Donald Trump- Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Donald TrumpReuters

Breaking a five-decade international norm, United States President Donald Trump said on Thursday, March 21, that it was time for America to recognise Golan Heights as a part of the Israeli territory. He said that the step was important to Israel and would bring regional stability to the nation.

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" the US president tweeted.

The statement comes at a time when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting Jerusalem, but the White House hasn't given out any details on why the president made the statement. It is also not known if this was a presidential order or a personal opinion.

Nevertheless, Trump statement has evidently pleased Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to face voters in his bid for reelection just a fortnight from now. The prime minister immediately thanked Trump for his "bold" step and tweeted: "At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump!"

The PM later also said that Trump has "made history" with the statement and sent out a message that "America stands by Israel," reported the Guardian.

Pompeo too spoke of Trump's step and noted that Golan Heights was a "hard-fought real estate" for Israel. "President Trump tonight made the decision to recognise that hard-fought real estate, that important place is proper to be sovereign part of the state of Israel," Pompeo said. "The people of Israel should know that the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy, meaningful and important for all time."

While the President's statement is expected to bolster Netanyahu's reelection campaign, and many believe that this was exactly the intention behind the step, Trump said that he didn't even know that the country was going to polls soon.

"I wouldn't even know about that. I have no idea," Trump told Fox News. He said he had been thinking about Golan Heights as a part of Israel "for a long time" and its sole purpose was and security. "This is sovereignty, this is security, this is about regional security," he added.

What is the Golan Heights issue?

The Golan Heights, sometimes simply known as Golan, lies on Israel's northeast corner and shares its border with Syria. Until 1967, Golan was a part of Syria, but Israel took control of the region after the Six-Day Was the same year. Israelis then occupied the region and the Golan Heights was completely annexed in 1981.

The Golan Heights is mountainous and rural with lesser than 50,000 residents — the Jewish Israelis and religious group called the Druze — who are mostly involved in agricultural activities. Israel is known to have offered citizenship to the Druze in the past, but most have declined the offer and remain Syrian citizens.

Violation of UN Security Council resolution 242

Previous US governments have treated Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory and Trump's comments come in stark contrast to the UN Security Council resolution 242, under which the international community does not recognise a conquering nation's sovereignty over lands occupied through war. The UNSC resolution 242 refers to the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security."

People carry Russian flags during celebrations of the fifth anniversary of Russia's annexation of CrimeaSTR/AFP/Getty Images

The US president's comments have now been slammed by many, who have said that Trump should take into account international laws before making such a statement. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, took to Twitter and said: "This, Mr President is a gross violation of international law & of SC Res.242 (1967). You might want to consult with your international lawyers. Fairness & equity are key to peace in the ME."

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, also lashed out at Trump and said that this was "a brazen violation of international law." "Far from strengthening its hand, moves like this only isolate US further from intl consensus & make its voice even more irrelevant," he added.

The UNSC resolution is also the basis for international opposition in regard to Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea.