President Trump said Thursday that the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights, ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington next week.
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Trump said it's important for the United States to fully recognize Israel's control over what he called an area of "critical strategic and security importance to Israel" and stability in the region.
“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 tweeted.
Trump's tweet came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Jerusalem. Reporters asked Pompeo about the issue, but he declined to answer.
Netanyahu already had pressed Pompeo during his visit to Jerusalem to recognize the Golan Heights as a sovereign part of Israel. The Israeli leader is likely to bring up the issue again when he visits Trump at the White House next week. He is also expected to speak at the annual conference of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group.
Netanyahu has previously accused Iran of attempting to set up a terrorist network to target Israel from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 in the Six-Day War.
“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,” Netanyahu tweeted shortly after Trump’s tweet. “Thank you President Trump!”
While the United States has historically attempted to remain impartial in the conflict over the Golan Heights, the Trump administration already has strengthened ties to Israel on other fronts. In 2017, Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem and recognized the city as Israel’s capital, while a recent State Department report human rights bucked tradition and used the phrase “Israeli-controlled,” rather than “Israeli-occupied,” to describe the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza.
During an interview with Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo, Trump said the move to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was something he has been mulling over for a while.
"I've been thinking about doing that for a long time, it's been a very hard decision for every president, no president has done it," Trump said, adding that his decision felt in line with the U.S recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump added that the recent decision had nothing to do with Netanyahu running for reelection.
Trump said: "I wouldn't even know about that, I have no idea, I hear he's doing okay."
Trump’s call to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the contested region comes as Republican leaders have ramped up pressure on him to do so.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters during a visit earlier this month to the Golan Heights that he would lobby the Trump administration to recognize the occupied region as belonging to Israel.
“There is no construct I can imagine now or any time in the future for the state of Israel to give the Golan up,” Graham said, according to Reuters.
The Golan Heights is a large plateau that sits in a disputed area along the border with Syria. It has been occupied by Israel since it was seized from Syria in 1967. Israel contends the region is a critical buffer zone between the nation and the conflicts throughout the Middle East as Syria’s eight-year civil war has at times come close to the Golan boundary.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.