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Golan Heights, What Legal Right Does Israel Have To It?

Golan Heights, What Legal Right Does Israel Have To It?

Since Trump has come out and said that the US will recognize the Israeli de facto Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, we have been deluged with claims that this is just another move to expand Israel, they stole it from Syria, they have no legal right to it, but is this the truth? Turns out it is not that easily proven.

To understand the ties to the land we need to go back in time. In the time of Joshua, the 13th Century BCE the Jews came into the land then known as Canaan, they conquered the land, set up area’s that each of the 12 tribes settled in, Israel was more a loose confederation of Tribes until the Kingdom of Saul unified them to a small degree, but the majority of the unification came during the kingdoms of David and Solomon, then was split it two when Solomon’s son was sitting on the throne, or so the Biblical narrative goes.

According to the Bible, the Children of Israel conquered the Golan Heights from the Amorites (Deuteronomy 3:1-11). After the conquest of the land, we are told from biblical sources that the tribe of Dan and Manasseh.

The Golan Heights was conquered by Joshua.
Joshua in the Conquest of Canaan and the Golan Heights

Since the land bordered the ancient kingdom of Syria, they as well had a relation to the land, both prior to Joshua and the conquest of the area, after Joshua was bordering the ancient kingdom of Syria, later of the Assyrian Empire, there were conflicts over the land, later ended up being the undoing of the ancient kingdom of Israel, although part survived the Assyrians with the kingdom of Judah.

We now come to the modern age, this is the most pertinent to the debate, both Israel and Syria make claims to the land, but who has the stronger claim?

The Golan Heights was originally part of the Mandate of Palestine, this land was to be set up as the Kingdom of the Jews, as the Mandate specifically stated, The British and French, then by totally ignoring the Mandate laws set off to redistribute land, but the catch was, the land was never theirs, they were only administrators, their job was to aid in setting up self-ruling governments, not to make the territories part of their kingdom.

The original Mandate divide of the land was as the picture on the right shows. The b11oundaries set up in the Mandate of Palestine was set up as the Ottoman Vilalel had set it up, as you can see wit the furthest purple lines extended.

After this, the British and French in the Paulet–Newcombe Agreement, later was called the Franco-British Boundary Agreements.

The problem with the Paulet-Newcombe Agreement is they were in direct violation of article 5 of the Mandate of Palestine:

Article 5

The Mandatory shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign Power.

The conflict with the Golan Heights came between Israel and Syria in the 1948 war, at the time, as you can see in the map above, Syria in their invasion of Israel demanded their right to keep the land they held in that war, the area’s in green, but now are saying they still have a legal right to this land, but Israel has no claim to land conquered in the war of 67.

Many say that Israel was the aggressor, they attacked Syria and drew them into the war, but what no one is talking about is since the war of 48 Syria has remained in a state of war with Israel, there is no law that states they can attack, nor that the land is not able to be disputed from the earlier war but the later does not have the same protections under international law.

It is due to this that the claim that Israel has to hand back the land under international law is false, under the Law of War, or the Law of Conflict, these are not contained within one legal cannon, but are a group of laws that are applied as a whole. Here are the laws that are generally used today:

Law of Armed Conflict, as it deals with the Golan Heights

The problem with using these laws to try to attack Israel’s claim, they deal with going to war to conquer land, but not going to war to take back what was legally yours.

We see the same thing in the Golan Heights that we see in Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, Jordan joined the war after war was first initiated by Egypt in the Blockade of the Straits of Tiran, Israel attacked in response to this act of war, this was after Egypt publicly came out and said they had put in place the blockade, Israel now had little choice, go to war or die by starvation, they went to war, Egypt lost.

We knew that by closing the Gulf of Aqaba it might mean war with Israel. [If war comes] it will be total and the objective will be to destroy Israel.
– Gamal Abdel Nasser
(Washington Post, May 27, 1967)

With the closing of the Straits [of Tiran], Israel faces two possibilities, both of which are blood-soaked: either it will die by strangulation in the wake of the Arab military and economic blockade, or it will die by shooting from the Arab forces surrounding it in the south, north and east.
– Egyptian government broadcast
(Radio Cairo, May 27, 1967; quoted in Moshe Shemesh, “Did Shuqayri Call For ‘Throwing the Jews into the Sea?” Israel Studies, Summer 2003, p. 79)

The act of putting place a blockade has Egypt initiating this war, contrary to popular claims, Israel did not initiate this war, they just went in and ended it in 6 days, resulting in a humiliating defeat that so scarred the Arab soul that they felt little choice but to go back to war in 73 to save face. While they lost that war as well, they put up a much better fight, thus felt they had saved enough face that both Egypt and Jordan were able to go forward with a peace treaty with Israel.

