Donald Trump Has Just Legitimized Israel’s Illegal Conquest of Occupied Territory

By Victor Kattan

U.S. President Donald Trump’s formal recognition of the Golan Heights – captured from Syria in the June 1967 War – as part of Israel could be considered even more dangerous than his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

To be sure, the Golan Heights do not have the emotional attachment Jerusalem has. But from a legal perspective, Israeli scholars had at least fashioned plausible legal arguments in support of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, even though these claims are being challenged by the Palestinians at the International Court of Justice. When it comes to the Golan Heights, however, Israel has never articulated a plausible legal argument to retain it.

Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights is based on security, not legal title. The territory was never included in the British mandate of Palestine. It was never promised to the Jewish people by the League of Nations. It was never mentioned in the UN Partition Plan. It was part of the French mandate for Syria, and part of the Syrian Arab Republic before it was captured. 

The Golan Heights will continue to remain occupied Syrian territory, whatever U.S. President Trump said when he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.

The Golan Heights remain Syrian territory, not just because Syria, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and the Arab League say so. (For the record, the EU, France, Germany, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the United Kingdom, have also made it clear that they do not recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and have no plans to recognize it).

The Golan Heights remain Syrian because that acquisition of territory, even if acquired in a war of “self-defense,” violates a fundamental tenet of the international legal order: the non-acquisition of territory by force.

This is why the UN Security Council called on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights in 1967 and why it decided that Israel’s 1981 decision “to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

Let me be clear: Israel’s decision to annex the Golan Heights was legally wrong, not just because the Security Council or any other state said it was wrong. It was wrong because the international community has prohibited the acquisition of territory by war since 1945. And the reason why the international community prohibited recognizing the acquisition of territory by armed conflict was in order to discourage further conflict by revisionist powers.

This prohibition formed the cornerstone of the Anglo-American security architecture that was outlined in the Atlantic Charter (1941) that was formulated amidst the Second World War. Its roots go back even further, to the Stimson doctrine, which ironically, was formulated by the United States in response to Japan’s annexation of Manchuria in 1931. The doctrine of non-recognition was also applied by the U.S. to the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and remained official US policy until their independence in 1991.

It found expression in the UN Charter (1945), in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (1970), and in other universally agreed documents.

It does not take a genius to understand why recognizing territory acquired by armed force is dangerous because it could provide a precedent for states to annex territory that they claim is necessary for their defense. Palestinian leaders legitimately fear that President Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights is a prelude to the annexation of parts of the West Bank. Who can blame them after Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s top Mideast peace negotiator, tweeted his support for the decision?

But the recognition also has broader policy implications beyond the Arab-Israeli dispute.

Just think of China’s claim to the islands in the South China Sea, or its claim to Askai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir. How can President Trump square his decision to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel when the U.S. government strongly condemned Russia’s annexation of the Crimea? How would President Trump or the European Union react were the Arab states to recognize the independence of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and establish diplomatic relations with it – in spite of UN Security Council condemnation?

As I have previously argued here in Haaretz, we are now living in a world where the permanent members of the Security Council no longer agree on the basic rules of international legal order. It may be argued that this was always so, but that states did not articulate these differences publicly.

But I would respond that there is a difference between governments fashioning legal arguments to support controversial territorial claims, and brazenly staking a claim to territory by recognizing a right of conquest. And this is exactly what President Trump has just done.


Victor Kattan is Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and an Associate Fellow at NUS Law. Twitter: @VictorKattan

JVP Rabbinical Council Calls on Members of Congress to #skipAIPAC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 22, 2019 Contact: Sonya E Meyerson-Knox | [email protected] | 929-290-0317 PDF version of this statement Dear Members of Congress, We, the members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council urge you not to attend the upcoming AIPAC conference, March 24-26th 2019. With the issue of the AIPAC now squarely in the public spotlight, we believe two things are indisputably…



