Trump Proclaims Who Owns What in the Middle East
With his magnified power over the rules and laws that govern international relations, Donald Trump offers Israel the deed to the Golan Heights.
As the world awaits the “deal of the century” for the Middle East, US President Donald Trump continues to take bold steps likely to prevent any peace plan from ever being accepted. Reuters lists several powerful nations, spanning Europe and the Persian Gulf, that have challenged the latest brazen violation of international law cooked up conjointly by Trump and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait have joined France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Poland — all members of the United Nations Security Council — as well as China, Russia, Indonesia and South Africa in condemning Trump’s unilateral officialization of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which the Israelis captured from Syria in the 1967 war.
Reuters described the event earlier this week: “Trump, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking over his shoulder during a visit to Washington, on Monday signed a proclamation officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A decree signed and disseminated by a monarch or an authority that believes it exercises the equivalent of royal powers, possibly through the notion of divine right
No serious observer doubts that Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights is a serious violation of international law and constitutes a potentially dangerous precedent. But any realistic observer of history will understand that much of what goes on in the world in terms of political control is the result of faits accomplis. The longer the “fait” (fact) is allowed to appear “accompli” (accomplished), the stronger the likelihood that change or reversion back to a previous state will never occur.
Traditionally, political leaders play tactfully and delicately around any fait accompli they manage to achieve, counting on third parties to show benign tolerance of a tense status quo that most will prefer to the violence of open conflict. On that score, President Trump has, as in so many areas, shown himself to be different. As a businessman, he tends to be impatient with anything that lacks definitive contractual confirmation and prevents him from moving forward with the ideas generated by “a very stable genius.”
Apart from his border wall, which he now has the budget to build despite the opposition of a majority of Congress, and his unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has effectuated two highly significant faits accomplis in Israel: the first, his decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; the second, his proclamation recognizing the formal annexation of the Golan Heights.
Trump has thus followed Israel’s generally successful policy — once opposed by US administrations — of multiplying Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories as a means of preventing their eventual return to Palestinian control. All of this may be illegal, but if no one reacts, it works.
This time the reaction was immediate, but the consequences are still unknown. What will the UN Security Council or the General Assembly do? They have the responsibility of affirming international law. A more strategic question is this: What will the Arab Sunni states in the Gulf do, whose governments’ relationship with Israel has become increasingly cozy despite a “cultural” commitment, felt by the populations of the Arabian Peninsula, to clamor for justice for the Palestinians?
When Europe was governed by rival monarchies, kings governed through proclamations. According to a 1999 report to Congress, “the President’s authority to issue executive orders and proclamations is neither explicitly stated in the Constitution nor in statute.” However, it didn’t take long for George Washington to imitate a king and make his first proclamation, which concerned US neutrality in the French and British War in 1793. The author of the 1999 report observed: “The tradition of constitutional law in the US recognizes the existence of proclamations and groups them in the same category as executive orders.”
Declaring neutrality, as Washington did, was in a certain sense a non-act or the expression of negative intention or a precaution. Perhaps the best known proclamation in North American history was King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, which aimed “to establish a basis of government administration in the North American territories formally ceded by France to Britain in the Treaty of Paris.” It also represented a precaution rather than an aggressive move. It “legally defined the North American interior west of the Appalachian Mountains as a vast Aboriginal reserve,” off limits to British settlers. Considered unjust by the American colonists who felt empowered to take and settle any land from which they could effectively chase the natives, it played a role in provoking the war of independence that followed a decade later.
Donald Trump has proved himself an innovator in imposing positive intentions that brazenly contradict other people, nations and laws. His style is anything but precautionary. Compared to executive orders, which generally deal with major issues, the authors of the 1999 report assert that, “Proclamations in most instances affect primarily the activities of private individuals.” The Georgetown Law Library is more precise: “The vast majority of proclamations are issued to announce and support a ceremonial event, such as National African American History Month or National Hurricane Awareness Week.”
Once again, in the Golan Heights, Trump has shown himself to be an innovator. But presidents before him created the “tradition” of executive orders, progressively expanding executive power well beyond the strictures of the Constitution and without the recourse to an amendment.
In his two terms, George Washington made 15 proclamations, the most famous of which was his Thanksgiving one, requesting (not imposing) the creation of a public holiday. Since then, the growing use of executive orders has become increasingly aggressive. The Financial Times compared Obama’s and Trump’s practice: “Mr Trump’s executive actions have already been more controversial” and listed orders that promoted racism and xenophobia, such as the Muslim ban, suspension of the Syrian refugee program and of course the border wall.
Trump the innovator has added the use of presidential proclamations to his toolbox in the art of the political deal.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. UPDATED: March 29, 2019 at 10:45am GMT.]
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