Recognize Israeli annexation of Golan, Netanyahu hints to Obama
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Recognize Israeli annexation of Golan, Netanyahu hints to Obama

As Syrian war grinds on into fifth year, Israel believes it is time 'to think differently' about ownership of plateau

A UN peacekeeper from the UNDOF force stands guard on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between the Syrian and Israeli sides of the Golan Heights, on Friday, March 8, 2013. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
A UN peacekeeper from the UNDOF force stands guard on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between the Syrian and Israeli sides of the Golan Heights, on Friday, March 8, 2013. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

While no one, not even the White House, expects much movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue to emerge from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current trip to Washington, another theater of conflict on Israel’s borders became a subject of discussion with US leaders.

Netanyahu raised the issue of the Golan Heights, albeit obliquely, in his Monday meeting with US President Barack Obama, the Haaretz daily reported, citing sources familiar with the meeting.

The Israeli leader hinted that given the ongoing war across the border in Syria and the jihadist militias and Iranian-backed forces slowly taking over the country, Israel now seeks American recognition of its annexation of the Golan Heights.

Israel claims the western Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and took steps to formally annex in 1981. The plateau is considered a critical strategic asset for Israel because it overlooks the towns and villages of much of the Galilee.

The issue was raised briefly by Netanyahu, the sources said, while the two leaders were speaking about the situation in Syria generally.

Netanyahu reportedly said he was doubtful that peace talks underway in Vienna between various outside powers and several factions in the Syrian war would result in reunifying the wartorn country. That reality, he said, “allows us to think differently” about the future status of the Golan, which several American administrations have seen as a key part of any future Israeli-Syrian peace.

Obama did not reply to the Golan reference, and Netanyahu declined to answer reporters questions about the issue on Tuesday.

The idea of raising the Golan issue at this time has been raised by several Israeli public figures close to Netanyahu.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, now a Kulanu MK, urged Netanyahu “to ask for American recognition of full Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights through a presidential declaration and accompanying letter. I hope the prime minister raises this strategic issue with the American president, with the intention to strengthen Israel’s security.”

In a public statement, Oren explained that “Syria as we knew it has ceased to exist,” and recognition of Israel’s acquisition of the Golan, “which has no local population demanding independence,” would contribute to the “stabilization and rehabilitation of the area.”

Netanyahu’s former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser also urged a reexamination of Israel’s strategy on the Golan, saying in July that the implosion of the Syrian state marked a “historic opportunity” for Israel to seek international recognition of its presence on the Golan.

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