Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (R-S.C.) on Monday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he will push for the United States to formally recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
Graham, Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman together toured the Golan Heights, a slice of territory taken by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
'The Golan is part of #Israel; the Golan must stay part of Israel,' said Prime Minister @netanyahu.— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) March 11, 2019
'What's best for America is for a safe, secure and prosperous #Israel,' said @LindseyGrahamSC: pic.twitter.com/q76mGgSYYB
Israel passed a law annexing the area in 1981, but that annexation failed to get international recognition and was shot down by the United Nations General Assembly.
The United States has not formally recognized Israel's annexation, but has maintained since 1975 a policy of only supporting regional peace agreements that protect Israel from attacks emanating from Golan Heights.
Last month, Republican Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam MORE (Texas) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate's antitrust bill would raise consumer prices and lower our competitiveness Sinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster MORE (Ark.), along with Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherAnti-Trump group targeting top Republicans on Jan. 6 anniversary Congress zooms in on cybersecurity after banner year of attacks Human rights groups sound alarm over Interpol election MORE (R-Wis.), introduced a resolution "to ensure that Israel retains control of the Golan Heights."
The Golan Heights is a key strategic position in northern Israel, bordering Syria and Lebanon, that Israel sees as crucial to any defense efforts against potential incursions from its neighbors.
Israel has kept control of the territory since 1967, but its leaders have at times floated the possibility of a territorial cession in exchange for Syrian recognition of the country.
Netanyahu, who faces a tough parliamentary election in April, said the Golan Heights "has always been part of Israel."
"It's certainly been part of the state of Israel since 1967, and more recently, since 1981," said Netanyahu.
Israel's relationship with the United States is a key campaign issue for Netanyahu as he fights to keep his broad right-wing coalition together amid corruption accusations and a stronger-than-usual opposition challenge.
The prime minister is playing up his closeness to the Trump administration as part of his reelection campaign, even using President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE and American service members in campaign posters.
The trip to Golan Heights was planned as part of a media blitz to show American support for Netanyahu's administration, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Netanyahu is due to visit Washington later this month to meet with Trump and address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention.
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has accused Netanyahu of bribery and other charges, and set a pre-indictment hearing for July 10 at the latest.
And Netanyahu has come under attack for saying Israel is "the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people."
Although Israel's non-Jewish citizens technically have equal rights under the law, many complain of less-than-equal treatment in many areas, from receiving government services to passing on Israeli citizenship to their children.
Netanyahu's comments drew rebuke from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who said "there are no, and there will be no, second-class citizens, and there are no second-class voters.”
“We are all equal in the voting booth. Jews and Arabs, citizens of the state of Israel," Rivlin said Sunday at an Egyptian-Israeli peace conference in Jerusalem.