Israel anticipates US recognition of sovereignty over Golan Heights

Pompeo omission of ‘occupied territories’ description from report boosts expectations

 Republican US senator Lindsey Graham, Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu    and US ambassador David Friedman at the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on  March 11th. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun

Republican US senator Lindsey Graham, Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US ambassador David Friedman at the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on March 11th. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun

 

The Trump administration may recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights when prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits the White House later this month, some Israeli officials believe.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. The United States, along with the entire international community, has never recognised that act.

Mr Netanyahu enjoys a particularly friendly relationship with Mr Trump, who had no objection to the Israeli leader using his image on campaign posters ahead of Israel’s April 9th election.

Mr Trump has already changed US policy on a number of issues long advocated by Israel, including withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Israel has also been pressing Washington to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the strategic Golan plateau and such an important strategic shift, two weeks ahead of the Israeli election, would be a significant diplomatic coup for Mr Netanyahu, maybe even a game-changer in a particularly close election.

Recent events

Two recent events have raised hopes in Jerusalem that such a move may be now be on the cards.

The state department on Wednesday omitted for the first time the term “occupied territories” from its description of the Golan Heights in its annual human rights report, issued by secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Earlier in the week, influential senator Lindsey Graham, who enjoys a close relationship with Mr Trump, visited the Golan and announced that upon his return to Washington he would work with Senator Ted Cruz to set a process in motion to recognise the area as part of Israel “now and forever”.

“Israel took control of this territory in a war for its existence,” Mr Graham said. “This area was taken by military force because it served as a launching pad to attack the state of Israel. There is rich Jewish history in this region.”

New legislation

Last month, US senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and congressman Mike Gallagher introduced legislation to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan

For now, at least, American officials are saying there is no change in US policy on the Golan Heights, but Israeli politicians are hopeful that an announcement may be imminent.

Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel radio the state department decision to drop the term “occupied territory” was another sign of the close bilateral ties.

“I welcome the good news from Washington and have great appreciation for what the Trump administration is doing, basically to change the attitude toward the regional issues.”

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein also welcomed the shift in US terminology. “The nation has long been with the Golan, now Trump is also. Thank you President Trump.”