WASHINGTON – With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing at his side, US President Donald Trump on Monday signed an official presidential proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, formally giving Netanyahu a pre-election gift just two weeks before the elections.
“Today I am taking historic action to promote Israel’s ability to defend itself, and really to have very powerful and very strong national security, which they are entitled to have,” Trump said in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, soon after Netanyahu arrived at the White House for a meeting.
Trump signs document officially recognizing Israeli control over Golan, March 26, 2019 (GPO)
The meeting took place in the shadow of Hamas’s missile attack on central Israel, and Trump said that attack showed “the significant security challenges Israel faces every single day.”
Netanyahu heard about the missile attack shortly before midnight Sunday, and held security consultations with the chief of staff and other top security officials, during which he approved the targets that the IDF acted against in response to the attacks, asking the military establishment to prepare a bank of significant targets.
Netanyahu also decided to cut short his trip to the United States and return to Israel after his meeting with Trump. Following that meeting, he held further consultations from Washington with the defense establishment in Israel.
Trump, before signing the Golan proclamation, said, “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 – very violent attacks.”
The president first announced the move last Thursday in a tweet.
Trump was flanked by his national security team, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and his Mideast negotiating team: Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
The president said that any possible future peace agreement must take into account Israel’s ability to “defend itself from Syria, Iran and other regional threats.”
He said that “under my administration, the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv.”
In an apparent reference to comments made by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and other progressive Democrats about the need to recalibrate America’s Mideast policies and its strong ties with Israel, Trump said: “You read things, you hear things; MOVE BRACKETS AFTER WORD ‘THE’ [ US-Israel] relationship has never been stronger. People talk, but it is only talk. Our relationship is powerful.”
Trump welcomed Netanyahu to the White House by saying that he is “a very special man, doing a great job.”
Trump said the US defeated the caliphate in Syria, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed powerful sanctions on Tehran “that are having a big effect. Iran is not the same country it was when I took office. The day I took office we had threats all over the Middle East and beyond. Iran is a much different place right now then it was.”
The president said that the US will confront the poison of antisemitism “through our words and, perhaps more importantly, our actions.” He said there can “be no greater example of greatness than what Israel has done, starting from a small speck of sand.”
He called Israel an “inspiration, trusted ally and cherished friend.”
Netanyahu, who called Trump “my dear friend Donald,” praised him for consistently recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense, adding that his proclamation on the Golan joins the list of other important proclamations made by non-Jews that have impacted Jewish history – such as Cyrus The Great’s declaration allowing Jews to return to Israel in antiquity, the Balfour declaration, US president Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel, and Trump’s earlier recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The prime minister said that Israel would not tolerate the missile attack on Moshav Mishmeret, and that the IDF was acting against Hamas targets in Gaza even as he was speaking.
“Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” he said. “I have a simple message to Israel’s enemies: we will do whatever we must to defend our people and our state.”
Netanyahu said that he was leaving Washington and returning home to “lead the people of Israel and the soldiers of Israel.”
The prime minister said that “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 then you. You have showed this time and again.”
Netanyahu characterized Trump’s signing of the declaration as “a truly historic day,” and said it took “nearly half a century” to translate Israel’s military victories in 1967 and 1973 on the Golan Heights, “into a diplomatic victory.”
“Your recognition is a two-fold act of historic justice,” Netanyahu said. “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.”
Following the signing of the Golan proclamation, the two leaders went to the Oval Office for a meeting. Netanyahu joked that he brought a case of Golan wine to celebrate, but that since Trump was not a big wine drinker this could be shared with his staff – and that he hoped this would not lead to an investigation.
Trump said that he has been hearing about and studying the Golan issue for many years, and that US recognition should “have been done numerous presidents ago – but for some reason they didn’t do it, and I’m very honored to have done it.”
Reporters shouted questions at the two leaders, but the only one that Trump was willing to answer was regarding the Mueller investigation, responding that the report was “100% of what it should have been.”