The United States on Monday objected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli control, reiterating that it does not recognize the Jewish state’s claims to the strategic plateau.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel.
“The US position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.”
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 war and effectively annexed it in 1981. The move was unanimously rejected the same year by the UN Security Council.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Monday backed Netanyahu, saying it would be “foolhardy and dangerous” for the world to press Israel to relinquish the territory amid the ongoing Syrian civil war.
“The government of Israel reiterated the reality that the Golan Heights are part of Israel’s sovereign territory. Given the presence of hostile terrorist organizations ranging from ISIS to Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, it is foolhardy and dangerous for elements in the international community to try to pressure Israel to abandon the Golan to the chaos engulfing Syria. The path to peace cannot involve Israel’s abdication of its own security,” Cruz said in a statement.
Earlier Monday, Germany said a unilateral decision by Israel to keep the Golan Heights would breach international law while the Arab League denounced Netanyahu’s comments as an “escalation.”
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said “it’s a basic principle of international law and the UN charter that no state can claim the right to annex another state’s territory just like that.”
Schaefer said Germany isn’t currently demanding the immediate return of the territory due to the security situation in Syria.
On Sunday, Netanyahu held the first-ever cabinet meeting on the Golan, declaring that the area will always be part of Israel.
“Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights,” he declared, pointing to the historical Jewish connection to the ridge.
The comments came amid reports that Netanyahu had called US Secretary of State John Kerry to complain about text declaring the Golan as part of Syria to be included as part of a peace deal being drafted to end the Syrian civil war.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, the secretary general of the pan-Arab bloc headquartered in Cairo, said Monday Netanyahu’s statement “was a new escalation that represents a brazen violation of international law.”
The international community never accepted Israel’s annexation, and Israeli leaders see in the turmoil in Syria a chance to convince the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. In November, Netanyahu reportedly asked US President Barack Obama to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the area, given the civil war. Obama refused to even reply, according to Israeli media accounts.
Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned that his war-torn state would retake the plateau by any means necessary.
Mekdad declared that the “Arab Syrian Golan Heights” is still occupied territory according to international law and would eventually be taken back from the Israelis.