Netanyahu still hopes U.S. will recognize Israel's Golan claim

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel still hopes the United States will recognize its claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, after a top U.S. official said the issue was not currently under consideration by Washington.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem August 12, 2018. Jim Hollander /Pool via Reuters/File Photo

Israel captured much of the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, a move not endorsed internationally. Netanyahu raised the possibility of U.S. recognition in his first White House meeting with President Donald Trump in February 2017.

Trump reversed a long-standing U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. Few other countries have followed the move, which angered Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as capital of their own future state.

Last May, Netanyahu’s intelligence minister said that U.S. recognition on the Golan issue could be forthcoming within months.

But in a Reuters interview during a visit to Israel this week, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said “there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the U.S. government”.

Netanyahu was asked by reporters whether Israel, in light of Bolton’s remarks, had dropped expectations of U.S. recognition of Israel’s Golan claim. He replied: “Would I give up on such a thing? No way.”

In the interview, Bolton said that while the United States understands Israel’s position regarding the Golan, “there’s no change in the U.S. position for now”.

Once willing to consider returning the Golan for peace with Syria, the Israelis have argued in recent years that the country’s civil war and the presence of an Iranian garrison backing Damascus showed they had to keep the strategic plateau.

Yoav Gallant, an Israeli security cabinet minister, suggested on Thursday that the priority for Israel and its U.S. ally was the removal of Iranian forces and Tehran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas from Syria.

Bolton discussed the matter with his Russian counterpart in Geneva on Thursday. Moscow, which backs Damascus, wants Syrian territorial integrity restored.

“As Syria is rebuilt, we have two significant interests. The first is Iran and Hezbollah each going back where they belong,” Gallant told Israel’s Channel 13 television. “And the second interest is unequivocal Israeli sovereignty on every meter of the Golan Heights.”

“I think that if we work the right way, we will get this.”

Russia has said that it cannot compel Iran to quit Syria.

Bolton, in his Reuters interview, said Russia was “stuck” in Syria and seeking alternative sources of reconstruction funds. This gave Washington leverage in urging an Iranian withdrawal, the prerequisite for resolving the Syria crisis, Bolton said. Moscow disputed those remarks.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Larry King and David Stamp