GCC ‘regrets’ Trump’s call to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

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The Golan Heights were seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War. (AFP/File photo)
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US President Donald Trump said it’s now willing to recognize Israel’s sovereignty in the disputed Golan Heights. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 March 2019
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GCC ‘regrets’ Trump’s call to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

  • Syria says the statement showed “the blind bias of the United States” toward Israel
  • Other Arab and western countries voice their opposition to US change of stance

BEIRUT: The Gulf Cooperation Council expressed regret on Friday at Donald Trump's call to recognise Israel's sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, territory captured from Syria in a 1967 war.
Trump's statement "will not change the reality that (...) the Arab Golan Heights is Syrian land occupied by Israel by military force in 1967," said Abdul Latif Al Zayani, the GCC secretary general.

"The statements by the American president undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace."

The GCC's comments came as the Syrian government vowed on Friday to recover the territory from Israel. Other countries, both Syria's allies and enemies, in the region and the West also condemned the US president's comments - which marked the latest major US policy shift on Israel.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 — a move not recognized internationally.

Here are the reactions to Trump's statement: 

Gulf Cooperation Council

The Gulf Cooperation Council regional group of six Arab countries expressed regret on Friday at US President Donald Trump’s call to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory captured from Syria in a 1967 war.

Trump’s statement “will not change the reality that (...) the Arab Golan Heights is Syrian land occupied by Israel by military force in 1967,” said Abdul Latif Al Zayani, the GCC secretary general.

“The statements by the American president undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

European Union

The European Union underlined it does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights on Friday.

“The position of the EU has not changed,” an EU spokeswoman told Reuters. “The European Union, in line with international law, does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, including the Golan Heights and does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory.”

Egypt
Egypt also said on Friday it considers the territory as occupied Syrian land.

In a statement carried by state news agency MENA, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry cited U.N. Security Council resolution 497 of 1981 which rejected Israel's annexation of the territory.

The ministry “stressed the importance that everybody should respect the resolutions of international legitimacy and the United Nations Charter in respect of the inadmissibility of acquiring land by force,” the statement said.

Iraq

In a tweet, Iraq’s foreign ministry said the US call for Israeli sovereignty on Golan Heights contravenes international law.

France

The French Foreign Ministry said the sovereignty of Israel over the Golan Heights would be contrary to international law.

Germany

The Golan Heights is Syrian territory occupied by Israel, a German government spokeswoman said on Friday when asked about U.S. President Donald Trump's call to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the strategic territory.

“If national borders should be changed it must be done through peaceful means between all those involved,” spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

“The government rejects unilateral steps.”

Iran, Russia, and Turkey

Russia and Iran, military allies of Damascus, condemned the shift toward recognition — comments which the Syrian government said showed Washington’s “blind” pro-Israeli bias.
“The Syrian nation is more determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through all available means,” the Syrian state news agency cited an official source as saying.
The Golan Heights would remain “Syrian, Arab,” it said, saying the statement showed contempt for international law.
Turkey, a US-allied state and an adversary of the Damascus government, also criticized the move, saying it had brought the Middle East to the edge of a new crisis and the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights could not be allowed.
“US President Trump’s unfortunate statement yesterday has brought the region to the brink of a new crisis,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said.
Iran said the US position was illegal and unacceptable, and Russia said a change in the status of the Golan Heights would be a direct violation of UN resolutions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is touring the region, is due in Beirut on Friday where he will he will meet political allies of the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah, including President Michel Aoun.
Both Iran and Russia have deployed forces into Syria in support of President Bashar Assad during the Syrian conflict, with Iran sending both its own forces and also backing regional Shiite militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that have helped Damascus.
“This illegal and unacceptable recognition does not change the fact that it belongs to Syria,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman was cited as saying by state TV.

In a speech at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Turkey’s Erdogan said: “we cannot allow the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights.”

Arab League
The Arab League, which suspended Syria in 2011, said Trump’s comment paved “the way for official American recognition” of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the statements were “completely beyond international law.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pressed the United States to recognize its claim and raised that possibility in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.

Trump’s statement has given a boost to Netanyahu in the middle of his re-election campaign.
Netanyahu has praised Trump for “making history” with the statement.
“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!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Trump’s move followed the US recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — a decision that also drew international criticism as the disputed city’s status remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.