Israel and its lobby want President Trump to formally recognize territories annexed by Israel, but that most of the world consider unlawfully occupied. Bestowing U.S. legitimacy on Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights, seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, would solidify a "buffer zone" to keep Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at bay in war-torn Syria, argued Benjamin Netanyahu in April.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman argued last week that the presence of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the West Bank is only an "alleged occupation." Friedman claimed settlements were "only occupying 2% of the West Bank," elaborating that "I think the settlements are part of Israel." 53 members of Congress on a recent American Israel Education Foundation junkets to Israel are told in briefings by AIPAC lobbyists accompanying them that East Jerusalem, also seized by Israel in 1967, "is not a settlement."
One reason Israel and its lobby may soon get their way on formal recognition is that Americans are evenly split. An IRmep poll fielded the issue September 30-October 2 to a representative cross-section of 1,000 adult American Internet users. It reveals a result too close to call, with 48.3% saying Trump should not recognize Israeli territorial annexations, but 47.3% saying that he should. The poll has an RMSE score of 6%, and may be filtered by demographics online.
Poll: Israel’s lobby wants Pres. Trump to recognize Israel’s annexing East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank & Syria’s Golan Heights. Past US presidents & UN resolutions opposed it.
Imposing a "peace plan" that bestows US recognition of territories Israel already considers its own should be expected from a Trump Middle East peace team that tilts wholly toward Israel. The pro-Israel advisors surrounding President Trump could convince him such a move would be not only a pathway to greatness, but one that Congress dare not challenge. Harry S. Truman is revered by many for extending de facto recognition of Israel the same day it declared independence. Other countries, Trump’s advisors may whisper, will quickly fall in line after he makes such a "decisive" and "presidential" move, a singular victory after an embarrassing recent string of policy defeats. Many top Israel affinity organizations that do proprietary polling may already be arguing that Americans are – at best – indifferent.
The consequences of US recognition, however, could be severe. Palestinians, long suffering under Israeli occupation, could be even further marginalized, dispossessed of land, and displaced. It could unravel the United Nations, founded on the principle that member states must "refrain" from expansion through territorial conquest. U.N. resolutions – passed by member states who expected them to carry weight – have long proclaimed Israel’s annexations and occupations are unlawful.
Any remaining global good will toward the United States, already severely eroded by Middle East military interventions premised on disinformation, could vanish entirely. Legitimizing Israel’s annexations would confirm that the essence of US conduct toward Israel-Palestine is a transactional, opaque, cash-and-carry operation administered primarily for Israel through the behind-the-scenes machinations of its tiny, unrepresentative, influential and extremely wealthy US lobby.
Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America and America’s Defense Line: The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government.