President Donald Trump on Thursday overturned longstanding US policy regarding the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, announcing "it is time" for the US to "fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty" over the region.
"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognise Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability," Trump tweeted.
The announcement hands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a significant foreign policy victory, less than three weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether he should remain in power. The move comes just days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House and follows weeks during which Netanyahu has renewed his push for the US to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally annexed the territory in 1981. But that annexation has not been recognised by the international community, which has regarded the Golan Heights as occupied territory and Israeli settlements there as illegal under international law.
Trump enjoys sky-high approval ratings in Israel, and his embrace of Netanyahu so close to the elections, coupled with delivering a long-sought recognition, could impact the outcome of the Israeli election.
Netanyahu quickly took to Twitter to thank Trump, tweeting: "At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognises Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump! @realDonaldTrump."
In a short phone call between the two leaders, Netanyahu told Trump, "You made history," according to a readout of the call provided by the Prime Minister's Office.
It was not clear if the White House would release additional information or specifics about the move to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel beyond Trump's tweet.
Trump's decision has been building up for several weeks now, a senior administration official tells CNN.
The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina visited the Israeli-occupied territory earlier this month with the Prime Minister, an early sign that Trump was gearing up to recognise Israel's sovereignty over the territory.
But the final decision came this week as Trump held several meetings with his senior staff, this official said.
National security adviser John Bolton, senior adviser Jared Kushner and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt were consulted and supported the move, the official said.
"There's no obvious constituency not to do this," the official said, defending the move.
The official declined to address whether there had been any consideration of the impact this could have on the Israeli elections.
The decision is the latest controversial unilateral move that Trump has taken vis-a-vis Israel, bucking longstanding US policy.
In December 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and he moved the US Embassy to the holy city last year.
The US had previously maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv and has for years maintained that Jerusalem's status would be decided only as part of a broader Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.