Now Mr Trump has given a green light for Israel to hold on to it permanently
(Image by dw.com) Details DMCA
When President Donald Trump moved the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem last year, effectively sabotaging any hope of establishing a viable Palestinian state, he tore up the international rulebook.
Last week, he trampled all over its remaining tattered pages. He did so, of course, via Twitter.
Referring to a large piece of territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967, Mr Trump wrote: "After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability."
Israel expelled 130,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights in 1967, under cover of the Six Day War, and then annexed the territory 14 years later in violation of international law. A small population of Syrian Druze are the only survivors of that ethnic cleansing operation.
Replicating its illegal acts in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel immediately moved Jewish settlers and businesses into the Golan.
Until now, no country had recognised Israel's act of plunder. In 1981, UN member states, including the US, declared Israeli efforts to change the Golan's status "null and void".
But in recent months, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began stepping up efforts to smash that long-standing consensus and win over the world's only superpower to his side.
He was spurred into action when the Bashar Al Assad aided by Russia began to decisively reverse the territorial losses the Syrian government had suffered during the nation's eight-year war.
The fighting dragged in a host of other actors. Israel itself used the Golan as a base from which to launch covert operations to help Mr Assad's opponents in southern Syria, including Islamic State fighters. Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, meanwhile, tried to limit Israel's room for manoeuvre on the Syrian leader's behalf.
Iran's presence close by was how Mr Netanyahu publicly justified the need for Israel to take permanent possession of the Golan, calling it a vital buffer against Iranian efforts to "use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel".
Before that, when Mr Assad was losing ground to his enemies, the Israeli leader made a different case. Then, he argued that Syria was breaking apart and its president would never be in a position to reclaim the Golan.
Mr Netanyahu's current rationalisation is no more persuasive than the earlier one. Russia and the United Nations are already well advanced on re-establishing a demilitarised zone on the Syrian side of the separation-of-forces line. That would ensure Iran could not deploy close to the Golan Heights.
Mr Netanyahu is set to meet Mr Trump in Washington on Monday, when the president's tweet will reportedly be converted into an executive order.
The timing is significant. This is another crude attempt by Mr Trump to meddle in Israel's election, due on April 9. It will provide Mr Netanyahu with a massive fillip as he struggles against corruption indictments and a credible threat from a rival party, Blue and White, headed by former army generals.
Mr Netanyahu could barely contain his glee, reportedly calling Mr Trump to tell him: "You made history!"