Israeli media was abuzz on Friday after American media reported that the Biden Administration was reversing former US President Donald Trump’s historic recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Already back in February, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hinted that such a move was coming when he refused to answer a reporter’s question over whether or not the Biden Administration would honor Trump’s policy shift.
The Golan Heights “remains of real importance to Israel’s security,” said Blinken at the time, but he would not confirm the strategic plateau’s official legal status vis-a-vis US foreign policy.
Biden’s purported about-face on the Golan was reported by The Washington Free Beacon. A State Department spokesman told the outlet that the current administration still supports Israel’s control of the Golan. But he also suggested that should the situation in Syria change, the Golan could be back on the negotiating table.
In other words, Israel is not the sovereign in the Golan Heights.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who played a major role in America’s previous recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, said the Biden Administration was being short-sighted.
“Suggesting that if [the Assad regime] falls and the Iranians leave Syria, the Golan Heights should be given to Syria misreads history and misreads the eternal security needs of the state of Israel,” he told the Free Beacon.
Israelis almost couldn’t believe it when Trump followed up his recognition of a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital with recognition of their sovereignty over the Golan. It was almost too good to be true. And there were always concerns that a future US administration would rescind the order.
News of Biden’s policy shift on the Golan didn’t sit well with Israeli officials from across the political spectrum.
Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev of the left-wing Labor Party insisted that “Trump’s recognition didn’t make the Golan any more Israeli than it already was, and Biden’s decision won’t make it any less.”
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Oded Forer of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu faction called on Israel’s new unity government to respond to the White House by “putting forward an expanded government decision supporting \[Israel’s claim to] the Golan Heights and committing to doubling the population there as soon as possible.”
“The Golan is an inseparable part of the State of Israel,” emphasized Forer.
Democrats take aim at settlements
Some in Biden’s Democratic Party are not satisfied only with walking back US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. They want the president to also again relate to Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) as illegal.
In addition to his policy shifts in Jerusalem and the Golan, Trump upended decades of US foreign policy by relating to Judea and Samaria as contested, but not occupied, and Jewish settlements therefore as not illegal.
Seventy-three Democratic members of the House of Representatives, including seven Jewish congressmen, signed a letter urging Biden to undo Trump’s changes.
“Make clear that the United States considers settlements to be inconsistent with international law by reissuing relevant State Department and US customs guidance to that effect,” the letter reads.