US may soon recognise Israel's sovereignty over Golan: Israeli minister
Israel is pressing the Trump administration to recognise its sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Wednesday, predicting US assent may come within months.
In an interview with Reuters, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz described endorsement of Israel's 51-year-old hold on the Golan as the proposal now "topping the agenda" in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.
Any such move would be seen as a follow-up on the US exit from the international nuclear deal with Iran and President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the opening of a new US embassy there this month.
Trump's moves were hailed by Israel and caused deep concern among major European allies of Washington.
There was no immediate comment from the White House on Katz's remarks.
The Golan Heights, Syrian territory illegally occupied and subsequently annexed by Israel, form a strategic plateau between Israel and Syria of about 1,200 square km.
It was part of Syria until Israel captured it in the 1967 Middle East War. Israel moved settlers into the area that it occupied and annexed the territory in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally.
Once willing to consider returning the Golan in exchange for peace with Damascus, the Israelis have in recent years argued that the civil war in Syria and the presence there of an Iranian garrison show that they need to keep the strategic plateau.
Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, cast the Golan proposal as a potential extension of the Trump administration's confrontational tack against perceived regional expansion and aggression by Iran, Israel's arch-enemy.
"This is the perfect time to make such a move. The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognise Israel's Golan sovereignty - with an American statement, a presidential proclamation, enshrined [in law]," he said.
The matter, raised by Netanyahu in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017, is now under discussion at various levels of the US administration and Congress, Katz said.
"I reckon there is great ripeness and a high probability this will happen," he said. Asked if such a decision may be made this year, he added: "Yes, give or take a few months."
Asked about Katz's comments, a US Embassy official in Israel said: "We don't as a general policy discuss our diplomatic communications."
Russia, Damascus's big-power ally, has long insisted that Syria's territorial integrity should be restored - a position implicitly requiring an eventual return of the part of the Golan occupied by Israel.
Katz, however, played down any prospect of a blow-up between Moscow and Washington, casting the proposed US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan as a piece of a larger Syria mosaic.
Syria tried to regain the Israeli-occupied Golan in the 1973 Middle East war, but the assault was thwarted. The two signed an armistice in 1974 and the land frontier has been relatively quiet since.
Since 1967, about 20,000 Israeli settlers have moved to the Golan, which also borders Jordan. Some 20,000 Druze also live there. Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship, though most rejected it.
In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement. But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks, mediated by Turkey, also failed.