Israel says Trump to sign Golan sovereignty decree on Monday

US President Donald Trump will sign the decree recognising Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights while hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 25, 2019, Israel's acting foreign minister said.
US President Donald Trump will sign the decree recognising Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights while hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 25, 2019, Israel's acting foreign minister said.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) - With Israel's election only two weeks away, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu will get to showcase his close ties with Mr Donald Trump in a US visit days after the president backed Israel's hold over the occupied Golan Heights.

The prime minister's White House meeting with Mr Trump on Monday (March 25) could be overshadowed in the United States by the expected release of details from a confidential report into an investigation into possible collusion between the president and Russia in his 2016 US election campaign.

But Mr Netanyahu, facing possible indictment in three corruption cases and denying any wrongdoing, will play to a domestic audience in highlighting what he hails as the strongest bond ever between an Israeli leader and an American president.

Before returning on Thursday (March 28) from the long-planned trip to the home stretch of a close race, Mr Netanyahu can expect a warm reception from Mr Trump, who along with the First Lady, will also host a dinner for Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

Mr Trump helped to set the scene for his ally on Thursday (March 21), announcing that the time had come to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, strategic territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move that did not win international support.

On Sunday Israel's acting foreign minister, Mr Israel Katz, said on Twitter that Mr Trump would sign a decree codifying such recognition, with Mr Netanyahu present, on Monday.

The president's move on the Golan was widely seen in Israel - where Mr Trump is a popular figure - as an attempt to provide an election boost to right-wing Netanyahu, who had pressed for yet another departure from long-standing US policy in one of the world's most volatile regions.

 
 
 

Mr Trump had already fulfilled two major items on Mr Netanyahu's wish list, recognising contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and moving the American embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv last May.

Those steps angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem, also captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It also set them firmly against a peace plan Washington says it will present after the Israeli ballot.

"We have never had such a bond between the prime minister of Israel and an American president," Mr Netanyahu, who has featured Mr Trump on his campaign billboards, told reporters upon his departure from Tel Aviv.

For Mr Trump, Mr Netanyahu's embrace resonates with US evangelists - a core constituency for the Republican leader, who is up for re-election in 2020.

CLOSE RACE

Before arriving in Washington on Sunday (March 24), Mr Netanyahu said he would speak to Mr Trump "about his historic declaration" on the Golan and "continued pressure on Iran" after the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Teheran that had relaxed sanctions on Israel's arch-foe.

Mr Netanyahu will also address the pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, at its annual convention in Washington, as will his main challenger in the election, former military chief Benny Gantz, who heads a centrist party.

 
 
 

The prime minister said he will meet leaders of Congress during the visit. Mr Netanyahu's relations with Democrats have been strained by his unflinching support for Trump, friction with the Democratic party's progressive wing and his thorny relationship with Barack Obama.

Opinions polls show Mr Netanyahu running neck and neck with Mr Gantz. The political newcomer has called for clean governance, building on the attorney-general's announcement in February that he intends to indict Netanyahu on bribery and fraud charges, pending a hearing after the April 9 vote.

"(Trump's statement about the Golan) will really help Netanyahu," said Billha Ketter, 67, an event planner, speaking to Reuters in Rosh Pina, which abuts the Golan Heights. She accused the president of intervening in Israel's election.

Opinion polls gauging whether Mr Trump's move is having an effect are expected later in the week.