May 23, 2019

The Golan Heights Hypocrisy

“The perennial issue of Israel’s borders flared up once again last week when President Trump announced that the U.S. will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the volcanic plateau that Israel conquered from Syria in 1967. To say that this decision goes against an almost universal consensus in the foreign policy establishment of nearly every major diplomatic actor in the world today would be true. To say, as many do, that this violates some long-held sacred norm of international relations in the postwar world, however, would be false.

In fact, beyond the alarmism and facile bromides inflamed by Trump’s announcement, what the the Golan situation actually illustrates is that the whole gamut of international “norms,” when they are applied injudiciously and for political ends as so often happens with Israel, can be reduced to blunt cudgels. The norms used to adjudicate land claims and challenge Israel’s rights to the Golan are not only selectively applied, they are mutually incoherent—their real power is not as legal precedents but as political instruments. To understand this we have to start with a survey of the norms in questions and their historical basis.

Recognized international boundaries come into being in one of three ways: Two bordering countries can agree on them by treaty, a newly independent country can inherit the boundaries drawn by a previous colonial power, or, finally, internal boundaries may be held over after a country splits up to form new international borders.”

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