U.S. Responds to Netanyahu: Golan Heights Are Not Part of Israel

U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby stressed Monday night that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel, one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed they “will forever remain part of Israel.”

“The U.S. position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby told reporters during a daily briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations. The current situation in Syria does not allow this,” Kirby continued.

The U.S. is the second country after Germany to respond to Netanyahu’s declaration that the Golan, captured from Syria in the 1967 war and later annexed, “will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.”

“It’s a basic principle of international law and the UN charter that no state can claim the right to annex another state’s territory just like that,” Martin Schaefer, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, said Monday.

Netanyahu’s declaration came as UN-sponsored international efforts are being made to obtain a political accord to end the civil war in Syria.

“In the 19 years the Golan was under Syrian occupation, it was used for bunkers, barbed wire fences, landmines, and aggression. It was used for war. In the 49 years it has been under Israeli rule, it has been used for agriculture, tourism, economic initiatives, construction. It is being used for peace,” Netanyahu said during a special government meeting in the Golan Heights.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office say that Syrian President Assad demanded that one principle upon which the international talks will be based is that the Golan Heights be considered occupied territory that must be returned to Syria.

On Thursday, Netanyahu will fly to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu’s senior aides say the prime minister plans to bring up this issue at their meeting and to stress the same message to Putin.