WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that Israel seized from Syria in 1967, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy and giving a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the middle of his re-election campaign.
“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!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Recognition of the disputed area, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally, would mark a major shift in U.S. policy days before Netanyahu arrives in Washington to meet with Trump and address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, lobbying group.
Netanyahu has been pressing for the United States to recognize its claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and raised that possibility in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.
Trump’s move on Thursday was his most overt yet to help Netanyahu, who faces an April 9 election and is locked in a closely contested race while battling corruption allegations, which he denies.
Netanyahu thanked Trump for the Golan Heights gesture.
“You’ve made history,” Netanyahu told Trump in a phone call after the announcement, according to the prime minister’s office.
Netanyahu had been expected to raise the issue again with Trump during his visit to Washington, an Israeli official said.
“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! @realDonaldTrump,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet.
At the United Nations, a spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declined to comment on Trump’s decision.
A senior administration official said the president had been discussing his Golan move over the last few days with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House national security adviser John Bolton, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
“Every single person was supportive of the idea,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.