Algeria: massive protests has a great piece on what’s going on in Algeria. Summary: Algerian peaceful protests now in millions. Bouteflika and FLN have had it. Future unclear.
Daily peaceful protests throughout Algeria have continued to grow. There are no official figures but estimates which were in the ten thousands are now in the hundred thousands or even millions. Writing for Foreign Policy the French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani comments on a sense of solidarity, civility and celebration, comparing Algeria where there has been “at least one tragic death” with the yellow vests protests in France in which at least 12 people have been killed and hundreds seriously injured. An Al Jazeera article comments that even football fans seem more interested now in politics than in football; “We have to fix the problems in the country before we can have fun in the stadium.”
On 11 March the presidency announced that Bouteflika (82) would not stand for a fifth term as president, the election due in April was postponed, and a new constitution would be submitted to a national referendum. The Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia (66) resigned and Noureddine Bedoui (59) was appointed in his place, with Ramtane Lamamra (66), previously diplomatic adviser to Bouteflika as Deputy Prime Minister. Bedoui’s CV is at linkand there is a word picture by Jeune Afrique at link (both in French); he was minister of interior since 2015, previously a technocrat and Énarque with experience in central and regional government, and is regarded as close to Bouteflika’s brother Nacer. Bedoui says his government will be inclusive and democratic, bringing in young Algerians who have been staging protests.
According to a government source quoted by Reuters Lakhdar Brahimi (85), veteran diplomat and peacemaker, is to chair a conference planning Algeria’s future. On 13 March the chief of staff and deputy defence minister Ahmed Gaed Salah (79) said the army would preserve Algeria’s security in all circumstances. Lamamra said the government was ready for dialogue with the opposition.
On 13 March Reuters reported that protesters had chosen prominent reformist lawyers and rights activists to spearhead reaction against the regime. They dismissed Bouteflika’s decision not to stand and the measures announced by the government as half measures; “We refuse to negotiate transition with the regime. No negotiations. The balance of power is on our side, let’s strengthen our movement. We need to maintain pressure for up to three weeks. Our key goal now is to strengthen the movement so more forces could join and protect the movement from infiltration from Bouteflika’s system.” Four activists (listed by Reuters and aged from 48 to 73) are said to be trusted by demonstrators on the streets.
Demonstrations on Friday 15 March were the biggest yet including for the first time workers at Algeria’s biggest gasfield, though production was not affected. According to social media reports Algerian police have joined the demonstrations chanting “123 –vive l’Algerie”.
Throughout the the 2011 Arab Spring and since then most commentators have agreed that Algeria’s terrible experience of civil war (1992 – 2002) was a main reason why it did not follow Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria (and some of the credit for restraint goes to Bouteflika). It is to be hoped that that experience has been reinforced by observing the consequences of the Arab Spring, most of all in Syria. Al Jazeera quotes Abderrazak Makri , head of the Islamist Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) ; “We have to make sure that this [protest] movement will not slide into violence. This is the responsibility of [the] people as well as the security and military agencies”.
Commentators now agree that Bouteflika and the FLN are history, but like the demonstrators themselves they have not so far offered much of roadmap for the future. According to a comment on the United World International website “critics of the authorities say that the situation today is at a stalemate, and as a result of stagnation, people are now ready to attempt to change the government despite the risks.” Nabila Ramdani in the Foreign Policy article quoted above concludes merely “Algeria must use this opportunity to respond to the demands of a technologically savvy, ambitious young society. Bouteflika’s retirement is a historic chance that must not be wasted.” A comment behind a pay wall by the US consultancy Stratfor, after quoting a statement by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that it is seeking to take advantage of the unrest, concludes inevitably but perhaps correctly that “the absence of a capable successor [to Bouteflika] who is acceptable to the protesters increases the likelihood of a politically messy transition, meaning that the next leader could take years to consolidate power. Moreover, with the possibility of massive instability on the way, political and militant groups alike will have an opportunity for action they have not had for years. Algeria…beware!”

Members can leave comments about this newsletter on the Today’s Newsletter page of the Arab Digest website

