Is there any other country on Earth with which America would dare collude on such a scale? Forget the “special relationship” with the crackpots in Britain, or the New World coming to the rescue of the Old World in the Second World War. There’s only one special relationship that matters right now – and we all know what that is. Having given its blessing to all Jerusalem as Israeli property and having now handed Golan to Israel as a possession – for “to annex” means “to take possession”, does it not? – Donald Trump has undermined the entire foundation of “land for peace” enshrined in Security Council Resolution 242. And Israel is happy. A gift for Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election, we are told.
True, the Middle East “peace process” died years ago – if it ever existed, or was meant to work – but Trump’s ostentatious signature on Israel’s annexation of Golan on Monday tore up the documents, the paragraphs, the very basis for the two-state Israeli-Palestinian settlement which might have ended the longest military occupation of our generation. And the United States has now given its open, public and wholehearted support to Israel’s side in the world’s last colonial war. And if Golan is now part of Israel because of the threat of Iran, then southern Lebanon can become part of Israel. Isn’t Hezbollah also an Iranian “threat”? And how quickly will we see the West Bank annexed by Israel with the approval of the United States?
Notice two things about the above paragraphs. Firstly, the number of times I have been forced to use quotation marks around verbs and nouns and adjectives which would normally never need them. And secondly, how one word – Syria – simply did not occur. Syria’s loss of Golan in 1967 is so long ago and has become so normalised that in a perverse way, its real ownership had ceased to exist; Trump’s recognition of Israel’s own “annexation” – unrecognised anywhere else in the world – merely accepted what we’d all secretly gone along with. That the theft of Syria’s land was now perfectly legal. Or “legal”. It was highly instructive that when the BBC website chose to cover the story about Trump’s Golan mischief, it ran a story headlined “What it all means” – but which did not mention Syria until the fifth paragraph.
The media, in its grovelling, cowardly, craven obeisance to Israel – and its absolute fear of being cast into the accusatory hell of “antisemitism” – has a lot to answer for. When Colin Powell told the US State Department to instruct its embassies to call the West Bank “disputed” rather than “occupied”, the American press and television almost at once switched nomenclature. And so when the State Department suddenly referred to Golan a few weeks ago as “Israeli-controlled” rather than “Israeli-occupied”, we all knew what was coming. Thank heavens, as I always say, for those brave Israeli journalists – and preciously few activists and politicians – who speak out against these insanities.
This verbal transition, however, is neither subtle nor surprising – given America’s utter surrender to all things Israeli – but it is very sinister for the people of the Middle East. I was very struck by something Netanyahu said in response to Trump’s signature on that outrageous Golan document: he said that “the Jewish people’s roots in the Golan go back thousands of years”. True. But I recalled at once that in 1982, within weeks of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Israeli troops and “civil affairs” officers travelled around the Shia Muslim and Christian villages of the south of Lebanon, handing out questionnaires to the Arabs. I saw them do this. The documents were long and complicated. Were there any Jewish archaeological remains on their lands, the Lebanese were asked? Had any of their older buildings any signs of Jewish habitation in previous decades or centuries? Did any hills or villages have Hebrew names? They were especially interested in the area within the triangle of Tyre, Sidon and Qana.
Of course, there were many Jewish remains. Even in the hill villages of the Druze Chouf mountains, I have found the indent of the mezuzah on stone door frames, proving that their ancient owners followed the instructions of the Book of Deuteronomy. The Israelis noted these marks; indeed, some of the inhabitants pointed them out to the initially friendly Israeli soldiers. But of course, it set a precedent. What if – after the next Lebanon war – Israel decides that rather than occupy southern Lebanon, it will annex the region because “the Jewish people’s roots” in the region “go back thousands of years”.
Yes, I know that Israel would have to defeat Hezbollah to do this – an unlikely event since Hezbollah would more likely be heading across the Lebanese border into Israel. But in the 18 years in which it occupied almost all of southern Lebanon, the media never referred to it as “Israeli-occupied”. It was always called “Israeli-controlled” and the vast Israeli occupation zone was never called by this name. Instead, it was always referred to as Israel’s “security zone”. We journos had already laid the semantic groundwork for the annexation which hasn’t happened – yet.
But this is not a story about Lebanon any more than it is about Trump himself. Indeed, watching the tomfoolery in the mother of parliaments, I find it ever more embarrassing to write about the insanity of the Trump White House. No, this is about the very act of international annexation and the west’s willingness to go along with land theft – unless, of course, Putin and Russia are involved. And it is about the fact – let us not haggle like skinflints over definitions – that the United States, in its foreign policy in the Middle East, is in hock to Israel. As many 20 years ago, I gathered together dozens of US and Israeli government policy statements on the region, jumbled them up – and asked a colleague to arrange them back in their original order. Readers might try the same test: it was – and is – an impossible task.
I’m tired of the utterly false arguments about antisemitism in the United States. The country contains many anti-Jewish, anti-Arab, anti-black racists without de-semanticising the word “antisemitism” by using it against all of Israel’s critics. It doesn’t need new Arab-origin legislators, with their dodgy, unpleasantly revealing remarks and their sloppy grasp of history, to understand that Americans will not and dare not complain about the dual loyalties of their countrymen and countrywomen.
Just look at the US congress when Netanyahu addresses it. The representatives of the United States stand up and applaud and sit down and again stand up and applaud and sit down – 29 times in 2011 and 39 times in 2015. I always watch this act of US legislative grovelling with a smile, for it reminds me of the ovations which Saddam Hussein would always receive from his beloved people and which Bashar al-Assad always received – and still receives – from his loyal subjects. I can well see why Middle East leaders spot parallels between the Arab world and America.
And I could well understand why congress stands to attention so many times on cue when Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, says, as he did on Monday, that “we stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight”.
Really? Does the United States, which fought a colonial war against the British, really stand with Israel’s colonial cause – its colonial expansion and land thievery in the West Bank? Do Americans really “stand with” Israel in its constant, brutal bombardments of Palestinians – and of Lebanon – and tolerate and approve those war crimes which all but the Americans acknowledge to be Israel’s responsibility. And if they do, why did Americans bother to go to war with Saddam? Why do we bomb Syria?
There’s no point in tracing the putrid history of annexation. Of the US annexation of Hawaii because it needed a naval port in the Pacific (as the Japanese noted) and its annexation of most of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. I’m not even mentioning Putin and Crimea. Nor do we surely need to drag ourselves through the annexations perpetrated by the little corporal with the moustache – Jacinda Ardern-like, I shall not mention his name – who annexed the Sudetenland and all of Austria, the latter event accompanied by a Times editorial comparing it favourably with the 300-year-old union of Scotland and England.
No, I’m not comparing annexations. The Israelis are not Nazis and the Americans are not Russians and the Russians are not Israelis. But there are parallels which countries themselves draw when they choose to annex – or sanctify annexations – of other people’s land. All of which can be based and in most cases were based on both ethnic roots and military necessity.
Today, we must learn again that old phrase “facts on the ground”. Israel annexed Jerusalem and Golan in 1980 and 1981 – all the world (and a lot of Israelis) condemned this at the time – but now Trump has snapped the “land for peace” equation in half. Washington has given its imprimatur to illegal land acquisition, to territorial theft. And why not when congress is in thrall to Israel?
Yet why get worked up about this? By recognising Israel’s annexation of Golan, Trump merely recognised that Israel has annexed America.