On Thursday President Trump announced that the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and effectively annexed it in 1981. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal characterized Trump’s move as a favor to Netanyahu who is facing a challenge for reelection and Netanyahu called it a “Purim miracle.”
Despite any boost this may give to Netanyahu’s reelection, the effort to persuade Trump to endorse Israel’s claim to Golan began well before Netanyahu’s campaign and was described by Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz as “topping the agenda” in US/Israeli diplomatic talks in May 2018.
Trump’s announcement contravenes the 1981 UN resolution passed in reaction to the annexation and co-written by the United States, that: “The Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”
At least at the moment, action by the US is unlikely to change the European Union or Russia ’s support for the UN resolution and both announced that they would not change their positions on the Golan Heights without a UN declaration. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, tweeting from a meeting with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said all the ministers were shocked by Mr. Trump “continuing to try to give what is not his to racist Israel: first al-Quds [Jerusalem] & now Golan.”
It is unclear how Trump’s twitter declaration on its own can change the U.S.’s official position on Golan. But his avowal may soon be law, Senators Cruz and Cotton along with Representative Mike Gallagher who each applauded the president’s move, introduced legislation in the House and Senate to formally “recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” Importantly, the proposed bill includes the Golan Heights as part of Israel in any spending and trade bills and approves joint scientific, industrial and agricultural projects in the occupied territory.
Since 1981, Israel has treated the Golan as a resource rich part of its country. The Golan provides over a third of Israel’s fresh water. And the Golan has provided Israel’s first major oil find. Afek Oil and Gas, a division of Genie Oil has obtained oil rights for the huge oil fields in the Golan Heights. In October 2015, October 2015 Afek Oil and Gas confirmed the discovery of vast oil reserve oil in the Golan Heights. Genie Oil has powerful political connections. Keith Murdock, Vice President Cheney, Michael Steinhardt Jacob Rothschild and Larry Summers are among its Board Members.
Despite Genie’s influence, under current conditions, Genie’s Israeli subsidiary can not sell any oil it extracts from the Golan on the international oil market because that would violate UN resolutions. However, if Washington declares Golan to be part of Israel, then oil could be legally traded with the US. Russia Today speculates that “Genie Energy’s investments in the Golan are likely the strongest factor pushing the U.S. towards the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territory.”