Officials: US announcement on Golan Heights recognition could come next week

Sources in Jerusalem and Washington predict decision could be made during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, where he will meet Trump, two weeks before the Israeli elections

US Senator Lindsey Graham, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, right, on a tour of the Golan Heights, March 11, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
US Senator Lindsey Graham, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, right, on a tour of the Golan Heights, March 11, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israeli and US officials said they expect an announcement on US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights could come as early as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next week.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity on Wednesday because the information had not yet been made public.

At a meeting Wednesday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, Netanyahu accused Iran of attempting to set up a terrorist network to target Israel from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. He used the incident to repeat his goal of international recognition for Israel’s claim on the area.

“I think, for this reason, and many more, it is time that the international community recognizes Israel’s stay on the Golan, and the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel,” he said.

Pompeo did not mention the issue, but the administration is considering recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. Last week, in its annual human rights report, the State Department dropped the phrase “Israeli-occupied” from the Golan Heights section, instead calling it “Israeli-controlled.”

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and extended Israeli law to the territory in 1981, a step tantamount to annexation. But the United States and the international community have long considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. The plateau lies along a strategic area on the border between Israel and Syria.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a joint statement during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Jim Young/AFP)

Also last week, US Senator Lindsey Graham vowed to push for American recognition of Israel’s control over the Golan Heights when he visited the area with Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

While Pompeo on Wednesday avoided the issue of sovereignty over the Golan, he touted last month’s Mideast conference in Poland, where he said dozens of countries discussed ways “to stop Iran’s regional rampage.”

Pompeo also lauded the White House’s warm ties with Israel and promised to step up pressure on Iran, giving a public boost to Israel’s prime minister at the height of a tight re-election campaign.

Accusing Iranian leaders of seeking the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel, he pledged continued American support. “With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself,” he said.

Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for the Trump administration’s strong stance against Iran, which Israel regards as an existential threat.

The White House meanwhile announced that Netanyahu would be welcomed in Washington over two days next week with Israel just two weeks from coming April 9 polls.

Netanyahu is one of US President Donald Trump’s strongest backers on the global stage. Since taking office, Trump has upended US policy and taken a series of steps welcomed by Israel, most notably by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The step prompted the Palestinians to sever ties with the White House. Trump also has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestinians’ de facto embassy in Washington.

The Palestinians have preemptively rejected a peace plan the White House is said to be preparing, saying that the Trump administration is unfairly biased toward Israel.

The White House said Netanyahu would be welcomed next Monday and Tuesday with both a working meeting and a dinner with Trump.

Netanyahu said he was looking forward to making the relationship “even stronger” during the visit.

Pompeo arrived in Jerusalem after a stop in Kuwait, where he renewed calls for a resolution to a festering dispute between Qatar and four other Arab nations, all of them America’s partners in the Middle East.

In Israel, Pompeo also attended a summit of Mediterranean natural gas producers Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

Netanyahu was set to accompany Pompeo on a visit to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday. 

Pompeo was also set to visit the new US Embassy, which moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018.

From Israel, he is to travel to Lebanon.

AFP contributed to this report.

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