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Pompeo confused on why seizure is good for Golan but not for Crimea

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, told senators he didn’t have time to explain an international law doctrine justifying Israel’s annexation – perhaps because none exists. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, told senators he didn’t have time to explain an international law doctrine justifying Israel’s annexation – perhaps because none exists. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters
WASHINGTON DC,  April 11, 2019 - US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, faced with an inability to explain why Israel's annexation of Syrian lands was a good thing while Russia's seizure of Crimea was bad, told US senators that there was an “international law doctrine” which would be explained to them later.

The state department’s clarification of Pompeo’s remarks contained no reference to any 'doctrine', and experts on international law said that none exists.

Donald Trump’s decision last month to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, captured from Syria in 1967, took the state department by surprise, and it has been struggling to catch up since.

“There is international law doctrine on this very point. We don’t have time to go through it today. But [I’m] happy to have a team go over and walk you through that element of international law,” Pompeo told a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

Asked for clarification about the “doctrine” the state department issued a statement that made several arguments but no legal ones.

“Israel’s administration of the Golan Heights, and Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea should not be compared, as the circumstances couldn’t be more different,” the statement said.

“Israel gained control of the Golan through its legitimate response to Syrian aggression aimed at Israel’s destruction,” it continued. “Russia has occupied Crimea despite the fact that it has recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine in bilateral agreements, and despite its international obligations and commitments, including core OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] principles.”

 “The US policy continues to be that no country can change the borders of another by force, ”  the statement continued. It did not explain how that statement squared with the recognition of Israeli possession of the Golan. The statement had first been issued on 26 March and the state department was still issuing it in response to all queries about the legal underpinnings of Trump’s recognition of the Golan annexation.

Experts on international law said the statement underlines the illegality of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, but attempts no legal justification for accepting Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

Britain's Guardian website, quotes international law professor at Yale University,  Oona Hathaway as saying: “The international law is clear: there is no right to annex territory from another state by force, whether in an aggressive or defensive war.

“The distinction that the state department is drawing is absolutely false and entirely contradicted by longstanding international law,” Hathaway said. “The argument the administration is making to justify the annexation is outrageous and potentially destabilizing to the postwar international order.”

The main bulwarks of international law on annexation are the UN Charter, and UN security council resolution 242, agreed in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which stressed “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.

It called for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and respect for and acknowledgment of the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

The Guardian story noted that Trump’s decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan took the state department by surprise, and it has wavered in its justification of the decision.

As well as trying to make a distinction between land grabs as an outcome of defensive and offensive wars Pompeo has pointed to ancient Jewish links with the area, and sought to make a virtue of acceptance of “facts on the ground”.

A state department tweet on Tuesday cited Pompeo as saying: “The Trump administration sees the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. Basing policy on reality, we recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital [and] Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

  • Countries: United_States

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