1. The tabloids are with the Golan: US President Donald Trump’s tweet backing US recognition for the Golan Heights generates a good amount of excitement, at least in Israel.
- The tweet is far from official recognition, which may be yet to come, but the move is still hailed by some as the greatest thing since the US embassy opened in Jerusalem.
- Pro-Trump and pro-Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel Hayom calls it a “historic announcement.”
- “American recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights puts an end to questions or doubts of whether the Golan Heights is Israeli territory,” writes Haim Rokah, the head of the Golan Heights local council, in the paper, ascribing an awesome amount of power to a single tweet.
- The old slogan “The nation is with the Golan,” popularized in the 90s when it looked like Israel might return the plateau for peace with Syria, is brought back into service by both Israel Hayom and fellow tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, which run “Trump is with the Golan,” and “The US is with the Golan” front page headlines respectively.
- Avigdor Kahalani, best known as a tank commander who led Israel to an improbable victory against Syria in the Golan during the 1973 Yom Kippur War writes in Yedioth that Trump’s declaration is “extremely important” for Israel’s security.
- “Israel needs to hold onto the Golan and make the world understand it’s ready for any type of battle to ensure our place in the Middle East. Yesterday Trump did some of the work for us.”
- Hodaya Krish Hazoni in Makor Rishon calls the statement a “revolution in America’s stance,” noting that it was the Golan that was at the center of a bitter battle between prime minister Menachem Begin and the Reagan administration.
2. Make Shushan Great Again: Purim imagery is also widespread among those celebrating the move, including from Netanyahu, who called Trump’s tweet a “miracle of Purim.”
- “On the day we read in Megillat Esther the victorious sentence, ‘The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor,’ that is after great despair comes great salvation, on that exact day, Purim, we got word of another amazing present from the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump,” gushes the Israel Hayom editor.
- And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Jerusalem for the joyous holiday, was asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network whether “President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?”
- His answer: “As a Christian I certainly believe that’s possible.”
3. Why poke the hornet’s nest? But despite Israeli control being a consensus issue pretty much everywhere outside of Syria and Iran, many see Trump’s announcement as unnecessary, capricious and head-scratching.
- “It stirs a hornet’s nest that didn’t need stirring,” Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, tells ToI’s Raphael Ahren. “Nobody cares about the Golan Heights right now or is actively contesting Israel’s position in the Golan. So why create this headache?”
- “What benefit is there in this recognition aside from turning a subject that had no significance on the world stage into a subject for discussion and condemnation? What was so bad with the status quo,” asks former diplomat Alon Pinkas in Yedioth.
- “Premature US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is a needlessly provocative move that violates international law and does not enhance Israeli security,” says J Street head Jeremy Ben Ami, while noting that “There’s no question that, at the present moment, maintaining control of the Golan Heights is of strategic and security importance to the state of Israel.”
- Even AIPAC seemed nonplussed, tweeting a strangely milquetoast statement.
Given current political and security circumstances in Syria, we have said it was inconceivable to imagine Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. @realDonaldTrump's statement marks a dramatic change in American policy, and we appreciate his leadership on this issue.
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) March 21, 2019
4. Net negative: It’s not just that the recognition might not do any good, there’s also concern that it will make things actively worse, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the Trump administration was trying to restart.
- The move “gives up one of the chips that everyone thought would be part of a Middle East peace agreement deal,” former CIA head Leon Panetta tells CNN.
- Amos Harel in Haaretz notes that, “For the Palestinians, this is a dangerous precedent, because Washington is legitimizing a unilateral Israeli move – an annexation of territory taken while Israel occupied the West Bank during the Six Day War.”
- Others also raise concerns about the precedent it sets in terms of legitimizing other unilateral annexations.
- The move “yanks rug out from under US policy opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as US views on other disputed territories,” writes Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brookings Institute on Twitter.
