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Trump’s Golan Heights Decision Is the Denial of Reality

The excuse that the president merely "recognized reality" is as insulting as it is false.
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Mike Pompeo delivered a ridiculous answer to a question on Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that President Trump’s move on the Golan Heights does not amount to a double standard. He made the remarks when asked about the U.S. stance on the Syrian territory that Israel officially seized in 1981 compared to U.S. policy on Russia regarding its annexation of Crimea.

“You imposed sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea,” Hiba Nasr of Sky News said to Pompeo Saturday at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. “Now you are going to recognize the sovereign — the Israeli sovereignty over these territories. Isn’t this a double-standard policy?”

“No, not at all,” Pompeo said.

“What the president did with the Golan Heights is recognize the reality on the ground and the security situation necessary for the protection of the Israeli state. It’s that – it’s that simple.”

Pompeo’s answer is nonsense, because there is an obvious double standard at work and has been all along. U.S. allies and clients aren’t held to the same standard as other states, and the same behavior that earns other states sanctions and condemnation is more likely to be applauded and defended when a client does it. This double standard isn’t unique to the Trump administration, but Trump and Pompeo go out of their way to call attention to it by rewarding clients for illegal acts. In this case, Israel’s occupation and annexation of the Golan Heights is every bit the violation of international law that Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea is. It makes no difference how a state grabs territory that doesn’t belong to it, and it also makes no difference as far as the law is concerned whether stealing the territory has some strategic value for the state that steals it. Once the U.S. recognizes one illegal land grab, it cannot credibly condemn others, and it invites other clients to take similar actions on the assumption that the U.S. will eventually endorse what they do. It is a purely destructive and destabilizing action, and it was done for what appear to be the most cynical and nakedly political reasons.

The excuse that the president merely “recognized reality” is as insulting as it is false. When our government dramatically changes its own policy to endorse another state’s illegal act, that means that our government has given up on recognizing the reality of illegal occupation and annexation. Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is capitulation to the preferences of the lawbreaker. It is the denial of the legal reality and an attempt substitute a piece of fiction in its place. Not that it would make the decision any more defensible, but the U.S. doesn’t even get anything in exchange for its mockery of international law. Trump is in the habit of giving reckless client states one gift after another, and all that these gifts do is to make the clients behave worse on the assumption that they have the president’s automatic support no matter what they do.

Pompeo wasn’t done:

He denied that Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights violated United Nations Security Council resolutions, saying “the decision the president made will increase the opportunity for there to be stability throughout the region.”

The annexation doesn’t just violate Security Council resolutions, but also violates the U.N. Charter itself. Tamara Cofman Wittes and Ilan Goldbenberg explain:

Finally, the Trump administration’s view on the Golan Heights contravenes not only U.N. resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but the United Nations Charter itself — specifically, Article 2’s principles regarding the peaceful resolution of diplomatic disputes and the rejection of threats to the territorial integrity of member states. In conflict zones around the world, U.S. diplomacy has relied on these core principles to press other states to negotiate instead of fight, and to end wars that have cost lives and destabilized regions.

There is no scenario in which U.S. support for a client’s illegal annexation of a neighbor’s territory could have a stabilizing effect on the region. No one will credit Pompeo’s misrepresentations of what the president has done, and his shameless sucking up to the president only serves to discredit him further in the eyes of other governments.