President TrumpDonald TrumpJury in Jussie Smollett trial begins deliberations Pence says he'll 'evaluate' any requests from Jan. 6 panel Biden's drug overdose strategy pushes treatment for some, prison for others MORE on Thursday said the U.S. should recognize Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights territory, delivering a diplomatic win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a tough reelection race.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Trump tweeted.
Trump wrote that the territory, which is located between Israel and Syria, “is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
The announcement came days before Trump was scheduled to meet at the White House with Netanyahu, who has repeatedly urged top U.S. officials to make the move.
Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoTo advance democracy, defend Taiwan and Ukraine Haley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump MORE, who is visiting Jerusalem, earlier Thursday would not directly answer reporters who asked if the change was coming, but said “it wasn’t a mistake” the Golan was not listed as “occupied territory” in the U.S.’s annual human rights report, a reversal of past protocol.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the territory in 1981, a move that was not formally recognized by the U.S. and other nations who said its permanent status should be determined through negotiations.
The Golan has long been a contentious issue in peace talks between Israel, Syria and other neighboring countries. Israel views the territory as a key buffer to protect itself from Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group based in Lebanon; Iranian-backed militias and other militant groups, but Syria believes it is the rightful owner of the territory.
Netanyahu is facing multiple corruption indictments that have hampered his efforts to win another term, with Election Day looming in just over two weeks.
The Israeli leader’s visit to Washington is seen as an effort to bolster his election chances, since Trump remains extremely popular in Israel, and an official announcement regarding the U.S. stance toward the Golan could give him a further boost.
Trump has earned plaudits from Netanyahu for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal brokered by former President Obama.
The two leaders are also expected to discuss the Trump administration’s long-anticipated plan for Middle East peace, which is being drafted by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden celebrates start of Hanukkah Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report Watchdog finds no money has flowed out of agency tasked by Trump admin to fight pandemic MORE.
It remains unclear if the Golan issue will be included in a peace plan rollout or if it will be announced separately.