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I know we've come to expect unusual behavior from the present POTUS, but I really fail to understand the benefit for the US of recognizing Israel as owning the Golan Heights.

For one thing, it overturns the general post-war consensus that nations can't increase their territory through military action. And, well, it doesn't seem like it will do anything except isolate the US diplomatically.

This question shouldn't be construed in any way, shape or form as support for Assad's government. Or a strong desire to force Israel's hand to return it without security assurances from Syria.

This is the full text of the tweet.

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!

–Donald Trump, via Twitter (2019-03-21)

Edit: apologies to both answers given so far, but I'd like to shift the discussion away from the electoral motivations to what concrete benefits the US could expect if this policy was actually implemented. I.e. how is this good "for the US", rather than any political parties.

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    "What's the point?" - VTC as primary opinion based. – Sjoerd Mar 22 at 7:10
  • I edited this to hopefully make it less likely to attract opinion-based answers or be closed. If you (the poster) disagree with the edits, feel free to revert them. – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 at 7:40
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    @Obie2.0 Your edits shift the focus from "What's the point of the tweet" to "What's the point of this policy." Invalidating several of the answers that focused on the tweet. – Sjoerd Mar 22 at 8:09
  • @Sjoerd - Good point. – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 at 8:19
  • @Obie2.0 while I appreciate the effort, I find the edits really change the sense of the question towards something that I wouldn't care to ask about. "The US" has, at this point, no reason to explain what is, so far, only a Tweet. So expecting an official position that is considered and somewhat binding, to what's so far only a Tweet, is premature. – Italian Philosopher Mar 22 at 15:52
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I'm not sure there is much benefit to the United States. It won't increase Israel's reliablity as a military ally or trading partner, since they already filled these roles without any US recognition of their possession of the Golan Heights. As the question noted, it will likely only score negative foreign policy points.

However, it's not the US in some amorphous sense that's taking these actions, but the US President, Donald Trump. It's not at all unusual for a president to take actions that aren't to the overall benefit of their country for personal reasons. Consider Richard Nixon, spying on his political opponents out of paranoia. Or Nicolas Maduro, engaging in deficit spending to boost his re-election chances in 2013. For that matter, consider the policy of Trump himself toward Venezuela, which is unlikely to bring much benefit to Americans, but is intended to provide a rhetorical point about socialism in the 2020 elections.

And there are several ways this recognition of the Golan Heights could benefit Donald Trump.

  1. Trump is making a play for Jewish voters. He hasn't exactly been subtle about it.

    The ‘Jexodus’ movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat Party,” he tweeted. “Total disrespect! Republicans are waiting with open arms. Remember Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy) and the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal!

    Since Jewish voters are more likely to be "pro-Israel" in a broad sense, actions that seem to favor Israel may increases Trump's standing among this demographic. If Trump sees recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as an action that will help bring Jewish voters to his side, it's easy to see why he'd think the same about recognizing its possession of the Golan heights.

  2. Right-leaning people tend to be more supportive of the actions of Israel's government in general. Whatever Trump himself thinks, appearing to stand by Israel may increase the solidity of his support among his core base, For reasons why right-wing people might be more supportive of Israel, see the answers to this question.

  3. Trump himself is fairly hostile to Muslim people, as has been extensively documented. It is possible that this might motivate him to be unsympathetic to Muslim countries' land claims.

As for the concerns that you mention, they aren't as important as one might think. Trump doesn't care much for international consensus or diplomatic isolation. He's made remarks that have been hostile to the traditional allies of the US, and drawn nearer to some traditional adversaries. I doubt diplomatic isolation is a major concern for him.

