Biden’s Dangerous Refusal to Reverse Trump’s Western Sahara Policy

In his final weeks in office, President Donald Trump stunned the international community in formally recognizing Western Sahara as part of Morocco. Morocco has occupied much of its southern neighbor since 1975, when it invaded and annexed the former Spanish colony in defiance of the United Nations Security Council and a landmark ruling of the International Court of Justice… [FULL LINK]

Will Biden Admin Reverse Trump’s “Dangerous” Recognition of Morocco’s Occupation of Western Sahara?

Feb. 5, 2021: DemocracyNow! full transcript and video link

President Donald Trump broke with decades of U.S. foreign policy in the waning days of his administration and recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a territory the country has occupied since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. U.S. recognition came as Morocco agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, becoming the fourth Arab nation to do so in recent months as part of a regional push by the Trump administration to strengthen Israel without addressing the Palestinian conflict. Now the Biden administration must weigh whether to reverse Trump’s decision on Western Sahara. “It’ll be very dangerous if Biden does not reverse Trump’s unprecedented recognition of Morocco’s takeover of Western Sahara,” says Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco. “The United Nations Charter is very clear that the expansion of territory by military force is illegitimate.”
See reviews of his book, “Western Sahara,”related articles, audio and video.

Trump’s deal on Morocco’s Western Sahara annexation risks more global conflict

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and is co-author, with Jacob Mundy, of “Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.”

Last week, President Trump formally recognized Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara as part of a deal to get Morocco to normalize relations with Israel. But Morocco’s claim on Western Sahara is rejected by the United Nations, the World Court, the African Union and a broad consensus of international legal scholars that consider the region a non-self-governing territory that must be allowed an act of self-determination. This is why no country had formally recognized Morocco’s takeover — until now. At the time of the Moroccan takeover of the former Spanish colony in 1975, the U.N. Security Council unanimously called on Moroccan forces to immediately withdraw and allow the people of Western Sahara to determine their own destiny. However, both France and the United States prevented the Security Council from enforcing its mandate. [FULL LINK]

Trump Recognized Morocco’s Illegal Occupation to Boost the Israeli Occupation

Truthout – On December 10, the US became the only country to formally recognize Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony forcibly seized by Moroccan forces in 1975. Trump’s proclamation is directly counter to a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark World Court ruling calling for self-determination. Trump’s decision was a quid pro quo: a reward for Morocco’s formal recognition of Israel, a country which is also an occupying power. Trump had previously broken precedent by recognizing Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights and greater Jerusalem. US recognition of the annexation of an entire country, which has been recognized as an independent state by 80 countries, is a particularly dangerous precedent. As with his earlier recognition of Israel’s conquests, Trump is effectively renouncing longstanding international legal principles in favor of the right of conquest. [FULL LINK]

A Dangerous Move to Crack Down on Protests Against Israel

[The Progressive, Dec. 4, 2020]
Late last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government finds the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign to be inherently “anti-Semitic.” He pledged to “immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups” and urged all nations to “recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is. Pompeo made no distinction between those who support a boycott of Israel itself and those who support more limited forms of BDS… [FULL LINK]

Pompeo Embraced Israeli Settlements, But Democrats Also Paved the Way for It

[Truthout, November 28, 2020] – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has faced widespread international condemnation for his recent assertions that illegal Israeli settlements constructed in the occupied West Bank are somehow legal and part of Israel, and that products from these colonies on confiscated Palestinian land should be labeled as “Made in Israel.” What fewer are discussing, however, is that while these proclamations are unprecedented in their scope, they are in fact the culmination of decades of bipartisan support for Israeli expansionism. The illegality of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank is clear: Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — to which both Israel and the United States are signatories — prohibits any occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” [FULL LINK]

INTERVIEW: What Explains Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy?

[Fair Observer October 20, 2020] Ever since his inauguration in 2017, US President Donald Trump has placed an emphasis on unilateralism and the rejection of international organizations and treaties as the hallmarks of his foreign policy. Trump has assumed an aggressive modus operandi in dealing with US partners worldwide and alienated many allies. He repealed US participation in the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the Treaty on Open Skies, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Even in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, he pulled the US out of the World Health Organization. The president has pledged to draw an end to the “forever wars” the US has been involved in over the past couple of decades, and he has challenged the view that America should be the world’s “policeman.” At the same time, his Middle East policy has been nothing short of hawkish, and he has dragged the US to the brink of war with Iran. [FULL LINK]

