The Golan Heights will forever remain a part of Israel, proclaimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
That declaration was prompted by statements from United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken during an interview with CNN on Monday.
After reiterating that the administration of US President Joe Biden has affirmed the decision of his predecessor that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, Blinken stopped short of recognizing the Jewish State’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
In 2019, then-US President Donald Trump parted with other world powers by recognizing the Golan as part of Israel, which legally annexed the strategic plateau in 1981 after capturing it from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War.
“The Golan is very important to Israel’s security, as long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself; all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation, I think remains real important to Israel’s security,” said the top American diplomat, adding that, “Legal questions are something else… and over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that is something we would look at; but, we are nowhere near that.”
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said during a press briefing, “Look, they said they are looking at it – but I have already looked at it. As far as I am concerned, the Golan Heights will remain forever part of the State of Israel, a sovereign part.”
“What, should we return it to Syria? Should we return the Golan to a situation where mass-slaughter is a danger?” he then pointedly questioned, noting the civil war raging in the neighboring country, which is in a formal state of war with Israel.
The ongoing multi-sided conflict in the Arab Republic erupted nearly 10 years ago on 15 March 2011. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which says it has been “monitoring and documenting the daily violations committed in perhaps one of the most complex conflict in contemporary history,” issued a December 2020 report documenting the deaths of 387,118 people, in addition to an estimated 105,000 others. The SOHR also cited injury to more than 2.1 million Syrian civilians, and the displacement of 13 million people during to the conflict.
The following is a transcript TV7 obtained from the State Department pertaining to relevant portions of Secretary Blinken’s interview with Wolf Blitzer of CNN’s The Situation Room:
QUESTION: A State Department spokesperson has given the Trump administration credit for what’s called the Abraham Accords, the normalization deals that Israel worked on thanks to the Trump administration, with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, but at the same time you’re saying it can’t be a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace. So how exactly are you going to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Wolf, yes, we applauded the Abraham Accords. This is an important step forward. Whenever we see Israel and its neighbors normalizing relations, improving relations, that’s good for Israel, it’s good for the other countries in question, it’s good for overall peace and security, and I think it offers new prospects to people throughout the region through travel, through trade, through other work that they can do together to actually materially improve their lives. So that’s a good thing. But as you said rightly, that doesn’t mean that the challenges of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians go away. They don’t. They’re still there. They’re not going to miraculously disappear. And so we need to engage on that. But in the first instance, the parties in question need to engage on that.
Look, the hard truth is we are a long way I think from seeing peace break out and seeing a final resolution of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state. In the first instance now, it’s do no harm. We’re looking to make sure that neither side takes unilateral actions that make the prospects for moving toward peace and a resolution even more challenging than they already are. And then hopefully we’ll see both sides take steps that create a better environment in which actual negotiations can take place.
QUESTION: I know that you, the Biden administration still supports what’s called a Two-State solution –
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: — Israel, a new state of Palestine. But I understand that President Biden still hasn’t even spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu; is that right?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, they spoke actually during the transition. I think one of the first calls that the President had was with the prime minister. I’ve talked to my Israeli counterparts on multiple occasions already. And you’re exactly right about the two-state solution: The President strongly supports it. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and the only way to give the Palestinians a state to which they’re entitled.
QUESTION: But is there a reason as President he still hasn’t spoken with Netanyahu? He’s spoken with so many other world leaders.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future.
QUESTION: Anxious to get your yes or no on some specifics, very sensitive issues. You’ve said the United States will keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. It used to be in Tel Aviv. Do you regard Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I do, yes. And more importantly, we do.
QUESTION: As part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, would you support a Palestine having its capital in East Jerusalem?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, the – what we have to see happen is for the parties to get together directly and negotiate these so-called final status issues. That’s the objective. And as I said, we’re unfortunately a ways away from that at this point in time.
QUESTION: The Trump administration, as you know, also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria back in 1967. Will your administration, the Biden administration, continue to see the Golan Heights as part of Israel?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel’s security. As long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself – all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security. Legal questions are something else. And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at. But we are nowhere near as that.