U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that Israel seized from Syria in 1967, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy and giving a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the middle of his re-election campaign.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Recognition of the disputed area, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally, would mark a major shift in U.S. policy days before Netanyahu arrives in Washington to meet with Trump and address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Netanyahu has been pressing for the United States to recognize its claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights and raised that possibility in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.
Trump’s move on Thursday was his most overt yet to help Netanyahu, who faces an April 9 election and is locked in a closely contested race at a time when he is battling corruption allegations, which he denies.
Netanyahu thanked Trump for the Golan Heights gesture.
“You’ve made history,” Netanyahu told Trump in a phone call after the announcement, according to Netanyahu’s office.
The prime minister had been expected to raise the issue again with Trump during his visit to Washington, an Israeli official said.
“At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump! @realDonaldTrump,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet.
Richard Haass, a former senior State Department official who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a tweet he strongly disagreed with Trump’s Golan decision.
He said the move violates U.N. Security Council resolution 242, “which rules out acquiring territory by war and serves Israel as it says all states have right 2 live in peace.”
Trump remains popular in Israel, and his advisers have been developing a Middle East peace proposal for release sometime after the Israeli elections.
Trump’s strong support for Israel has been a subject of debate in the United States. He called his Democratic opponents “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” after the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution this month that denounced bigotry of all kinds without rebuking Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar for allegedly anti-Semitic remarks.
Netanyahu had tried to take White House national security adviser John Bolton to see the region during a January visit, but bad weather forced cancellation of the trip.
The Golan announcement could help Trump improve his standing in America’s pro-Israel camp, especially among his base of evangelical Christians, just ahead of next week’s annual convention in Washington of AIPAC, the nation’s most influential pro-Israel lobbying group.