Trump vows to recognize Israeli sovereignty over disputed Golan Heights region

Clay Curtis
March 22, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that Israel seized from Syria in 1967, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy and giving a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the middle of his re-election campaign.

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights", Trump said in a tweet.

Israel captured east Jerusalem and the Old City in the 1967 Mideast war, and for decades, USA officials refrained from visiting the Western Wall with Israeli leaders to avoid the appearance of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the city's most sensitive holy sites.

A member of the Russian military police and Syrian government forces patrol near the village al-Hamidia in the Syrian Golan Heights on August 14, 2018. "Attempts by the #US to legitimize #Israel's actions against global law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region".

In the late 2000s, secret talks began between Syria and Israel that reportedly included the possibility that the territory would return to Damascus in exchange for a peace deal.

"We also know that our alliance in recent years has never been stronger", Netanyahu said in comments to reporters, with Pompeo at his side.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed the territory, a move not recognized by the us or the worldwide community.

As Israel's only land border with Syria, the territory is also strategically important. "I think it's symbolic that a senior American official go there with a PM of Israel", he added, calling it "a place that's important to many faiths".

Administration officials said that National Security Advisor John Bolton was instrumental to the decision, after visiting Israel in January to assure officials there that the United States would not abandon them in Syria despite Trump's sudden withdrawal of troops from the battlefield.

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The moved faced some criticism from within the USA with Leon Panetta a veteran Democrat who served as Central Intelligence Agency director and defense secretary, among other roles, blasting Trump for "tweeting out another policy that obviously has not been worked out with our worldwide partners".

"I still remember some people telling me during the last election that Trump would be tougher on Israel than Clinton", Hasan tweeted.

Trump made his declaration in a tweet.

"Unikely there has been any policy planning process to consider potential reactions by Russia, Assad regime, Hezbollah, Arab states, Europe, etc., some of which may not be immediate", he tweeted.

The South Carolina politican made his pledge during a tour of the frontier with Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. "It's time that the USA and the worldwide community recognize that Israel is staying on the Golan and the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel", the prime minster said. "Well done, Mr. President!" In early March the USA closed its Jerusalem Consulate, which has been the lead diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, NPR's Daniel Estrin reported.

Israel's leader has thanked President Donald Trump for "boldly" recognizing Israel's control over the Golan Heights.

Netanyahu is scheduled to leave Sunday for a four day trip to America and will have ample opportunity to thank Trump for his largess, with not one, but two meetings with Trump scheduled. His decision will be seen as a diplomatic coup for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US diplomats and White House aides had believed the Golan Heights issue would be front and center at next week's meetings between Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Israel and Syria signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to answer repeated questions about any USA policy change on the Golan Heights during a visit to Israel on Wednesday, but praised Trump's decision on Thursday, characterizing the area as "hard-fought real estate".

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