US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Washington’s recognition of Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights Tuesday, but called it an “incredibly unique situation” that doesn’t set a precedent for other areas or conflicts.
At a press briefing, Pompeo was asked by a reporter whether US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Monday sets “a precedent that powerful countries can actually overtake land over international law?”
“The answer is absolutely not,” Pompeo replied. “This is an incredibly unique situation. Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation [when it conquered the plateau in 1967], and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution is a suicide pact.”
International law prohibits the annexation of territories captured in war except in cases of mutual agreements. The law was designed to keep nations from launching wars to grab land.
Analysts have expressed fears that Trump’s recognition could open the way for recognition of other territories captured in war, including Russia’s recent takeover of Crimea.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that land taken in wars of self-defense can be annexed. On Monday, in the wake of the White House event where Trump signed the Golan proclamation, he said the US recognition underlines “one important principle in international relations: When you start wars of aggression, and lose territory, don’t come back and claim it later. It belongs to us.”
On Tuesday, a senior Israeli official told reporters that Trump’s move could lay the groundwork for claims to other lands captured by Israel in 1967 Six Day War, in which Israel pre-empted a planned attack by Arab nations. That territory includes East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed, and the West Bank, which it did not.
“Everyone says it is impossible to hold an occupied territory, and behold — it is possible if it is ours in a defensive war,” said the official, named by The New York Times as Netanyahu.
Israel extended Israeli law to the Golan in a 1981 law passed in the Knesset, a step tantamount to annexation. Israel also extended sovereignty to East Jerusalem shortly after the 1967 war.
Successive Israeli governments, from left and right alike, have rejected the idea of annexing territories like the West Bank and Gaza Strip that contain large Palestinian populations, but Netanyahu has stated in the past Israel’s intention to keep the Jordan Valley as a security zone in any future deal with the Palestinians.
The UN Security Council and successive US administrations have regarded the Golan as occupied territory whose return would be negotiated as part of a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and Syria.
In the wake of Trump’s proclamation, fellow veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent members Britain and France have both said they will continue to consider the Golan Heights Israeli-occupied in line with council resolutions, as have China and Russia.