Trump “Peace Plan” Too Extreme Even for Former Right-Wing Israeli Prime Minister

[Truthout, February 12, 2020] In an extraordinary joint press conference at the United Nations on Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined their objections to Donald Trump’s so-called “peace plan” between Israel and Palestine. The plan would allow Israel to annex large swathes of territory conquered in the 1967 war that it has since illegally colonized with Israeli settlers. Trump’s proposal, made without Palestinian participation and unilaterally announced last month, would leave small noncontiguous enclaves of remaining Palestinian territory surrounded by a greatly expanded Israel and allowed only limited autonomy…

INTERVIEW: Trump ‘Peace Plan,’Middle East Update with Stephen Zunes

A “peace plan” for Israel-Palestine? War on Iran? A way out of Afghanistan? East-West Conflict Over Syria?
Of all the responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of a president, it has long been clear that foreign policy is beyond Trump’s abilities. Woefully ignorant before taking office, he has done nothing to learn. And it shows. There are numerous tinderbox situations in the region, all made more dangerous by Trump’s impulsive, ill-informed actions. For this edition of we’ll take an authoritative look at the region’s many hot spots.
March 5, 2020 (58-min. video): Other Voices TV, Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, hosted by Paul George, Director Emeritus, with Midpen Media Center, Palo Alto

Trump’s Recognition of Israeli Settlements Is Rooted in Bipartisan Support

[The Progressive, November 21, 2019] Three previous U.S. administrations all ignored the gross power asymmetry between the Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers—an imbalance compounded by the fact that as the chief mediator in negotiations, the U.S. is also the primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of the occupying power. Three previous U.S. administrations all ignored the gross power asymmetry between the Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers—an imbalance compounded by the fact that as the chief mediator in negotiations, the U.S. is also the primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of the occupying power.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement this week that the United States will no longer accept the international consensus on the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank should come as no surprise. Indeed, both Republicans and Democrats have been pushing for such a move for decades.
In fact, the illegality of the settlements couldn’t be clearer. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention…

Trump’s Threats towards Iran Aren’t Working. Here’s Why.

The Progressive, July 17, 2019: The Trump Administration has imposed sanctions against more than 1,000 Iranian entities, including Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, targeting almost every significant sector of that nation’s economy. But recently it reversed course, backing off its threat to sanction a top Iranian diplomat, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in response to concerns that it would foreclose any diplomatic recourse… [Full Article]

U.S. Recognition of Israel’s Golan Annexation a Threat to World Order

The Trump Administration’s decision to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights—Syrian territory seized in the June 1967 war—marks a serious violation of fundamental principles of international law. The inadmissibility of any country expanding its territory by force is a longstanding principle of the international legal order, enshrined in the United Nations Charter, U.N. Security Council resolutions, and repeatedly confirmed by the International Court of Justice.

Following its conquest of the Golan region, Israeli forces drove out most of its residents in what has accurately been called ethnic cleansing. The Druze inhabitants of the five remaining villages suffered under years of Israeli military occupation and largely remain loyal to Syria. Protests immediately broke out following Trump’s announcement. When Israel tried to impose its laws on the region in 1981, the Syrian Druze engaged in a successful nonviolent resistance campaign, blocking Israeli efforts to force them to carry Israeli ID cards, conscript them into the Israeli military, and other efforts to incorporate them into Israel.

In response to Israel’s attempted annexation, the U.N. Security Council in 1981 unanimously adopted, with the support of the United States, resolution 497, which declared that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

But the United States blocked any effort to enforce this and related resolutions.

Subsequently, the Israeli government has been building settlements in the fertile highlands and growing Golan’s Jewish population to some 26,000 people, in violation of international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions, which prohibit occupying powers from settling civilians onto territories seized by military force.

Again, however, the United States has blocked enforcement of these resolutions and Israeli colonization has therefore continued unabated.

Due to the ongoing Syrian civil war and war crimes by the Assad regime, few are suggesting an immediate return of the Golan to Syria. However, a number of other options are available, including handing over the territory to United Nations administration, as took place following the Indonesian withdrawal from occupied East Timor in 1999.

The timing of the U.S. decision was widely seen as an effort to boost the chances of Israel’s rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

International reaction to Trump’s decision has been overwhelmingly negative. The French foreign ministry noted how “The recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, occupied territory, would be contrary to international law, in particular the obligation for states not to recognize an illegal situation.” The German government condemned the “unilateral steps” taken by Washington, D.C., observing that, “If national borders should be changed, it must be done through peaceful means between all those involved.”

