This picture taken from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on June 5, 2020 shows the border fence with the south-western Syrian governorate of Quneitra. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
JERUSALEM – Israel will keep the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in a 1967 war, even if international views on Damascus change, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday.
In 2019, then US President Donald Trump broke with other world powers by recognizing Israel as sovereign on the Golan Heights, which it annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's remarks came as the current US administration hedges on the Golan's legal status and some US-allied Arab states ease their shunning of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his handling of a decade-old civil war
Bennett's remarks came as the current US administration hedges on the Golan's legal status and some US-allied Arab states ease their shunning of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his handling of a decade-old civil war.
Addressing a conference about the Golan's future, Bennett said the internal Syrian strife had "persuaded many in the world that perhaps it is preferable that this beautiful and strategic territory be in the State of Israel's hands."
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"But even in a situation in which – as could happen – the world changes tack on Syria, or in relation to Assad, this has no bearing on the Golan Heights," he told the forum hosted by the conservative Makor Rishon newspaper.
"The Golan Heights is Israeli, full stop."
An official source in Syria's foreign ministry condemned Bennett's settlement comments.
"Such aggressive statements and policies will not change the eternal truth that the Golan was and will remain Arab and Syrian, and that it is returning to the motherland sooner or later," the source said.
While not changing the policy, President Joe Biden's administration has been circumspect on the Golan issue, describing Israel's hold in de facto rather than de jure terms.
Asked in a February interview if Washington would continue to deem the Golan Heights part of Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled openness to an eventual policy review on a territory most countries consider to be under occupation.
"As long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran … the control of the Golan in that situation, I think, remains of real important to Israel's security," he told CNN.
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"Legal questions are something else. And, over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that's something we'd look at."
In his speech, Bennett pledged to double the size of the Israeli population on the Golan, which is currently about equal to a Druze Arab community that often professes loyalty to Syria.