Trump says US should recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory

Netanyahu thanks US president for move to change policy on region annexed from Syria

The Jewish settlement of Qatzrin in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

The Jewish settlement of Qatzrin in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

 

US president Donald Trump fuelled speculation that the United States will recognise Israel’s claims over the Golan Heights when prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits Washington next week, as he tweeted support for the proposal.

In an unexpected statement on Thursday, Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: “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!”

Vice president Mike Pence retweeted the president’s post with the words: “America stands with Israel!”

Mr Netanyahu tweeted within minutes: “Thank You President Trump!” The Israeli leader is due to meet the US president next week at the White House as part of a two-day visit to the US capital.

The status of the Golan Heights has long been one of the most contested issues in the Middle East peace process. The territory between Israel and Syria was seized by Israel in 1967 during the SixDay War.

The announcement marks a shift in US foreign policy in relation to the territory, which has long been perceived by the international community to be illegally occupied by Israel.

Signs that the Trump administration was considering recognising Israeli authority over the area surfaced last week when the State Department dropped the phrase “Israeli-occupied” in connection with the Golan Heights in its annual human rights report.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a leading figure on foreign policy in the Senate, also said last week that the United States should recognise Israel’s right over the 1,800sq km region during a visit to Israel where he met with Mr Netanyahu.

Policy shift

Mr Trump’s intervention took place as secretary of state Mike Pompeo concluded a three-day visit to Israel where he met with the Israeli leader. Israel has been lobbying the United States to recognise its authority over the region.  

It is understood that Israel raised concerns over Iran with Mr Pompeo, arguing that Tehrann is attempting to set up a terrorist network to target Israel from the Golan Heights. On Thursday Mr Netanyahu tweeted: “At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump!

The move to recognise the Golan Heights as Israeli territory is the latest indication of a shift in US policy towards Israel under the Trump administration.  Last year the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a provocative move in light of the contested nature of the ancient city which is claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis. The Trump administration also ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office in Washington, while cutting funds for projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu will arrive in Washington next week just weeks before a general election. The 69-year-old leader has been embroiled in a domestic corruption scandal. Israel’s attorney general announced last month his intention to indict Mr Netanyahu on corruption charges, including bribery.