US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday said the administration wasn’t discussing potential recognition of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights, despite reported pressure from Jerusalem to make the move.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the territory in the early 1980s. But the United States and the international community have long refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty there and considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation.
“I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government,” Bolton told the Reuters news agency in an interview published Wednesday morning.
“Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there’s no change in the US position for now,” he said.
Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the strategic mountainous plateau in the northeast of the country has both support and opposition in Washington.
In July, the US House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee heard arguments for and against recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan, a step pushed by Republican Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis.
While the hearing was not attached to any piece of legislation, it represented an aggressive push by some pro-Israel groups, friendly Republicans and the Israeli government to consolidate gains under Trump, whose White House has shown an willingness to closely align with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Netanyahu government reportedly has pressed the White House in recent months to recognize the annexation with the argument that the breakdown of order in Syria subsequent to the outbreak of civil war in 2011 undergirded Israeli claims that the plateau is critical to maintaining security.
In June, US Ambassador David Friedman reportedly told Israeli lawmakers they were “ungrateful” for demanding that Washington follow up on its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with an official US acknowledgement of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Trump broke with decades of US policy in December and recognized Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital. However on Tuesday, the president told a crowd in West Virginia that Israel would pay a “higher price” to the Palestinians because of the concession, signaling another possible friction point between the governments.
Among those who recently called for American recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan were Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Likud party MK Yoav Kisch, and Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party.
According to a Hebrew-language report from the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday, Friedman said Israelis do not understand that the US has global interests unrelated to the Jewish state, while Israeli politicians have only a domestic agenda.
Bolton also backed up the Trump administration’s decision to significantly cut its funds for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which has put it in severe financial crisis, echoing longtime claims against its system which recognizes descendants of refugees as refugees.
“UNRWA’s program is the only one in history based on the assumption that refugee status is hereditary, and I think it is long overdue that we have taken steps to reduce funding,” Bolton told Reuters. “Much of UNRWA’s expenses really go to perpetuating the refugee status of the Palestinian people, and I think that’s … a perpetuation of an unnatural status.”