What is the U.S. position on the Golan?

So can Congress be used to pressure the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan? That depends on whether the administration is willing to listen on the issue.

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June 29, 2018 04:00
3 minute read.
Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Golan Heights near Israel's border with Syria

Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Golan Heights near Israel's border with Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrapped up a week-long visit to the US Thursday in which he met with some 20 senators and congressmen on one key issue.

With Lapid, one might expect that they were discussing matters of religion and state or that perhaps he was trying to influence the long-awaited Israel-Palestinian diplomatic plan that US President Donald Trump’s administration has been working on.

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But instead, Lapid’s visit focused on securing bipartisan American support for US recognition of Israeli control over the Golan Heights. One step that would prove the trip successful would be if some kind of lobby for that cause is created in Congress.

The cynics would say that Lapid latched onto the issue, because he is trying to portray himself as Israel’s shadow foreign minister and the main alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps his campaign strategists took a poll and found that keeping the Golan is the ultimate consensus issue in Israel and told Lapid to focus on it.

But even if the cynics are correct, Lapid would be unwise to take a leading role on an issue in which he did not believe he could achieve relatively immediate success. The legislators he met in Washington included key figures like House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, Florida Congressman Ted Deutch and Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam.

He spoke to them about the strategic value of the Golan for Israel’s security as well as its historic value to the Jewish people. He said that this is the time to take such a step, while there is a historic window of opportunity due to the changes in Syria and the entire region.

So can Congress be used to pressure the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan? That depends on whether the administration is willing to listen on the issue.

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There are members of Knesset who insist they have been told repeatedly by the White House that now is not the right time to pressure for recognizing sovereignty on the Golan. They said the White House wants there to be a peace process with the Palestinians, and after the US Embassy moved to Jerusalem, top Trump administration officials believe that they did enough for now and that asking for more is ungrateful.

Those MKs would also say that asking for sovereignty on the Golan would be putting the cart before the horse, because it remains relatively unpopulated. Israel keeps what it develops, so it would need to work hard to develop the Golan for it to remain an inseparable part of Israel.

US Ambassador David Friedman was quoted by Channel 1 two weeks ago saying in private conversations that Israel must be careful not to be seen as ungrateful and to understand that America has global interests that have nothing to do with Israel. The US Embassy denied that Friedman said that.

Others, including Lapid, have said that the White House has not expressed any opposition to highlighting the issue. The administration itself has been careful about it when speaking on record.

“As regards US policy on the Golan Heights, ‎we have no announcements to make at this time,” a senior administration official said. “We routinely meet with a range of Israeli officials on a range of issues.”

Perhaps the best way to interpret what the Trump administration believes about the Golan is to listen to Netanyahu. While he has brought up the issue with European leaders, he is currently focusing on getting Iran out of Syria.

So for now, the Trump administration’s stance on the Golan remains unclear, but perhaps in the future, the issue of the Golan could rise to new heights.

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