Feb. 22, 2016
Why Israeli Rule of Golan Heights Is Lawful – and Wise – Peter Berkowitz (RealClearPolitics)
- Until the Six-Day War, Syria used the heavily fortified Golan Heights as a platform to fire at Israeli villages below. In exercising its right of self-defense, Israel seized the Golan, a strategically important plateau that looms over northeastern Israel, rising sharply from the eastern bank of the Sea of Galilee to a height of more than 3,000 feet. Since June 1967 a powerful consensus has prevailed in the international community, including the U.S., that the Golan is occupied territory.
- But the chaos in Syria has weighty legal and political ramifications that should impel the international community to revise its understanding of the Golan’s status. Modern Syria has ceased to exist, while Assad’s quest to retain power has produced carnage of epic proportions. Few informed observers think that a functioning nation-state can be reconstructed. In these dramatically transformed circumstances, Israel has the strongest legal claim to the Golan Heights.
- Since 1992, four Israeli prime ministers have sought to achieve peace with Syria in exchange for withdrawing from parts or all of the Golan Heights. All initiatives proved futile. Israelis across the political spectrum today realize that had a return of the Golan been negotiated, Islamic State jihadists would now control the plateau.
- In the meantime, the Golan has become a thriving site of agriculture, industry, and tourism. In addition to 20,000 Jewish Israelis, the Golan is home to about 20,000 Druze who reside in four towns. Israel does not face a large, restive population, as it does in the West Bank, but a small minority community pleased with their condition.
- Under international law, Israel’s territorial claim arises in part from the principle of “effective occupation,” which provides that territory can be acquired through the exercise of sovereign power on a peaceful and extended basis. Moreover, public international law favors stability, order, and peace; it aims to avoid resolutions that expose individuals to death or injury.
- The international consensus that the Golan belongs to Syria no longer fits the facts and the law. Nor does it coincide with America’s interest in checking the spread of Islamist violence throughout the Middle East. The U.S. should affirm Israel’s lawful and just exercise of sovereignty over the Golan Heights and urge the international community to do the same.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
(Click on the article’s title to see the whole article…Ed.)