Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel won from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel annexed the territory in 1981, but it has not been recognized internationally.
During a briefing with Israeli and foreign media after meeting Trump at the White House on Wednesday, Netanyahu was asked whether he had raised the Golan issue.
“Yes,” he replied.
Asked how the U.S. president had responded, he said, “I wouldn’t say that he was surprised by my request.” Netanyahu did not elaborate.
Israel made a similar request to the Obama administration in 2015, but it was rejected, diplomats said at the time.
It is unclear whether the White House would take such a step now, given that it could further complicate the Syrian conflict. If the United States were to recognize Israel’s claim, it would likely anger Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran in the civil war there.
The Trump administration has talked about working more closely with Russia to end the Syrian conflict. Recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan could undermine those efforts.
It could also spur Iran and its proxies in Syria, particularly the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, to turn more of their focus against Israel, targeting its forces stationed across the Golan Heights.
As well as around 25,000 Israelis living in the Golan, many of them working in agriculture, there are about 20,000 Druze of Syrian citizenship, many of whom have relatives just across the valley in Syria.
In other summit news, Netanyahu met with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday to discuss the establishment of a mechanism for coordinating U.S. and Israeli policy on the building of Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron, The Times of Israel reported.
Netanyahu and Pence also agreed to “work together in a systematic manner” to change the United Nations’ treatment of Israel, a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after the meeting.
During the Wednesday press conference, Netanyahu had said that there was a need to coordinate “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time,” an apparent reference to the numerous condemnations issued by the Obama administration after announcements of new building plans in Yehudah and Shomron.
In a briefing with journalists after the Trump-Netanyahu meeting, the prime minister confirmed that the White House and Israel “want to reach agreement [on the issue]. We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.”
Netanyahu indicated that he was prepared to at least consider “reigning in a bit” the building in Yehudah and Shomron that Trump requested on Wednesday.
“If there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.”
But, he said, “In Yerushalayim, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that while the U.S. and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest,” The Times of Israel quoted Netanyahu as saying.
However, it also noted that his office issued a statement that seemed to contradict the quote, asserting that “there are inaccurate headlines [appearing on this issue]. The prime minister did not say that he was prepared to discuss reining in construction.”