The Saudi “women driving” trial

Today’s Newsletter

Fascinating article by Oliver Miles
Summary: Saudi Arabia shoots itself in the foot, bringing 10 women to trial for promoting lifting the ban on women driving.
The trial of ten women which began yesterday in Riyadh is a remarkable example of Saudi Arabia’s ability to commit self-harm (not an ability confined to Saudi Arabia).
The case arises from the issue of women driving, which in a different way had been another example, that one lasting over 50 years. The ban, unique to Saudi Arabia, was never convincingly justified on any grounds, Islamic law, tradition, security, even Saudi law. Arabian women have ridden and driven camels since time immemorial, and since the introduction of the motorcar herding livestock, largely women’s work, has mainly been done by car (Charles Doughty writes that “herding maidens may go alone with the flocks far out of seeing of the menzil [camp] in the empty wilderness.”) The ban was not only a crippling restriction on women but a tiresome obligation on men, since husbands and other male relatives had to spend their time driving women around. During the last 10 or even 20 years, with the Saudi government committed in theory at least to improving the position of women, criticism of the ban was heard increasingly often including (as we have noted in earlier postings) in the Saudi press. The decision to scrap the ban was almost universally welcomed, and could have been a symbol of the reforming spirit of the new regime and MBS personally.
Instead a number of activists, some of them women whose names and faces had become familiar in the media as campaigners for lifting the ban, were arrested in the weeks before the ban was actually lifted last June. Many reports say that they were ill treated or tortured (the newly released US State Department report on human rights in 2018 lists torture of prisoners as an issue in Saudi Arabia). They were not charged and reportedly had no access to lawyers, but the public prosecutor said they were suspected of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad. Some Saudi media called them traitors. The case was to be heard in the Specialised Criminal Court which deals with terrorism and political offences, but was apparently transferred at the last minute to the Criminal Court. Reporters and diplomats were not admitted.
According to a report in the Saudi newspaperOkaz investigations were concluded 12 days ago. At the court hearing the accused were informed of the charges, and given time before a second hearing to consult lawyers and prepare their defence. According to a Saudi rights group in London they have been charged under a cybercrime law and could face prison sentences of 1 to 10 years.
The reports in Okaz and other Saudi newspapers are short on information such as the names of the accused, but the Saudi-based Arab News gives a bit more detail, adding that when local media said the accused were traitors and “agents of embassies”, Arab News criticized such reporting as unfair and unprofessional, and argued that the accused should be treated as innocent unless proved guilty.
Last week at least 36 countries including all 28 members of the EU (but not the US, although Mike Pompeo like Jeremy Hunt has reportedly raised this case during recent visits to Riyadh) included a call to release the activists in a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council. Three of the U.S. congresswomen mentioned in yesterday’s digest, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Tulsi Gabbard have on various occasions called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia, criticised human rights violations, and opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Arab News report adds that “The accused women generated a high level of publicity when they were arrested, and the opening of the trial also attracted considerable attention from international media and human right organizations.” That perhaps underestimates the importance of the case for Saudi Arabia’s image, tarnished as it currently is. At a time when women’s affairs and women’s rights are everywhere in the media, the damage this case will do goes beyond cases which are perhaps objectively more important, such as executions.

Lujain al-Hadhlul
The media naturally love the fact that some at least of the accused are photogenic.

Gaza the Crucible

By Helena Cobban

March 13, 2019

The Gaza protests will mark their one-year anniversary on March 30. For 50 weeks, the Gaza Strip has seen thousands of residents taking part every Friday in the creative mass protests called the “Great March of Return.” Might this well-organized nonviolent action mark a new trend in Palestinian politics?

If it does, it would not be the first time that densely populated Gaza has acted as a crucible for the emergence of new political forces in Palestinian society.

Publisher embroiled in legal battle with Arkansas over law banning Israeli boycotts

When letters first showed up on Alan Leveritt’s desk saying the Arkansas Times was required to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in order to continue to receive state contracts, he ignored them.

“I was frankly not aware there was a boycott of Israel when I started getting these notices,” Leveritt told NBC News.

As the publisher of the Arkansas Times, a monthly magazine based in Little Rock, he relies on advertisement revenue from state entities to keep his business afloat.

March 2019 Media Watch – JVP Health Advisory Council

March 1, 2019 Welcome to the monthly Health and Human Rights Media Watch. Members of the Health Advisory Council monitor relevant organizations and websites and compile a list of important news and issues which are summarized here. These newsletters will be posted on our website and archived as a resource. If you wish to join this effort, contact [email protected]



Making the Economy Political in Jordan’s Tax Revolts

The Jordanian citizenry remain unwilling to pay more taxes. The old system no longer works, but the way forward demands that Jordan’s leaders address the need for substantive reforms in both the economic and political systems that currently govern Jordanian lives. Any new social contract between the ruler and ruled cannot function by raising taxes while withdrawing services to struggling lower and middle classes. Source