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    @Obie 2.0 Upvoted you, but I was looking for a Realpolitik type of cost/benefit really. Most media coverage I've read so far pretty much takes your position already. I struggle to see anything else than electoral considerations, which is why I was asking. Sorry if I was unclear. – Italian Philosopher Mar 22 at 16:11
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    This answer is totally the opposite of what the question looked for. There has to be some significance other than electoral. Voters care about issues that they precieve matter. So if Jewish voters like this policy, why do they like it? – spmoose Mar 22 at 16:55
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    @spmoose. I edited the question, so the answer was quite OK at first. And I really am also not looking why Jewish voters might like it. What's in it for the US is what I care about. – Italian Philosopher Mar 22 at 17:00
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    @Adonalsium - It all depends on what position you're looking from, right? Both parties would call themselves "pro-Israel," probably. But the Republican Party has recently been much more attractive to hardliners, precisely because of their willingness to uncritically support Netanyahu. For instance, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Israel's claim on the Golan Heights, are currently two major policy differences between the two. "Pro-Israel" is a vague term, and not one I really like, but here I'm using it to mean "supportive of what Israel's government does." – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 at 19:50
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    @spmoose - The reasons voters like it couldn't exactly be described as realpolitik foreign policy considerations for the US. They come down to things like "Israel is the only Jewish state, and we should support it however we can", "Israel must have its biblical borders for the End Times to occur properly." As the question says, there is little political advantage to recognizing the Golan Heights, which is why previous presidents from both parties didn't do so. – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 at 20:08
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This could also be a way to boost Netanyahu's chances in the upcoming Israeli elections which he's projected to lose. A claim over the Golan backed by the U.S goes a long way into shoring public sentiment in Israel.

The same question can be asked vis a vis the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The move displaced decades of U.S foreign policy and ultimately appears to have done a lot of harm to the U.S' standing internationally. So if the U.S isn't gaining from such moves, why is the Trump administration undertaking them?

For one, Trump does not have a lot of allies. Which makes the necessity of supporting powerful political groups like AIPAC paramount. By dislodging decades of foreign policy, Trump is able to gain the support of powerful political groups and their constituencies.

Also, the Pentagon requested a 110% increase in the funding that supports the ongoing occupations of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The conditions for all out war are being put in place should Israel and Hezbollah engage in another conflict. Because realistically and in my opinion, Levantines(Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians) would never acquiesce such a capitulation and this, in essence, is another move to create the conditions for escalation in the region. As to how escalation is beneficial to the U.S? The purported elimination of Hezbollah -following an attack on the Golan(something that happens intermitently) which the U.S now considers Israeli territory- would be classified as beneficial to the U.S and its allies.

  • Since Netenyahu is a known property and a staunch ally of the US, it makes sense for PoTUS to promote his campaign. – Valorum Mar 23 at 12:12
  • "ultimately appears to have done a lot of harm to the U.S' standing internationally" [citation needed] – darij grinberg Mar 24 at 19:31
  • "Levantines(Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians) would never acquiesce such a capitulation" such as what? Such as the ongoing Iranian occupation of Lebanon by means of Hezbollah? – darij grinberg Mar 24 at 19:32
  • Given that it went contrary to 99% of international opinion and standing on the matter. It even went against decades old established U.S policy. – user3208727 Mar 25 at 4:32
  • The Lebanese certainly don't think that Iran is occupying Lebanon. The fact that Israelis tend to believe that has no bearing on reality and the facts. – user3208727 Mar 25 at 4:33
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It seems to be a staple of Trump's negotiating strategy. He offers "X" for a property. When the offer is rejected he walks away. Should the seller later come to him and ask for the "X" already offered he counters with less than "X". And should the seller reject the offer and come back Trump offers less than before. The seller knows he needs to act now or the next time he will get even less.

Now, let's look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians now say they want the 1967 borders. They could have accomplished that in 1967 but the Arab states promoted the Three No's.

Since then Jerusalem, the West Bank settlements and the Golan Heights were part of their negotiating strategy. Now, with the US Embassy being in Jerusalem it's crystal clear that Jerusalem will be the Israeli capital. (The Palestinians may yet get a piece of it - but they better hurry to the negotiating table.) Likewise for the Golan Heights. If the Palestinians and Syria don't negotiate a real peace now the Golan Heights are gone as a negotiating stick.