The problem is Syria never signed a peace treaty, still hasn’t, thus under international war, more specifically, the Law of Conflict, states that Israel is under no obligation to cede back territory, or even discuss borders until Syria does.

Why is it Syria and the Arabs, along with most of the members in the UN are demanding that Israel give back without following the letter of the law, that is, simply, not the way things work. Also, why is it that the UN is demanding Israel to hand back land conquered in 1967, but they refuse to budge on land conquered by the Arabs in 48? What we are seeing are double standards displayed for all.

Israeli flag that flies over the Golan Heights

So what has Israel’s stance been on this?

They have tried multiple times to give back the Golan Heights for peace, just like they did with Egypt, but each time Syria has walked away. On June 19, 1967, the Israeli Cabinet unanimously voted to hand back the entire Sinai to Egypt and all of the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace and demilitarization.

What was the Arab reaction to this? A position that Syria still holds, they put in place their three no’s, this was what they all came out of their meeting at Khartoum. These were: “No peace, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel.” Israel at this point UN Resolution 242 that demanded they relinquish most [but not all] “territory” acquired in June of 67. While the implementation of this took time, they handed back the Sinai, there was no claim to this land, it was never part of the Mandate.

President Bill Clinton’s negotiating team sought to arrange “Land For Peace” between Israel and Syria. The United States’ lead negotiator, Dennis Ross, affirmed that in the mid-1990s, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to relinquish all Golan Heights territory to accord with the international border established in 1923.

Ross assumed that a peace agreement was imminent. To his dismay, Ross recollected that, “[Syrian President] Assad was dismissive—for the first time in the history of the process, he stated that [in addition to the Golan Heights] ‘the [Sea of Galilee] has always been our [Syrian] lake; it was never theirs [Israeli].’” Once Assad demanded Syria be given a portion of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary source of water, negotiations collapsed

Nearly 10 years later, as reported on June 9, 2007, by The Telegraph [UK], an Israeli Prime Minister once again offered the Golan to Assad in exchange for peace with security. Ehud Olmert reached out to Syria only after American President George W. Bush gave the green light in an hour-long conversation.

As is stated in the Times of Israel:

In a secret communique, Olmert’s offer of the entire Golan required that Syria dissolve its alliances with Iran, Hezbollah, and with Palestinian militant factions who maintain headquarters in Damascus.

“I am your partner for making peace between our countries,” Olmert told Damascus through German and Turkish mediators, Israel’s Yediot Ahronot reported, “I know that a peace agreement with Syria requires me to return the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty. I am willing to fulfill my part in this deal.”

Assad wanted unilateral and unconditional Israeli withdrawal. He could not agree to any concessions whatsoever in the interest of peace and security. The bloody aftermath of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has disproven the effectiveness of this approach.

Since the chaos of the Syrian civil war in 2011, no further Israeli offers have been possible. Assad has been ruthless, using poison gas against his own people. He has murdered hundreds of thousands of Syrians and uprooted millions.

What we have seen, with the exception of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab nations seem to think they are dealing with Israel from a position of strength, which they aren’t, Israel in turn refuses to negotiate for another Gaza, so they walk away, the world then, with the UN as their mouthpiece start their condemnation.

Bottom line, at this time Israel has every legal right to ever inch of the land on the Golan Heights, if Syria and Israel finally sign a peace treaty, which I think Syria has little or no interest in doing, the question of the Golan Heights will then have to be re-addressed, but that is between Israel and Syria, not the world.

About The Author

Timothy Benton

Author has studied Middle East History for the last 35 years, am a lifetime student of history. Has an interest in sports, tech, history and political events. Works as a Republican political commentator who looks at events from a conservative's perspective.

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