US President Donald Trump formally recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights at the White House on Monday.
Standing alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump ratified the presidential proclamation over five decades after Israel captured the strategic position during the Six Day War.
Witnessing the historic ceremony, Netanyahu noted its significance whilst pointing out the stark reality of Israel’s security following a Hamas rocket attack in central Israel the same day.
Netanyahu was fulsome in praising Trump for his “extraordinary support” towards Israel’s right to defend itself.
“Over the years, Israel has been blessed to have many friends who have sat in the Oval office but Israel has never had a better friend than you,” he said. “This is truly a historic day.”
Addressing the rocket attack from Gaza, which injured seven people including two children, the Israeli leader noted, “Fortunately, nobody was killed. Israel will not tolerate this, Israel is responding forcefully to terror.”
President Trump said the United States recognised Israel’s “absolute right” to defend itself.
“The despicable attack (near Tel Aviv) demonstrates the significant security challenges that Israel faces every single day,” he added. “Israel is entitled to have a very strong national security.”
Referring to the proclamation, he noted, “The State of Israel took control over the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats.
“Today, aggressive action by Iran and terrorist groups in southern Syria, including Hezbollah, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks against Israel. Any possible future peace agreement must account for Israel’s need to defend itself from Syria, Iran and other regional threats.”
Trump, who said the proclamation should have been signed “decades ago”, added that he would discuss security threats and trade with Netanyahu along with mutual priorities in the Middle East and beyond.
He concluded that under his administration an “unbreakable alliance” with Israel had never been stronger.
News of the signing was welcomed by Jewish organisations.
“The President’s official recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is a monumental gesture of affirmation to Israeli autonomy and to its undeniable right to secure borders,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “This is, yet, another testament to the unbreakable bond of the United States and its steadfast support for its closest ally.
“Israel’s northern border is continuously menacing and dangerous, with terrorist organisations and Iranian operatives just across the Syrian border waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate and attack. There is absolutely no question that we must protect the Jewish State and its citizens from the evil aspirations of these adversaries who are quite vocal in their desire to destroy Israel.”
“Israel must maintain its qualitative edge in the region,” Lauder added. “The Golan Heights is of strategic importance not just to Israel, but to all who wish to see the cancer of terrorism kept at bay until it can be fully eradicated. In this one bold move, the President reaffirmed this reality.”
Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Sunday for a three-day visit just days after Trump tweeted the US would “fully recognise” Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights as it was of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and regional stability.
Syria’s foreign ministry described the US decision a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the country in a statement by state news agency SANA.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio said the status of Golan had not changed.
The international community does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan and Druze residents have rejected Trump’s actions, many protesting on Saturday.
Israel cites the Golan as a strategic asset, as it overlooks northern Israeli towns.
Some 20,000 Jewish Israelis live in the Golan working in farming, leisure and tourism.
Israeli commentators saw Trump’s declaration as a political boost for Netanyahu’s aspirations ahead of elections on April 9.
Palestinian officials and analysts predict Trump’s Golan decision will harm his long-awaited Middle East peace plan.
By Natalie Ash