Trump says he made snap decision on Golan after history crash course

President tells Jewish GOP confab that recognition, upending US policy, was made during a ‘quickie’ briefing; says David Friedman reacted ‘like a wonderful, beautiful baby’

US President Donald Trump speaks at an annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP/John Locher)
US President Donald Trump speaks at an annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP/John Locher)

US President Donald Trump said Saturday that his decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was made swiftly after a “quickie” history lesson.

Trump last month signed a proclamation recognizing Israel’s de-facto annexation of the plateau, upending decades of US policy. The move drew some international condemnation and Israeli praise.

The president told the Republican National Coalition’s annual convention in Las Vegas that he decided on recognizing Israel’s hold on the territory after getting a rushed briefing from senior White House aide Jared Kushner — his son-in-law — ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and negotiator Jason Greenblatt.

He said the three had phoned him about an unrelated matter when he brought up the Golan, but did not say when the conversation took place.

“I said, ‘Fellows, do me a favor. Give me a little history, quick. Want to go fast. I got a lot of things I’m working on: China, North Korea. Give me a quickie,” he recalled.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (second left) and US President Donald Trump’s special envoys Jason Greenblatt (left) and Jared Kushner (center) meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the PMO in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Trump said he was told about the security ramifications of Israel holding on to the high ground of the plateau, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee and part of the upper Galilee.

An attendee wears a “Make America Great Again” yarmulke before President Donald Trump speaks at an annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“I said ‘How do you like the idea of me recognizing exactly what we’re discussing?’  because I agree, you need it, you need the height,” he said he told Friedman, who reacted “like a wonderful, beautiful baby.”

“You would really, you would do that sir,” he recalled Friedman asking him, to which he replied. “Yeah, I think I’m doing it right now. let’s write something up.”

“We make fast decisions, and we make good decisions,” he told the crowd.

Trump first said he would recognize Israeli control of the Golan in a tweet on March 21. He signed the actual proclamation on March 25 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House, in a move widely seen as timed to help the Israeli premier in his re-election bid.

Friedman touted the decision at the AIPAC conference a day later, calling it a “Purim miracle.”

“Without the high ground of the Golan, Israel is exposed to extraordinary risks from treacherous enemies, and Syria would be right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which provides 40 percent of Israel’s fresh water,” Friedman said at the time.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018, in the Golan Heights shows an Israeli Merkava tank taking position on the border between Israel and Syria. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

Trump is known for making sudden policy pronouncements by tweet, often catching top administration officials unaware.

At the time of the tweet, officials in Israel and Washington reportedly said they were caught off guard.

“We’ve been lobbying for this for a long time, but it was not the product of one phone call. There were hints, but we weren’t given advance notice,” an Israeli official told the McClatchy news service at the time.

The tweet came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was visiting Israel. Pompeo himself seemed caught off guard, having told journalists just hours earlier that US policy on the Golan was not changing.

US President Donald Trump smiles at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, after signing a proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

However, the move followed weeks of speculation that Trump could recognize Israeli sovereignty over the plateau ahead of the April 9 election. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and effectively annexed it in 1981.

A State Department report on human rights in early March referred to the Golan for the first time as “Israeli-controlled,” though Foggy Bottom said the changed language did not reflect a policy shift.

According to reports, Israel ramped up lobbying Washington for recognition after Trump said he was withdrawing troops from Syria, raising Israeli fears of Iran expanding its footprint there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham, right, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border between Israel and Syria at the Golan Heights, Monday, March 11, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)

Netanyahu publicly urged the US to recognize its hold on the Golan earlier in March during a visit by US Senator Lindsey Graham, and with Pompeo.

Graham said Saturday that the Republican-controlled US Senate would likely vote in a month or so to formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and force Democrats to go on the record on the issue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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