The Middle East is vast and, within it, Israel is no more than a speck, a shard, a sliver clinging to the easternmost shore of the Mediterranean Sea. At present, it is the only nation in the region that is free and democratic, with rights guaranteed to all its citizens, including its significant Arab and Muslim minorities. Saying that will make some people angry, but it’s a fact.
Israel’s Arab and Muslim neighbors attempted to prevent the birth — or, more precisely, re-birth — of the Jewish state. Additional wars aimed at Israel’s annihilation followed. Israelis defended themselves, acquiring territories from their attackers in the process.
Over the years, Israelis have exited most of those territories, and terrorists have entered. In the Sinai Peninsula, the largest territory the Israelis conquered in a defensive war and then returned (in exchange for a peace treaty), Israelis now assist Egyptians in their fight against self-proclaimed jihadis.
When the first war against Israel stopped in 1949, an armistice line — not a lawful international border — separated Israel from Syria. Soon after, Syrian soldiers in the Golan Heights began shelling Israeli farms and villages in the Galilee below.
In 1967, Syria attacked Israel from the Golan Heights. At the end of what became known as the Six-Day War, Israel was in possession of two-thirds of the strategic plateau, 500 square miles, an area roughly the size of Phoenix, Arizona.
Israelis were open to a “land-for-peace” deal with Syria, but the Arab League promptly issued its “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
The next attempt to exterminate Israel was the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Syrian tanks overran much of the Golan, then were pushed back in the fierce battles that followed.
Eight years later, with Syria uninterested in making peace, Israel annexed the wuthering Heights. Last month, President Trump decided it was time for the United States to officially recognize the reality “that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”
As expected, Israel’s Western critics and enemies, coteries often difficult to differentiate, expressed outrage. Arab countries denounced the move, too, though with minimal vehemence.
That’s not surprising: Syria, under the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship, has become a dependency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a jihadi, neo-imperialist, Persian/Shia regime that threatens the region’s Arab/Sunni states. It is not in their interest to see their enemy strengthened, or the enemy of their enemy weakened.
You should know that no one who identifies as Palestinian lives in the Golan. Syrian Arabs fled. The Druze who stayed on, currently numbering about 20,000, receive the same social benefits as Israeli citizens and are eligible for full Israeli citizenship.
You’ve doubtless seen claims that Israel’s annexation of the Golan violates international law, in particular, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed in November 1967. But 242 is not a Chapter 7 resolution — the only resolutions that can establish international law. Other resolutions are statements of (often purposely ambiguous) diplomatic consensus or recommendations. It is an error — or a fraud — to regard them as globalist legislation.
What’s more, the phrase you’ll hear quoted, the resolution’s assertion of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” was not meant to license aggressors to wage wars with impunity.
Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz has observed: “No country in history has ever given back to a sworn enemy, militarily essential territory that has been captured in a defensive war.”
In testimony before Congress last July, legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich noted that the U.N. Charter “expressly reaffirms the legality of a defensive war. Since defensive war is not illegal, it follows that the defender’s territorial gains from such a war would not be illegal.”
That should be obvious given the many territorial gains and losses in Europe following World War II — the conflict which both preceded and inspired the drafting of the U.N. Charter.
Ignored by Israel’s critics: Resolution 242 also emphasizes that “every State in the area” has the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Tehran is egregiously violating that right by attempting to establish military bases in Syria in order to open a third front against Israel, in addition to the fronts it supports in Lebanon and Gaza. Why do Israel’s detractors say nothing about that? I suspect you know the answer.
By recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, President Trump — with Rep. Mike Gallagher, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Tom Cotton leading a bipartisan effort to pass supporting congressional resolutions — has not just demonstrated fairness and bolstered the security of America’s most reliable ally. He’s also given a boost to any future Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
You don’t get that? I’ll explain. So long as the hard men of Hamas and Fatah are encouraged to believe that destroying Israel remains a realistic goal, they will not agree to end the conflict — no matter how beneficial that might be for the average Palestinian.
Only if they are convinced that there is more to lose than gain by prolonging their war against Israel, and that driving the Jews into the sea is an impossible dream, might they resign themselves to what they regard as the shameful alternative: serious negotiations leading to compromises (on both sides) culminating in a situation rare in the long and bloody history of the Middle East: Independent nations peacefully coexisting.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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