Former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs Tamara Cofman Wittes noted in a tweet that the decision “yanks the rug out from under U.S. policy opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as U.S. views on other disputed territories.”

Along with the State Department’s decision to no longer refer to the West Bank as occupied territory, the Golan decision may also serve as precedent to recognize Israeli sovereignty over much of the Palestinian territory seized in the 1967 war. It will no doubt embolden other governments with expansionist agendas, such as Morocco, which has occupied much of Western Sahara since 1975.

“If Washington stops upholding the core international principle opposing the acquisition of territory by force,” warns Wittes, “we should expect more states to seize territory they covet from their neighbors.”

The timing of the U.S. decision was widely seen as an effort to boost the chances of Israel’s rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently in a tough re-election fight in the face of an imminent indictment on corruption charges.

But the move also destroys any hope of the United States playing a role in negotiating an end to Syria’s civil war and strengthens the hand of Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad, enabling him to play the nationalist card and reinforce his alliance with the Iranian regime and the radical Lebanese Hezbollah.

“It really puts the moderates in an impossible position,” observed Bassma Kodmani, a Syrian opposition leader and member of the negotiating team. “Assad will mobilize with the help of Iran and justify the presence of Iran, and the presence of militias, and the aggressive posture of Iran in the region.”

Despite Trump’s claim that Israeli control of the Golan Heights is vital for Israeli security, there is a growing awareness within Israel that it is far less important in an era when the principal threats to Israel’s security come in the form of suicide bombers and long-range missiles. Israeli army chief Lt. Gen Moshe Yaalon observed in 2004 , that Israel could cede the Golan Heights in return for peace and more successfully defend Israel’s internationally recognized border.

Trump’s dangerous and rash decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan was actually built on policy failures of previous administrations. Israel and Syria came close to a peace agreement in early 2000 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to withdraw from Syrian territory in return for the Syrian government agreeing to strict security guarantees, normalized relations, the demilitarization of the Golan, and the end of support for radical anti-Israel groups. A dispute regarding the exact demarcation of the border, constituting no more than a few hundred yards, prevented a final settlement.

With the death of Syrian president Hafez al-Assad later that year and the coming to power of the rightwing Likud Bloc in the subsequent Israeli election, talks were indefinitely suspended. Assad’s successor, Bashar al-Assad, called for the resumption of talks where they left off, but both Israel and the United States rejected the proposal. A 2003 resolution supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress insisted that Syria enter new talks “unconditionally,” effectively rejecting the position of the more moderate Israeli government of former Prime Minister Barak and instead embraced the rejectionist position of the subsequent right-wing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In 2006, several prominent members of the Israeli cabinet—including Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Internal Security Minister Avid Dichter—called on their government to resume negotiations with Syria. Although Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed a senior aide to prepare for possible talks, such initiatives did not get any support from Washington. According to the Jewish Daily Forward, it appeared that “Israel would be prepared to open a channel with Syria but does not want to upset the Bush administration.”

Indeed, when Israeli officials asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about pursuing exploratory talks with Syria, her answer, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was, “don’t even think about it.” Similarly, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Israeli government officials “understood from President Bush that the United States would not take kindly to reopening a dialogue between Israel and Syria.”

U.S. pressure succeeded. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly expressed concern that it would be inappropriate to counter President Bush’s “clear position on this issue” and who is “Israel’s most important ally.” Similarly, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres was quoted as saying, “The worse thing we could do is contradict the United States, which opposes negotiating with Syria.” Interior Minister Ronni Baron told a television reporter, “When the question on the agenda is the political legacy of Israel’s greatest friend, President Bush, do we really need now to enter into negotiations with Syria?”

The failure of the United States to help bring peace between Syria and Israel when it was possible has now led us to the point where Trump and Netanyahu believe they can get away with this dangerous defiance of international legal norms and worsen an already difficult situation regarding Israel, Syria, and its neighbors. The decision could play a major role in destabilizing an already-tenuous world order.

Despite Everything, U.S. Troops Should Leave Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria appears to have been impetuous and ill-considered — apparently a result of a conversation with Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Erdo?an. That doesn’t mean, however, that the United States should remain in that country.

Trump’s Dangerous Abrogation of the Iran Deal

The Progressive, May 9, 2018
The Trump Administration’s decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States—strikes a dangerous blow against arms control and international security and even more firmly establishes the United States as a rogue nation. [Full Link]