A former White House adviser during the administration of President George W. Bush said that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is “manifestly in the interest of the United States,” in testimony before a Congressional hearing on Tuesday.
Michael Doran, currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the Subcommittee on National Security of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, that the history of the past seventy years has shown that “when in the hands of Syria, the Golan Heights promoted conflict. When in the hands of Israel, they have promoted stability.”
Doran also argued that ceding the Golan to Syria would give access of its strategic heights to Iran, which would give the Islamic Republic the position necessary to threaten Israeli civilians, Israel’s water supply, and even Jordan.
In his testimony, Dore Gold, the former Director-General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, informed the subcommittee that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights “would constitute the fulfillment of a series of previous diplomatic assurances given to Israel by past administrations regarding the international status of Israel’s position on that strategic plateau.”
Over two decades, letters from President Gerald Ford, Secretary of State James Baker, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Gold explained, all “conveyed a consistent American understanding at the highest level that Israel must remain on the Golan Heights.”
Northwestern University School of Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich critiqued arguments that asserted that Israel, to make peace with Syria, should be prepared to cede the Golan Heights:
Today, every aspect of the assumptions behind these suggestions has been entirely discredited. Firstly, Assad is not and never was a peacemaker. The notion that he would abide by a deal with Israel any more than the countless ceasefires, chemical weapons agreements and treaties, and basic international commitments that he has flouted in the past seven years strains credulity.
Kontorovich noted too that had Israel listened to those advising it to cede the Golan to Syria, it “would have expanded Assad’s power and threatened Israel – for naught.”
Two other experts testified at the hearing.
One, retired U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, currently a professor at Princeton University, acknowledged the risks ceding the Golan Heights would present to Israel, however, he argued that “I do not believe that there is an American interest at this time.”
The final witness was Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, who told the subcommittee, “America’s moderate Sunni Arab allies could very well be quietly pleased by U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, in that this would help to stem Iranian aggression and the very same malign actors confronting our Arab allies.”
The idea of supporting Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it captured in the defensive Six-Day War in 1967, has been gaining currency in recent years.
In February 2017, Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer, respectively the CEO and senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued, it “would provide the Israeli government with a diplomatic win while helping the Trump administration signal to Russia and Iran that the U.S. is charting a new course in Syria.”
Dubowitz and Schanzer also pointed out that if Israel had made a deal with Syria to give up the Golan, “Islamic State, al Qaeda or Iran would be sitting on the shores of the Galilee across from the Israeli city of Tiberias.”
Legal scholar Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argued in RealClearPolitics in February 2016 that Israel’s possession of the Golan was “lawful and just” and should be supported by the United States and the international community.
In November 2015, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren made a similar argument, urging the United States to support Israel’s claim to the Golan. “By backing Israel’s historic claims,” he wrote on CNN.com, “the United States could send a potent message to the entire Middle East — that the Golan Heights will never again be a battlefield.”
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