SAT 20 - 4 - 2019
Date: Sep 7, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Israel will keep Golan Heights: U.S. envoy
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: The U.S. ambassador to Israel said in remarks published Thursday that he expected Israel to keep the Golan Heights in perpetuity, in an apparent nod towards its claim of sovereignty over the strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Foreign governments, including the U.S., do not recognize Israel’s claim and President Donald Trump’s national security adviser has said Washington’s policy remains unchanged.

But U.S. Ambassador David Friedman suggested Israel was there to stay and said it was possible the U.S. would consider recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in the future. “I personally cannot imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria. I frankly cannot imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is not part of Israel forever,” he told the right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper.

Friedman said there was “no one more undeserving of this prize” – control of the Golan Heights – than Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Since early in Trump’s term, Israel has lobbied for formal U.S. endorsement of its control of the Golan. Trump has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with other world powers, but national security adviser John Bolton said last month that a similar Golan move was not under discussion.

In the past year and a half, Trump has twice ordered U.S.-led airstrikes against targets in Syria in response to what Washington called the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“Relinquishing the high ground of the Golan Heights could put Israel at a great security disadvantage,” Friedman said.

The Golan Heights form a buffer between Israel and Syria of about 1,200 square km.

Israel captured most of it from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. Israel annexed the territory in 1981, a move not recognized internationally.

Once willing to consider returning the Golan for peace with Syria, the Israelis have argued in recent years that the civil war in Syria and the presence there of an Iranian garrison backing Damascus show they need to keep it.

Interviewed by Reuters last month, Bolton said: “Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there’s no change in the U.S. position for now.” Responding to those remarks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there was “no way” he would give up trying to win U.S. recognition.

Asked, in light of Bolton’s comments, whether the Trump administration would consider in the future recognizing Israeli sovereignty, Friedman said: “Yes, that’s definitely possible. It definitely could happen.”

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