Senior US official says the change in description does not mean a change in their policy regarding the Golan Heights.
US President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to back Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an announcement that signals a shift in US policy and comes before the Israeli prime minister’s planned visit next week to the White House.
“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, without providing any other details.
His tweet came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Jerusalem. When asked about Trump’s tweet, Pompeo declined to comment.
Minutes after Trump made the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his appreciation. “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!”
He added that Trump “made history” with his announcement.
“You could imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,” the Israeli prime minister said. “You would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”
Richard Haass, a former senior State Department official who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a tweet he strongly disagreed with Trump’s Golan decision.
He said the move violates UN Security Council resolution 242, “which rules out acquiring territory by war and serves Israel as it says all states have right 2 live in peace.”
During his visit, Pompeo lauded warm ties with Israel and promised to step up pressure on Iran. Pompeo’s words gave a public boost to the Israeli leader at the height of a tight re-election campaign.
Although previous secretaries of state have traditionally met Palestinian leaders when visiting the region, Pompeo has no such talks planned.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Pompeo’s visit added additional obstacles to peace hopes.
“While they are claiming to be trying to solve the conflict, such acts only make it more difficult to resolve,” he said.
Earlier this month, a senior US administration official told reporters in Washington that there was “no change in [US] outlook or our policy vis-a-vis these territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there”.
The official was responding to questions about why the US changed its description of the Golan Heights in its latest annual human rights report in which the area was referred to as “Israeli-controlled”, not “Israeli-occupied” as it was previously stated.
Trump, who has shown robust support for his country’s close ally Israel, recognised Jerusalem as the country’s capital in 2017, defying international consensus and angering Palestinian leaders, who view Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Last month, US Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Congressman Mike Gallagher introduced legislation in the House of Representatives and the Senate to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.