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US may recognise Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights within a week, officials say

Rumours follow US State Department report changing 'Israeli-occupied' denomination of territory to 'Israeli-controlled'
An army post in Mount Bental in the occupied Golan Heights (AFP)

The US could recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights ahead of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington next week.

The Golan Heights: Why it matters
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The announcement would likely coincide with Netanyahu's visit to the US Capitol to speak at the annual AIPAC conference, where he will speak despite a rare condemnation from the pro-Israel lobby last month after he announced an alliance with a far-right party, Otzma Yehudit.

In its annual human rights report last week, the US State Department dropped the phrase "Israel-occupied" to describe the territory - which was captured in the 1967 war and is internationally recognised as part of Syria - and instead referred to it as "Israeli-controlled".

US and Israeli officials told the Associated Press that they expected a decision to formally recognise the territory, which Israel declared annexed in 1981, as part of Israel within the next week.

During a visit to Israel on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoided mentioning the issue publicly, but Netanyahu argued that Israel's control of the resource-rich territory was a helpful buffer against Iranian ambitions in the region - an issue both the US and Israel regard as a priority.

“You could imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,” said Netanyahu, during a press conference.

“You would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”

Election boost

A US decision on the Golan could boost Netanyahu's prospects ahead of hotly contested elections on 9 April.

Despite a scandal surrounding allegations that Iran had tapped his phone, former general Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party still maintain a lead in the polls over Netanyahu's Likud party.

For Netanyahu, the election is arguably existential as he faces indictment on corruption charges.

US President Donald Trump has established himself as an overtly pro-Israel leader since coming to power in January 2017.

The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017, along with a promise to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparked outrage and condemnation internationally, but praise from Israel.

Following the decision it was announced that a traffic circle in Jerusalem would be renamed after the US president.