President Donald Trump said on Thursday that “it is time” for the United States to recognize the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel, breaking with longstanding U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-occupied territory.
“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,” the President said on Twitter.
The announcement comes only weeks before embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces uncertain re-election and represents a substantial foreign policy win. Netanyahu will visit Trump at the White House next week following visits by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Lindsay Graham to the contested territory.
Lately, the Israeli prime minister has been pushing for the United States to recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally annexed in 1981.
The international community, however, has been refusing to recognize the annexation, arguing that Israeli settlements there violated international law, a position which was recently reiterated by the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen.
“The Security Council is very clear that the Golan is Syrian territory, and the first aspect of (Resolution) 2254 is of course the territorial integrity of Syria,” he said in February.
The move could influence the election in Israel and Netanyahu quickly took to Twitter to thank the U.S. president for it.
“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! @realDonaldTrump,” he wrote.
His office released a readout of a call with Trump, according to which Netanyahu told the President he “made history.”
An administration official said President Trump consulted with his national security adviser, senior adviser Jared Kushner and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt and they all supported the move.
However, not everyone applauded the decision. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who served under President Barack Obama, stressed that the announcement “raises a lot of concerns.”