The Golan Heights and a new, imperial world order

The Golan Heights and a new, imperial world order
Comment: Trump's recognition of Israel's claim to occupied land is no surprise, but is the latest example of a wide-ranging regression in the rule of law, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
25 Mar, 2019
Israel conquered the Golan from Syria in 1967 and annexed it in 1981 [AFP]
It hardly takes much discernment to look around the world and note that there has been a great lunge backwards when it comes to the state of world order. Though imperialism has never gone away, so to speak, the nature of it changed after the Second World war and, in particular, after the so-called "Suez crisis".

From this point in history onwards, with a few exceptions, imperialism transformed from a system of hard colonialism to a softer, subtler hegemonic system, where power blocs dominated smaller or "weaker" nations through economics, with "hard power" (eg: military occupation) being rare and always riven with controversy.  

Liberal democracy in no sense eradicated imperialism, but it blunted it, forcing it to come to terms with antithetical concepts such as human rights, international law and the utopian and always subverted ideal of global egalitarianism.

But now we return to the days when the land of weaker people or nations can be seized, destroyed or given away by larger imperialist countries.  

This is precisely what lies behind US Donald Trump doing that which no other US president has, including such rogues as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, abruptly
announcing that the US has recognised Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights. Israel seized the Golan by force during the 1967 war.

The overwhelming consensus of the rest of the world, backed up by international law, is that the Golan rightfully belongs to Syria and that settlements on it were and remain illegal.

With not even a stroke of a pen, but rather the brainless bashing out of a tweet, Trump has essentially further degraded one of the fundamentals of the post-war world order, namely that no country can alter internationally recognised boundaries by force. Many might argue that the Golan Heights was as good as lost to Israel already, given there was no serious attempt by anybody to enforce the law and stop Israel from annexing the land, and that Trump is thus just stating the obvious.

But the statement sent by Trump to the world is that states can once again through power and force steal the land of other states. If you live in "the first world", in an economically and militarily strong country, this might not seem very alarming, but for those who live in precarious circumstances where self-determination and nationhood are subverted, suppressed and oppressed by powerful actors, it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.
We've seen in Syria how Russia and Iran have through sheer genocidal force managed to change the demographics of that country in order to ensure that Bashar al-Assad remains in control

In 2014, when Russia marched into Crimea, a territory that belongs to Ukraine, and illegally
annexed it, the US, then under Obama, condemned it rhetorically and fairly quietly, but there was never any chance of it actually taking the steps necessary to halt the Russian aggression.  

Russia has now undertaken old school colonialist policies of
aiding ethnic Russian families to settle in Crimea, in order to further weaken the position of the indigenous Crimean Tatars - a population that was once cleansed by Stalin's Russia and who now lies at the mercy of his cruel successors.   

Welcome to the new world order.

Similarly, we've seen in Syria how Russia and Iran have through sheer genocidal force managed to change the demographics of that country in order to ensure that Bashar al-Assad remains in control of a semi-colonial rump state.  

Read more: Netanyahu in Washington as Trump promises Golan Heights recognition

A rump state that provides both Russia and Iran with lucrative economic and trade opportunities, while Iran has literally tentatively begun programmes to cement its own religious, military and economic hegemony over the country, including by importing Shia populations to areas of the country where Sunni Syrians once lived.  

Iran has now been able to carve for itself
an imperialist corridor stretching from its own borders passing through Baghdad to Damascus to Lebanon - the plan in Tehran is for a new rail system from Iran right through to Tartus.

While one could list the direct ways in which countries such as Russia and Iran have benefitted from this new vicious imperialist cloud that is spreading so rapidly across the world, it's more apt to look at what it means for the world in concrete terms.

Genocide, for the first time since the early 20
th century, has become normalised again. Ethnic cleansing has been welcomed once again onto the world stage. And now annexation of the territories of other countries by force is embraced by the world's most powerful country.   

Though Obama did nothing about any of this and often tacitly accepted these things, Trump represents an overt acceptance of it. He might even indulge in this neo-colonialist free for all himself at some point - who could forget his
speech to the CIA, wherein he said that the US should have used its 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq to "steal Iraq's oil" and then speculated that the US "may have another chance" to complete this theft?

But so far his two most egregious realisations of this degradation of world order have centred around Israel.

Firstly, there was his
recognition of Jerusalem - including the illegally occupied Eastern half, which UN Resolution 242 and international law defines as the capital of a future Palestinian state - as the "unified" capital of Israel.

Secondly, he now recognises the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel.

Many Palestinians rightfully wonder, could the West Bank be next? While there's little doubt Trump would be willing to recognise the West Bank as belonging to Israel, it's unlikely he would do so.  

Israel, for one, would not welcome such a move, given any official recognition of the West Bank as belonging to the State of Israel would mean that it would have to take on more than two million Palestinians as new citizens of Israel, something that would vastly undermine another of the world's ominously in vogue rising phenomena, namely its will to have an ethno-supremacist "Jewish state".  

Though people can talk about its illegality, no one would ever act against it - not in the old world and certainly not in this new world


The alternative would be the mass cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank, which, while not impossible in this world of disorder, remains quite unlikely.   

Israel's current domination of Palestinians relies on a "permanent occupation" strategy, whereby it occupies the West Bank indefinitely, keeping the Palestinian population stateless but exploitable as cheap labour, while annexing areas of it to incorporate Jewish settlers who shore up its ethno-supremacist foundations.  

All of this is illegal in itself, but though people can talk about its illegality, no one would ever act against it - not in the old world and certainly not in this new world.

Across the region, save a few lone voices, such as Turkey, the idea of a meaningful Palestinian state has no serious patrons - much in the same way concrete moves towards democracy in Egypt, Syria and the entire region have been brutally dismantled by tyrants, whether Saudis, Iranians, Emiratis or Russians. Though this can now only be written with bitter hindsight, each of these revolutions complimented the other.

The fact remains that Israel could cleanse Palestinians from the West Bank and Trump could recognise the West Bank as part of Israel. No one in the world could stop him.

If Iran and Russia can destroy an entire nation to preserve their imperialist interests and Russia can waltz into Ukraine and annex part of it by force, what chance do seemingly eternally stateless Palestinians have?

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.