Germany said Monday a unilateral decision by Israel to keep the Golan Heights would breach international law while the Arab League denounced as an “escalation” comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed the strategic plateau would “forever” remain in Israeli hands.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman responded to a question about comments by Netanyahu, who said Sunday that Israel will never withdraw from the plateau bordering Syria.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said that “it’s a basic principle of international law and the UN charter that no state can claim the right to annex another state’s territory just like that.”
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and effectively annexed it in 1981. The move was unanimously rejected the same year by the UN Security Council.
Schaefer said Germany isn’t currently demanding the immediate return of the territory due to the security situation in Syria.
On Sunday, Netanyahu held the first-ever cabinet meeting on the Golan, declaring that the area will always be part of Israel.
“Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights,” he declared, pointing to the historical Jewish connection to the ridge.
The comments came amid reports that Netanyahu had called US Secretary of State John Kerry to complain about text declaring the Golan as part of Syria to be included as part of a peace deal being drafted to end the Syrian civil war.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, the secretary general of the pan-Arab bloc headquartered in Cairo, said Monday Netanyahu’s statement “was a new escalation that represents a brazen violation of international law.”
The international community never accepted Israel’s annexation, and Israeli leaders see in the turmoil in Syria a chance to convince the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. In November, Netanyahu reportedly asked US President Barack Obama to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the area, given the civil war. Obama refused to even reply, according to Israeli media accounts.
Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned that his war-torn state would retake the plateau by any means necessary.
Mekdad declared that the “Arab Syrian Golan Heights” is still occupied territory according to international law and would eventually be taken back from the Israelis.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.