This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, the rocky plateau that Israeli forces seized from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Signing a formal proclamation on March 25 at the White House, Trump said the United States should have recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights “decades ago.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood beside Trump at the White House on March 25 as he signed the proclamation.
Netanyahu called the document a “bold proclamation” that marked a “historic day” that has transformed Israel’s “military victories” in the Golan Heights to a “diplomatic” victory.
“We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also said Trump’s proclamation made the alliance between Israel and the United States “stronger and greater than ever.”
Syria’s Foreign Ministry reacted to Trump’s move by calling it a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria.
Syria tried to retake the Golan Heights from Israeli forces during the 1973 Middle East war, but their surprise assault was repelled.
In 1981, Israel extended its laws to the region, effectively annexing it, in a move that has not been recognized by the international community.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Trump’s move was unlawful and could lead to renewed tensions in the Middle East. “This could lead to a new wave of tensions…such things, they are outside the law for they ignore all international efforts…unfortunately, they can only aggravate the situation,” she told Russian radio.
Trump announced on Twitter on March 21 that the United States intended to “fully” recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the 1,800-square-kilometer territory — a decision that breaks with long-standing U.S. policy and international consensus.
Trump’s proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights comes less than a month before general elections in Israel in which Netanyahu is facing a stiff challenge from former military chief Benny Gantz, the head of a centrist party.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington on March 24 for what was meant to be a three-day visit that included an appearance at the annual convention of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
But he announced on March 25 that he was cutting short his trip to the United States after a rocket attack from Gaza early on March 25 destroyed a residential home and injured several Israelis in the farming community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba.
Israel’s military said the rocket attack was conducted by militants from Gaza’s ruling Hamas. It also quickly mobilized troops and called up reserve forces, setting up the possibility of a major military operation ahead of the Israeli elections.
Netanyahu pledged to retaliate and return to Israel immediately after his meeting with Trump to manage the crisis.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the AIPAC gathering that that rocket attack “proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace.”
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel, and the United States will never negotiate with terrorist Hamas,” Pence said.