The Golan Heights and Lake Kinneret are seen from Umm Qais in Jordan.
(photo credit: LAURA KELLY)
WASHINGTON – Israel asked the United States to recognize its sovereignty over the Golan Heights during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s three-day visit to Washington, in which the Trump administration affirmed the unbreakable bond between the two countries.
The prime minister brought up the issue of the Golan both at his meeting with Trump at the White House on Wednesday as well as with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday. After the meetings, Netanyahu told reporters that the US leaders’ response was “not Earth shattering.”
According to an Israeli official, Netanyahu also spoke with Pence about ways to advance the issue with regard to the mountainous area that Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War and then annexed in 1981.
The United States and the international community have never recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Israel has long argued that it must maintain that territory for security reasons and hopes that the Trump administration might take a different stance on the matter.
Netanyahu and Trump also talked about the civil war in Syria, with Netanyahu explaining that Israel has no interest in getting involved in the conflict. “We want to avoid involvement as much as possible,” he said.
Still, the prime minister continued, Israel would obviously act, as it has done in the past, to halt threats to its security, particularly from Iran, which is smuggling weapons through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran also seeks to establish a base in Syria.
Israel has carried out limited air strikes in Syria and Netanyahu told the reporters that Israel coordinates any activity it takes in Syria with Russia. The prime minister said that he speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin roughly every two to three weeks.
The United States and Israel reaffirmed their unbreakable ties during the three-day visit to the US capitol, designed to highlight President Donald Trump’s firm commitment to the Jewish state and its security.
“It is a new day for the United States-Israel relationship, defined by a responsible approach to the challenges and opportunities our two countries face in the Middle East,” the White House said.
Pence’s office said that during the Netanyahu meeting, “the vice president reiterated the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and pledged to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the shared challenges we face throughout the Middle East, including the threats posed by Iran and its proxies as well as ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist organizations.”
They looked at ways for the two countries to advance critical issues such as cyber security, intelligence cooperation and energy, according to his office, and “they also agreed to work together against one-sided actions against Israel at the United Nations and other international forums, as well as boycotts that target Israel.”
Netanyahu raised the issue of easing parole restrictions for Jonathan Pollard, who had been imprisoned in the US for almost three decades for passing classified information to Israel. It was agreed that Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer would handle that issue with the Trump administration.
Netanyahu also spoke with Pence about the issue concerning the bodies of IDF soldiers that are being held in Gaza.
The meeting capped what has been a successful visit, during which the US and Israel affirmed that they saw eye to eye on Iran and many other regional threats.
However, the trip failed to address some of the ambiguity and tensions with regard to Israel’s continued building in West Bank settlements.
Netanyahu and Pence clarified that a mechanism would be created to address those issues. In a briefing with reporters, the prime minister appeared to indicate that major settlement activity, including the creation of a new settlement for the 40 families who were evacuated from Amona, would need to wait until an understanding was reached with the US on the boundaries of Israeli settlement activity.
During his time in Washington, Netanyahu indicated that he remains committed to the principles of two states for two peoples.
Trump, however, opened the door to other possibilities when he suggested that the end goal was peace, and not necessarily by way of a two-state solution.
US Ambassador the UN Nikki Haley clarified on Thursday that, while her country is open to new ideas, it still supports a twostate solution.
While in Washington, Netanyahu also held meetings on Capitol Hill with Democratic and Republican congressmen.
House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted about his positive meeting with Netanyahu and said the United States remains committed to bolstering Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.
“The special relationship between our nations has been an anchor of stability during uncertain and dangerous times. It must remain a cornerstone of American leadership today,” he wrote.