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Donald Trump calls for recognition of Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory ahead of Netanyahu visit

Israel captured Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and has retained control of the territory despite a United Nations resolution calling the occupation 'null and void'
UPDATED FEB 19, 2020
U.S. President Donald Trump (Source : Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (Source : Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said suggested that the United States will soon officially recognize the contested Golan Heights region as a part of Israel. The announcement from the president came just four days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to visit the White House to meet Trump.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War. The area's 690 square miles today are considered a buffer zone between the two nations. The United Nations called on Israel to withdraw from the territory and from the West Bank and Gaza in a resolution. However, Israel enacted a law that annexed the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights in 1981 after years of arguing over the UN resolution. The UN later passed another resolution declaring that "the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect."

Trump, in an interview with the Fox Business Network, said that he had been "thinking about doing it for a long time." When the show's host Maria Bartiromo asked the president if the move was about the election, making a reference to the upcoming April 9 election Netanyahu faces, Trump replied with "no."

(AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. The prime minister is on an official visit to the US until the end of the week. (Getty Images)

"No. I wouldn’t even know about that," Trump said. "I hear he's doing okay. But I would imagine the other side, whoever’s against him, is also in favor of what I just did. Every president has said, 'Do that.' I’m the one that gets it done."

However, the timing of the president's statement coincides with a political crisis which the Israeli prime minister is currently facing. Netanyahu is reportedly set to face a corruption indictment after an announcement by his country's attorney general.

Netanyahu, on Thursday afternoon, took to Twitter to express his gratitude and wrote: "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!"

(AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose outside the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. The prime minister is on an official visit to the US until the end of the week. (Getty Images)

President Trump, earlier on Thursday, in a tweet had said: "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!"

Reports state that Israel-watchers in diplomatic circles expect a policy announcement timed with an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting next week, where Netanyahu is scheduled to speak.

At least four prominent Democratic presidential contenders have said that they will skip the annual events as AIPAC has come under fire from their party's progressive wing. Fort Wayne, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUS Secretary Julian Castro, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are all said to give the event a miss after the newly-appointed Congresswoman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar earned a reputation as an anti-Semite for complaining that affluent Jews controlled a large part of Washington.

A spokesperson for Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also spoke on the issue and called the decision "a continuation of the hostile approach of the American administration toward our Palestinian people." The statement came shortly after the State Department stopped referring to the Golan Heights as "Israeli-occupied" territory and called it the "Israeli-controlled Golan Heights" in a new report.

The spokesperson said that the shift is part of Trump's plan to "liquidate" the Palestinians' cause.