by Hugh Fitzgerald
If there is little military threat from Syria at present, is there a political threat from other Arabs who want Syria to get back the Golan? Are those Arabs infuriated with the American decision to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan? Not at all. They no longer support Bashar al-Assad or Syria. The ruthlessness of the Alawite (Shia) suppression of its Sunni opposition, and Bashar al-Assad’s decision to ally himself with Shi’a Iran, even to the extent of allowing Iran to establish bases inside his country, have effectively isolated Syria from the rest of the Arab world, especially from the rich Gulf states. Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt all see Iran as their main enemy, and recognize that Israel is their ally against it. According to a New York Times report by Ben Hubbard on March 23, “the Gulf states are more interested in partnering with Israel against Iran than in standing up for Arab dignity, and unrest and economic troubles have left other Arab countries more concerned with their own affairs.”
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt all see Iran as their main enemy, and recognize that Israel is their ally against it.
Of course, there was a pro forma denunciation of Washington’s recognition of the Golan as part of Israel by the Arab League, which called the “official American recognition” of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan “completely beyond international law.” The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also expressed its regret. 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.” But that was about it, from the Arab and Muslim countries: no angry ultimatums, no street demonstrations, no threats to retaliate against the Americans. The GCC and the Arab League did the minimum expected.
The report in the Times continues:
As for Syria, its own war has left the country so weak and ostracized that few care what it wants.“The country [has been left] so weak and ostracized.” “Few care what it wants.” “Syria doesn’t matter.” “Maybe Syria doesn’t exist at the table as the legitimate owner of the land.” Those remarks were made not by an Israeli, but by an American reporter and a well-known Arab Muslim journalist. Bashar al-Assad may have held on to power, but neither he, nor any successor, is going to get back the Golan. It has been an integral part of Israel since 1981, providing the “secure” — i.e., “defensible” — border in the north that a proper reading (that follows Lord Caradon), of U.N. Resolution 242 requires.
The Golan was always seen as the carrot that Israel would cede for peace with Syria, and now peace doesn’t matter, Syria doesn’t matter and maybe Syria doesn’t exist at the table as the legitimate owner of the land,” said Kareem Sakka, editor in chief of Raseef22, an Arabic news site.
What about the people in the Golan? There are 26,000 Jews and 22,000 Druze living on the Golan. Many of the Druze, especially the older ones, have declared themselves opposed to Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty. Their reason for so doing is clear: some of the Druze on the Golan have relatives inside Syria. They fear two things: first, retaliation against those relatives by the Syrian government if the Druze on the Golan do not make a show of opposing — whatever they really think — Israel’s sovereignty; second, they worry that if Syria were ever to get back the Golan, it would punish those Druze who had been openly pro-Israel. They need not fear Israel, which would never harm those expressing pro-Syrian sentiments. Once the Druze in the Golan digest the significance of Trump’s move, and become more convinced that Israel never will give up the Golan, many of them — especially those who don’t have relatives in Syria — can more openly support Israel. The Druze in Israel serve with distinction in the IDF, including in such elite units as Sayeret Matkal; there are three Druze pilots in the IAF. There is even a Zionist Druze Circle, headed by Amal Nasser el-Din, for decades an ardent Zionist. The further away the Druze community is from the Golan, the more pro-Israel its sentiments.
Now Israel can work on encouraging other likely prospects to join the Americans in recognizing the Golan as part of Israel. Among the possibilities are Brazil, because of its pro-Israel President Bolsonaro, and Venezuela, should Juan Guaido come to power; Guaido is very well-disposed toward Israel, while Maduro is not only strongly supported by the “Palestinians,” but has let it be known that he’s thinking of becoming a Muslim. Other countries that might be persuaded to recognize the Golan as part of Israel include Guatemala (which has already moved its embassy to Jerusalem), Romania (which has just announced its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem), the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Honduras, and Australia.
With Washington’s move, the status of the Golan has now been settled. It could not have been better timed. Syria is now war-ruined; it needs more than 300 billion dollars merely to rebuild its infrastructure; its military has been severely degraded by eight years of civil war; the country remains a pariah among Arab states because of its alliance with Iran. That is why the Arab League and the GCC both issued what, for the Arabs, were the mildest of objections to Washington’s recognition of the Golan as part of Israel.
The transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, has taken that issue off the negotiating table. The recognition by Washington of the Golan as part of Israel has done the same for that strategic slice of real estate. All that is still available for discussion — and not forever, as Mahmoud Abbas appears to think — is the status of the West Bank. Israel still retains the right, under U.N. Resolution 242, to “secure” (“defensible”) boundaries, which many military men would agree coincides with the present borders — and that includes all of the West Bank. As for the “Palestinians,” they should be granted as much local autonomy in the West Bank as is consonant with Israel’s security. The greater the threat of terrorism, the less autonomy will be granted the “Palestinians.” It’s up to the Arabs to make their choice.
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