Donald Trumps decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over territory it confiscated from Syria defines a troubling precedent, experts fear
Under intense questioning about why the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights was good but the Russian seizure of Crimea was bad, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, told senators that there was an” international law creed” which would be explained to them later.
It turned out there was no doctrine. The state department's clarification of Pompeo's remarks contained no reference to one, and experts on international law said that none exists.
Donald Trump's decision last month to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, captured from Syria in 1967, took the state department by surprise, and it has been struggling to catch up since.
Pompeo has provided several justifications for the move, from ancient Jewish roots on the plateau, to the justness of the Israeli cause in the “six-day war”, and the blunt force of “facts on the ground”.
On Tuesday, bombarded by senators' questions on the distinction between the Golan and the Crimean lawsuits, he suggested there was a body of international law underpinning Trump's move, that would soon be revealed.
” There is international law creed on this very point. We don't have time to go through it today. But[ I'm] happy to have a team go over and stroll you through that element of international law ,” Pompeo told a Senate appropriations subcommittee.
Asked for clarification about the “doctrine” the state department issued a statement that constructed several debates but no legal ones.
” Israel's administered by the Golan Heights, and Russia's occupation and purported annexation of Crimea should not be compared, as the circumstances couldn't be more different ,” the statement said.
” Israel gained control of the Golan through its legitimate response to Syrian aggression aimed at Israel's destruction ,” it continued.” Russia has occupied Crimea despite the fact that it has recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine in bilateral agreements, and despite its international obligations and commitments, including core OSCE[ Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] principles .”
The statement concluded by saying:” The US policy continues to be that no country can change the borders of another by force .” It did not explain how that statement squared with the recognition of Israeli possession of the Golan. It turned out that the statement had first been issued on 26 March and the state department was still issuing it in response to all queries about the legal underpinnings of Trump's recognition of the Golan annexation.
Experts on international law said the statement underlines the illegality of Russia's seizure of Crimea, but attempts no legal justification for accepting Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights.
Oona Hathaway, an international law professor at Yale University, said:” The international law is clear: there is no right to annex territory from another state by force, whether in an aggressive or defensive war.
” The distinction that the state department is drawing is absolutely false and altogether contradicted by longstanding international law ,” Hathaway said.” The debate the administration is constructing to justify the annexation is outrageous and potentially destabilizing to the postwar international order .”