GOLAN HEIGHTS: Druze on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights took to the streets in protest at US President Donald Trump’s pledge to recognise the Jewish state’s sovereignty there.
Trump broke with decades of US Middle East policy, and longstanding international consensus, when he posted a Tweet on Thursday that said it was time to accept Israel’s widely contested claim to the strategic plateau.
Tens of thousands of Syrians fled or were expelled when Israel seized part of the Golan during the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequently annexing it in 1981.
Some remained, however, and today around 23,000 Druze reside in the Israeli-controlled sector, alongside 25,000 Israeli settlers.
On Saturday Druze men, women and children rallied in the town of Majdal Shams, adjacent to the armistice line between the Golan’s Israeli and Syrian-controlled sectors. They waved Druze and Syrian flags.
Trump will sign an order recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights when he meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Monday, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced on Twitter.
“President Trump will sign tomorrow in the presence of PM Netanyahu an order recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” FKatz wrote on Twitter.
Wasef Khatar, a Druze community representative, said Trump was making commitments on “Arab, Syrian land, not Israeli.”
“We reject the decision of the American president Trump because he is talking about something he doesn own,” he said in Arabic.
Trump’s move was hinted at a week ago when the US State Department changed its description of the area from “occupied” to “Israeli-controlled”.
It is yet to be made operative by an act of Congress or an executive order.
Israel regards the Golan as a strategic asset, because its hills overlook northern Israeli towns, particularly near its inland Sea of Galilee. Around 20,000 Jewish settlers live in the Golan itself, many working in farming, leisure and tourism.
Many Israeli commentators saw Trump’s declaration as a timely boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Israeli elections scheduled for April 9, in which he has been dogged by corruption allegations.
But some Israelis living in and around the Golan said Trump’s gesture would change little on the ground.
“The US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan makes us happy. However, our daily routine does not involve dealing with whether Israeli sovereignty is being recognised or not,” said Haim Rokah, head of the regional Israeli council in the Golan.
Rami Yogev, 65, a resident of Dan kibbutz, which is overlooked by the Golan, said he remembers shelling from the then Syrian-controlled heights onto his town during the 1967 war.
“I don’t think Trump’s announcement will make any difference here. It’s not going to change anything. The residents in the Golan already feel like they’re Israelis. They have a better life than being in Syria or any Arab country — just look what happened in the war in Syria,” he said.