President Donald Trump opened up a meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by signing a statement recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights region, per Reuters.
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the Six Day War of 1967, and in 1981 passed the Golan Heights Law declaring Israeli jurisdiction and rule over the area (though not formally annexing the territory as part of Israel). However, the UN and the wider international community have recognized the Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory and denounced the Golan Heights Law as null and void. For its part, Israel has maintained that the Golan Heights play a strategic role in ensuring Israeli defense against its neighbors, particularly Syria (which the Heights borders).
Trump’s move flies in the face of decades of United States foreign policy, which had until this point sided with the international community in criticizing Israeli occupation of the territory. The formal statement comes after Trump tweeted last week that “it’s time” for the United States to formally recognize Israel’s rule.
“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 tweeted.
At Monday’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he added that recognizing Israeli jurisdiction over the Golan was “a long time in the making,” per Al Jazeera.
The deed is done: President Trump has formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, with Prime Minister Netanyahu looking on. pic.twitter.com/gnDiYnBhqj— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) March 25, 2019
Netanyahu responded over Twitter to thank Trump for his support.
“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!”
In a news briefing last month, Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, restated the international position on the Golan Heights situation, per CNN.
“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.”
Recognizing the Golan Heights is not Trump’s first decision to cause some commotion regarding Israel. In late 2017, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — a move that also reversed over 50 years of American foreign policy history and broke with the international community.
Beyond the immediate implications, recognizing the Heights as Israeli territory will doubtless help Netanyahu’s support back home in Israel as he battles through a heated presidential campaign for re-election. Trump’s high popularity in Israel and extensive support for Netanyahu could help the Israeli Prime Minister remain in office beyond the April 9 election day.