Biden administration says it is maintaining Trump policy on Golan Heights

The comment came after Israeli media claimed the Biden administration is undoing US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the contested area

A picture shows an Israel military drill near Kibbutz Merom Golan in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on June 9, 2021. / AFP / JALAA MAREY
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The Biden administration on Friday went out of its way to note that it has not reversed former president Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

“US policy regarding the Golan has not changed, and reports to the contrary are false,” the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs tweeted.

The State Department's unusual tweet came after several mainstream Israeli media outlets cited a story in a right-wing US publication, The Washington Free Beacon, that said the Biden administration was "walking back" Mr Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

A State Department official had told the Free Beacon that the territory was important to Israel's security – but did not point to any policy changes on the issue.

"[US Secretary of State Antony Blinken] was clear that, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel's security," the State Department official told the Free Beacon, and added that as long as Syrian President Bashar Al Assad remains in power, "the control of the Golan remains of real importance to Israel's security".

The publication then quoted former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and other pro-Israel Republicans lambasting the Biden administration on the issue.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the report was intended to undermine the new government formed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this month, putting an end to Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in power.

“The United States recognised our sovereignty over the Golan Heights and its strategic importance to Israel’s security,” Mr Lapid said.

“Those who spread rumours about the US rescinding its recognition harm our security, our sovereignty and are prepared to cause real damage to the state of Israel and its relations with the US just to hurt the new government.”

Mr Netanyahu criticised Mr Lapid and called the new government “dangerous” this week after the foreign minister endorsed a “no surprises” policy on a phone call with Mr Blinken.

During his lengthy tenure as prime minister, Mr Netanyahu frequently lobbied the US against the Iran nuclear deal, going so far as to blindside former president Barack Obama with an address to the US Congress beseeching members to tank an pre-deal agreement made during negotiations with Tehran.

As prime minister, Mr Netanyahu played up his close relationship with Mr Trump before Israeli voters, touting an ongoing stream of policy victories he received from Washington.

These included the recognition of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, a reversal of a decades-old State Department legal opinion that declared West Bank settlements illegal under international law, and the Abraham Accords, through which several Arab states – including the UAE – normalised relations with Israel.

Mr Netanyahu even unveiled a new settlement in the Golan Heights named “Trump Heights” to thank the former US president for recognising Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territory.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed the territory in 1981.