Trump says time for US to recognise Israeli sovereignty over Golan

Golan Heights. File

President Donald Trump on Thursday overturned longstanding U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, announcing "it is time" for the United States to "fully recognize Israel's sovereignty" over the region. Trump declared his break with that policy in a tweet.

Minutes later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his appreciation.

In a tweet on Thursday, Trump said the Golan Heights are "of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel" and to "regional security".

The visit comes less than three weeks before Israeli elections in which Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from a centrist alliance led by a former military chief of staff.

His remarks came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Jerusalem.

In past negotiations, Syria has demanded a withdrawal from the Golan as part of any peace deal.

"You could imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan", he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, wrote on Twitter that he supported recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and that he and Sen.

A recent state department human rights report broke with past U.S. practice referring to the Golan, which Israel captured in 1967, as "Israeli-controlled" rather than "Israeli-occupied".

Pompeo said he did not know why neither Trump nor Pence visited the site with Netanyahu, and declined to say whether it indicated a change in how the United States sees the status of the Western Wall.

In the past, the USA government had sought to avoid tacitly recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the parts of Jerusalem it took control of in the 1967 Six-Day War.

At a meeting with Pompeo, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin expressed his deep concern about the Palestinians, both in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and under the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

During Thursday's visit, Pompeo placed a prayer note inside the wall.

This was echoed by the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties, which thanked Trump, but warned the Israeli public not to let the move blind them to the dangers of Trump's expected peace plan.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House twice next week.

Netanyahu, who is campaigning under threat of indictment for corruption, is hoping that the strong USA backing will help push him over the finish line.

"I've called you so many times, on so many things that this evening I just want to say one word-two actually: thank you". "With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel's security and firmly support your right to defend yourself", he said.

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