize its actions and rally critics against America. Trump’s decision to support Netanyahu’s official annexation of the Golan Heights reinforces that narrative.
Unfortunately, the US has a number of detractors that will use each and every wrongdoing of each and every US leader to condemn America. Fortunately, Trump is both disliked on the international stage and regarded as a failure of the US political system. If he is replaced by a more agreeable President in the 2020 Presidential Election, most world leaders are likely to view Trump’s unsavory decisions as personal trespasses, not serious US policy shifts. The American People are also likely to disregard Trump policies they find disagreeable once he is out of office. Consequently, the impact of Trump’s support for Netanyahu’s more radical policies is likely to be temporary in the eyes of those the United States needs to cooperate with. The problem for the US and International Community is that Trump’s policies encourage other states to violate international norms with impunity while they undermine the sovereignty of all nations too weak to defend their rights.
For Israel, the situation is far more dire. Quite frankly, Israel has never been able to enforce its own sovereignty. It has relied on US support to prevent its collapse and the invasion of its territory. Israel’s survival, as well as its ability to thrive, depends upon its ability to make progress with its Islamic neighbors. The Peoples of the Middle East are globalizing in terms of developing a far-reaching Muslim identity while they are also democratizing in terms of demanding far more responsive governance. In practice, this means more and more individuals throughout the region see those under the rule of Israel as their mistreated brothers. The overly aggressive, uncompromising Israeli government and People are seen as the enemy of the Middle East. As the Muslim Peoples unite, they are going to do more to address the mistreatment of those under Israel’s thumb. Regional governments will, in turn, be under growing pressure to address those demands.
Unless Israel’s policies toward the governments and Peoples of its neighbors change, the US faces a future where it will have to choose between supporting the Israeli government and shunning the Peoples of the Middle East, as well as Europe. Supporting Netanyahu’s policies, therefore, undermines US influence in the Middle East at a time when it is essential. Despite America’s unique relationship with Israel, Netanyahu is truly forcing America to choose between the whole of the Middle East and Israel. It is an unnecessary choice that can only end in one logical conclusion. For Israel, the threat of a globalizing, democratizing Muslim world and globalized terrorism puts the Jewish State in a position where the failure to resolve its issues with Muslim populations may well eventually result in a Middle East united against an Israel lacking allies. Trump may offer Israeli undying devotion today, but he will not be President forever.
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