"I think we have a better chance of achieving peace... Benjamin Netanyahu is a great ally and a great friend." By using those words, U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the outcome of the recent Israeli elections. Both leaders recently exchanged several tweets showing mutual respect and appreciation.
Last month, a Trump tweet related to the Golan Heights sparked tensions among world leaders when it marked a clear dividing line regarding the American approach in the region. "After 52 years it is time for the U.S. to fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which are of strategic importance for Israel's security," he wrote. It was followed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's immediate reply, "You made history."
Certainly, the decision on recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights has been a useful move to carry the conservative Israeli prime minister to new electoral victory. Before the April 9 elections, Netanyahu was having difficulties in gaining support because of corruption allegations and criminal investigations, something he has always denied.
However, the reinforced Israeli-American alignment is likely to unleash a powder keg on the Middle East. Russia made clear that it will not accept "unilateral moves" on the status of the Golan Heights, a mountainous area of 1,800 square kilometers on the border between Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. A territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Days War. And since 1981, along with a unilateral annexation move, it has been administered by Israel, despite the international community's rejection and it recognizing it as "occupied territory."
Some harsh criticism has also came from Turkey. "The territorial integrity of states is the most fundamental principle of international law. Attempts by the #US to legitimize #Israel's actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region. Turkey supports #Syria's territorial integrity," read a tweet by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
The occupied territory
Since 1967, Israeli annexation has always been rejected by the international community, which still regards it as "occupied territory." In defiance of international law, the mutual unilateral visions are the glue of Tel Aviv-Washington axis, legitimated by the changing American strategy in the Middle East.
In its reports referring to the Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza, for the first time ever the Trump administration omits the expression "territories occupied by Israel," replacing it with the new definition of "territories controlled by Israel." These are not just linguistic exercises, but meaningful terms used to frame the conditions of an area claimed by Israel for years.
Hence, the new American approach on the sovereignty of the Golan Heights directly affects the Middle East peace plan, announced a while ago by the White House. In other words, this is the latest in a series of thorny moves that started with the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
Besides, some other pro-Israel decisions such as the U.S. administrations cutting off humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees; the U.S. vote against the U.N. resolution that every year since 1967 symbolically condemns the presence of Israel on the Golan Heights, should be taken into account in order to have a clearer picture.
Even though the details of the peace plan are still very vague, the only certainty is that the Palestinians will never have sovereignty and that Israel will control the whole territory. "We believe we have a fair, realistic and viable plan that will enable people to live a better life," a White House official said, "We had an unconventional approach based on not hiding from reality and saying the truth."
The right-wing alliance
Briefly, the new approach seals the alliance with the Israeli right, marking stricter policies on issues concerning Israel. Donald Trump is giving golden opportunities to Netanyahu and vice versa. Already connected at the family and business levels, both leaders disregard the old American policy of fostering a balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latter perceived as evil in the region.
The new grand strategy aims to transform the direction of some traditional ambitions by weakening the importance of the Palestinian cause and to form a coalition with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states against Tehran. Iran is indeed perceived as an escalating rogue state due to its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. By gaining strategic advantage from the situation in Iraq after the American occupation and from the war in Syria by standing by Bashar Assad, it is the enemy to combat. Thus, Trump's special feelings for Israel and Netanyahu's confidence in the U.S. are mutually based on achieving more influence by disrupting the regional status-quo.
Self-portrayed as champions of liberalism, they are actually rejecting the international principles of peace while unilaterally addressing issues of global relevance. Behind their national and sovereign interests, at stake now are shared values and ethical responsibilities affecting the whole world and the peaceful coexistence of people which requires solid commitment, not single whims.
* Assistant professor at the University of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, Ankara