Hedges on support for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

Blinken supports Israel holding Golan, but backs off recognizing sovereignty

Top US diplomat questions legality of Trump’s deeming strategic plateau part of Israel, but says there’s nothing to talk about with Assad and Iran

A picture taken from the remains of a tank dating back from the 1973 war shows the Syrian town of Quneitra, as seen from the  Golan Heights, on December 23, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
A picture taken from the remains of a tank dating back from the 1973 war shows the Syrian town of Quneitra, as seen from the Golan Heights, on December 23, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that under current conditions he supports Israel controlling the Golan Heights, but cast doubt on the legality of the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.

During an interview with CNN, Blinken was asked if the Biden administration would continue to “see the Golan Heights as part of Israel.”

“Look, leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel’s security,” Blinken said.

“As long as [dictator Bashar] Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself – all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security,” he said.

However, he indicated that in the future US could be open to reexamining that position.

“Legal questions are something else. And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at. But we are nowhere near as that,” Blinken said.

In 2019 Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized by the wider international community.

Blinken’s comments stand in stark contrast to those of his predecessor Mike Pompeo, who made a rare visit to the Golan Heights in November.

“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognized, what the previous presidents have refused to do,” Pompeo said. “This is a part of Israel and central part of Israel.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) tours the Golan Heights with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi amid a Blackhawk helicopter, November 19, 2020. (Courtesy)

He condemned what he described as calls from “the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America,” for Israel to return the Golan to Syria.

“Imagine with Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” Pompeo said.

While Blinken distanced himself from the Trump administration position on the Golan Heights, he reiterated there would be no change regarding Jerusalem, and refused to commit to US support for a Palestinian capital in the capital’s eastern neighborhoods.

In 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy to the city, in another move that broke ranks with the global community.

Blinken said that both he and US President Joe Biden regard Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and had no intention of moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv.

The US Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to keep the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, with only three senators voting against establishing funding to maintain the diplomatic mission.

View of the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem ahead of its inauguration, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The amendment approved by 97 senators effectively makes the embassy relocation permanent.

Blinken reiterated the Biden administration’s support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“What we have to see happen is for the parties to get together directly and negotiate these so-called final status issues,” he said. “That’s the objective. And as I said, we’re unfortunately a ways away from that at this point in time.”

He also dismissed concerns in Israel that Biden has not yet spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since taking office.

Blinken noted that the two had spoken during the transition and that he and other senior officials had spoken to their Israeli counterparts.

Pressed if there was a reason they had not spoken despite Biden speaking to so many other world leaders, all Blinken said was, “Oh, I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future.”

Netanyahu similarly brushed off the matter earlier Monday, telling reporters at a press conference that he expected to soon receive a call from Biden.

The premier said the US president has been phoning world leaders “as he sees fit,” and that they’ll likely speak when Biden starts reaching out to Middle Eastern leaders.

“Our alliance is strong,” said Netanyahu, while acknowledging some differences of opinion.

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