US abruptly endorses Israel's Golan sovereignty in big shift

2019-03-22 12:20

US President Donald Trump abruptly declared on Thursday the US will recognise Israel's sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, a major shift in American policy that gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political boost a month before what is expected to be a close election.

The administration has been considering recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the strategic highlands, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, for some time and Netanyahu had pressed the matter with visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just a day earlier.

US and Israeli officials said on Wednesday they had not expected a decision until next week, when Netanyahu is to visit the US.

But in a tweet that appeared to catch many by surprise, Trump said the time had come for the United States to take the step, which Netanyahu warmly welcomed as a "miracle" on the Jewish holiday of Purim.

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" Trump tweeted.

The US will be the first country to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community regards as disputed territory occupied by Israel whose status should be determined by negotiations between Israel and Syria. Attempts to bring Israel and Syria to the table have failed. It was not immediately clear how a UN peacekeeping force in the Golan might be affected by the US move. That force's mandate expires at the end of June.

There had been signals a decision was coming. Last week, in its annual human rights report, the State Department dropped the phrase "Israeli-occupied" from the Golan Heights section, instead calling it "Israeli-controlled."

Pompeo had brushed questions about the change aside, insisting even earlier on Thursday that there was no change in policy. However, in comments to reporters ahead of a Purim dinner with Netanyahu and his wife at their Jerusalem home, Pompeo hailed the shift.

"Tonight, President Trump made the decision to recognise that that hard-fought real estate, that important place, is proper to be a sovereign part of the state of Israel," he said.

Election campaign 

Netanyahu, who is embroiled in a fierce re-election campaign ahead of April 9 voting, smiled broadly while delivering his own remarks.

"We have the miracle of Purim," he said. "Thank you President Trump."

Netanyahu has for weeks been stepping up longstanding Israeli requests for the U.S. and others to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan. He has bolstered Israel's traditional argument that the area has for all practical purposes been fully integrated into Israel by accusing Iran of trying to infiltrate terrorists from Syria into the plateau.

"At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognises Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights," Netanyahu tweeted.

Trump's announcement came as Pompeo was wrapping up a two-day visit to Jerusalem during which he lauded warm ties with Israel, met with Netanyahu on at least three separate occasions and promised to step up pressure on Iran.


Read more on:    donald trump  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  syria  |  us  |  middle east  |  middle east conflict
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