There will be no organized violence over this in the middle east. Sunni's care about Jerusalem and outside of a few weeks of ineffective protests nothing happened. The Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian governments couldn't care less about the Golan Heights. And, since Syria is now completely within the Iranian sphere (I wouldn't call it a puppet state) they really don't care what happens. In fact there may even be a secret glee about it.

So, what is the end result? Should the Palestinians and their supporters want peace with Israel they need to act now because they're losing their bargaining chips.

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    And it should be mentioned that Middle Eastern countries respect force a lot more than polite negotiations. Forcing your hand could result in a better result than any subtle manoeuvring could ever do. – JonathanReez Mar 22 at 21:26
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    @JonathanReez - Do they though? Many of them have been in a lot of wars, but then, so have many other countries. – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 at 23:12
  • I agree that the ME governments won't care much about it, but it will make the USA way more impopular among their populations and can make difficult for the governments to back other USA activities in the region. – SJuan76 Mar 23 at 8:25
  • The Golan heights are inhabited by about 22 000 Druze which are an Arab group not affiliated with the Palestinians. The territory is Syrian and the Palestinian side doesn't make any claims on it. – Björn Lindqvist Mar 24 at 17:51
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    @BjörnLindqvist - the Golan Heights was seized by Israel after the 1967 war. Historically that's all the legitimacy a claim needs. In the modern world conquest does not legitimize annexing the land. But this was a defense war -- this land is now in a different category. The issue may not be a Palestinian one but Syria did war with Israel; they did not make peace as did Egypt. Therefore the issue is between Syria and Israel. – Mayo Mar 25 at 12:56
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There is no befit to US. Aside from that US considers Israel and ally.

Having those height makes Israel defense easier.

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    with Israel being in control of them at the moment, the defense of Israel at this point is not in question either way. – Italian Philosopher Mar 23 at 1:20
  • Also, Syria is in tatters and its civil war is still not over (Kurds and Turkey still control significant parts of the country.) It will be a long time before it becomes a significant risk to anyone, let alone to Israel. – SJuan76 Mar 23 at 10:47
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    @ItalianPhilosopher The defense of Israel is certainly on the agenda. The entirety of the Syrian armed forces philosophy and structural policy prior to the current civil war was centered around how to take back the Golan. Hezbollah and we Lebanese certainly won't allow Israel to de jure increase its borders with ours by such a magnitude. That leaves us very much more exposed. – user3208727 Mar 24 at 4:29
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it overturns the general post-war consensus that nations can't increase their territory through military action

But does it? Israel was not the aggressor in the military actions (Six Day War, 1967) that added Golan to their territory. So while one can interpret recognizing the Israeli claim to the Golan as rewarding the winner of a war, it's equally possible to interpret it as punishing the aggressor.

If we assume that encouraging aggression is harmful to international relations, then this stance is clearly harmful under the first interpretation and just as clearly beneficial under the second.

The difference pivots on what would happen in the counter-factual1 scenario where the war was won by an aggressor... would the USA back annexation by the winner, or punish them by compelling the winner's border to shrink? Whether aggression is encouraged or discouraged depends on other nations' reading of what the USA would do in that scenario. Until and unless that scenario plays out, at least in the context of threats veiled in diplomacy, disagreement over the interpretation will continue.


1Once we get beyond Israel and consider the middle east generally, this is no longer counter-factual -- the First Gulf War (1990-91) played out exactly because a nation believed the USA (and other major powers) would allow them to annex a neighbor.

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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 at 23:24
  • it's too easy to stir up a war, blame it on the other guys and then take over territory. much easier to just have a blanket ban on such territorial expansions. plus, in most cases, land comes with an existing civilian population that will either require expelling or coercing. Most of the world doesn't want that to happen, so don't pretend that it solves anything. – Italian Philosopher Mar 25 at 3:50
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    @ItalianPhilosopher: By victim-blaming, you simply guarantee that the actual aggressor faces no losses. At some point you have to try to insist that border areas are properly policed, and if one country is willing to do so while the other lets lawlessness run rampant, de facto it is in the interests of regional stability, world diplomacy, and the local populace to have the area policed. – Ben Voigt Mar 25 at 3:54

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