As others have noted, this Trump Admin action thus yanks rug out from under US policy opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea, as well as US views on other disputed territories (eg & with caveats W Sahara, Abkhazia, S Ossetia). 10/
— Tamara Cofman Wittes (@tcwittes) March 21, 2019
5. Real dangers: Some also point out that the move will make Syria and Iran all the more likely to push harder for the Golan.
- “It gives more support for Hezbollah and the Iranians, saying we have to fight for the occupied Golan,” says former Syrian diplomat Bassam Barabandi, now with the Syrian opposition, to al-Monitor. “It empowers Iran within Syria.”
- Former State Department official Frederic Hof tells the Guardian that the move “will be welcomed by Israel’s bitterest enemies – Iran and Hezbollah – who would see annexation as additional justification for terror operations. It would do nothing whatsoever positive for Israel’s security.”
6. A gift for Bibi: There is widespread speculation that the move was timed to help Netanyahu at the polls, despite Trump denying he knows anything about the Israeli election.
- “The United States is treating Israel as a vassal state and a banana republic by flagrantly interfering in its election,” writes Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz, also referencing the Reagan-Begin spat.
- “This is a political statement by tweet,” Aaron David Miller, a veteran Mideast peace negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations, tells ToI’s Eric Cortellessa. “The main driver of this is Trump’s desire to get Bibi re-elected.”
- Commentator Raviv Drucker writes on Channel 13’s website that while the move was a clear attempt to help Netanyahu, “voters already know Netanyahu and Trump are friends and so it’s not clear whether this will help him at the polls.”
- Reuters’ Dan Williams tweets that the timing may be a win for Netanyahu no matter what happens.
Netanyahu may well see the timing of these statecraft flourishes as a means of improving his re-election chances. He may also see them as a last opportunity to cement a legacy should he lose the April 9 ballot.
— Dan Williams (@DanWilliams) March 22, 2019
7. Getting the timing right: Ariel Kahane reports in Israel Hayom that Netanyahu told supporters he negotiated the recognition as compensation for America’s withdrawal from Syria.
- He writes that Trump considered announcing the move during the State of the Union almost two months ago, but in the end moved it closer to April 9 to try to help Netanyahu in his election bid.
- Many had thought the actual announcement would come next week, when Netanyahu visits the White House.
- In Ynet, Itamar Eichner reports that the US moved up the announcement once Netanyahu began to slip in the polls.
- Ilan Goldenberg postulates on Twitter that it was changed in order to help distract attention from the new submarine bribery allegations surfacing.
8. There has been a terrible new Corruption story about Bibi over the past couple days. This totally overshadows it. wouldn’t be surprised if Trump at Bibi’s request moved up the announcement to today from next week specifically to dull this new corruption story.
— Ilan Goldenberg (@ilangoldenberg) March 21, 2019
8. Caught with their pants down: According to a report in McClatchy, Israelis were caught off-guard by the announcement.
- Sources tell the news service that they found out by tweet, and had nothing more than hints of a policy shift in the last few weeks.
- “We weren’t prepared as a department,” a source is quoted saying. “Usually there’s prep for a rollout and policy briefs on the consequences, but there was none of that.”
- The New York Times reports that Pompeo also seemed “caught off guard” by the announcement.
- “For Mr. Pompeo, the timing of Mr. Trump’s tweet was awkward,” the paper notes, referring to the fact that he will now fly to Lebanon, where he will likely face tough questions and unhappy politicians over the move.
9. From full withdrawal to recognition: US recognition was indeed a long time coming, but it may not have ever happened if not for the Syrian civil war, Haaretz reports, going into detail on the secret talks to pull out of the territory that went right up until 2011.
- “According to sources knowledgeable about the talks, Netanyahu was prepared to discuss the Syrian demand for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines – that is, to the Sea of Galilee – but this time he conditioned it on Syria disengaging itself entirely from Iran and Hezbollah in new security arrangements,” the paper reports.
- “The sources assess that had it not been for the outbreak of the civil war, it would only have taken another half a year for the two sides to reach an agreement.”