Trump Signs Declaration Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

President Trump signed a presidential proclamation Monday that officially recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, 52 years after the Jewish state seized the region from Syria.

“Today I am taking historic action to promote Israel’s ability to defend itself and really to have a very powerful, very strong national security, which they’re entitled to have,” Trump said as he signed the proclamation alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Diplomatic Reception Room. “This should have been done, I would say, numerous Presidents ago.  But for some reason, they didn’t do it, and I’m very honored to have done it.”

Trump, after handing the pen used to sign the proclamation to Netanyahu, said: “Give this to the people of Israel.”

The prime minister welcomed Trump’s action, saying Israel had never had a better friend.

“Mr. President, 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,” Netanyahu said. “You have showed this time and again. This is truly a historic day. Your recognition is a two-fold act of historic justice. Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s roots in the Golan go back thousands of years.”

Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War against its Arab neighbors and officially annexed the territory in 1981. The Golan Heights has long been a contentious issue in peace talks between Israel, Syria and other neighboring countries. Israel views the territory as a key buffer to protect itself from Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group based in Lebanon; Iranian-backed militias and other militant groups, but Syria believes it is the rightful owner of the territory.

The Golan proclamation is the latest in a series of policy moves Trump has made that earned praise from the Israeli government, including moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and pulling out of the Obama-era Iran nuclear agreement. The decision reverses decades of American policy and is at odds with United Nations resolutions rejecting the seizure of land by force.

A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member body in 1981 declared that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

Trump announced this decision last Thursday, tweeting the U.S. should recognize Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights territory.

Vice President Mike Pence announced the administration’s decision earlier in the day at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in Washington.

“For 20 years after Israel’s rebirth, Syria held the Golan Heights, and with its massive artillery it held Israel hostage,” Pence said. “This crucial region changed hands only after Israel won a war that was forced upon her.”

The announcement triggered direct or implied criticism from European as well as Middle Eastern countries and organizations, including Britain, Germany, France, the European Union, Turkey, Egypt, the Arab League and Russia.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry rejected Trump’s decision to legitimize Israel’s claim over the contested land, calling it “a flagrant aggression of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, turning a blind eye to all international reactions that condemned such resolution.”

The announcement offers a major boost to Netanyahu, who is facing reelection in two weeks in a race in which he has been shadowed by a slew of corruption indictments. The visit to Washington is seen as an effort to bolster his election chances, since Trump remains extremely popular in Israel, and an official announcement regarding the U.S. stance toward the Golan could give Netanyahu a chance to win.

Netanyahu cut short his two day trip to Washington after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a house in central Israel. The Israeli leader was scheduled to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual convention on Tuesday and join Trump for dinner at the White House.

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