Arab League to Hold Emergency Summit Following Netanyahu's Golan Heights Statement

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The Arab League will convene an emergency summit in Cairo on Thursday in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. He called on the world to recognize the area as part of Israel.

The meeting, called at the request of the Kuwaitis and announced Wednesday, will involve all the league's permanent members and set an official Arab position on the territory. It will most likely reaffirm the Golan as an inseparable part of Syria and condemn Netanyahu's statement as contradicting international law.

In this Tuesday, March 25, 2014 file photo, Emir of Qatar Sheik Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani listens during the opening session of the Arab League Summit in Kuwait City.Credit: AP

A senior Arab official told Haaretz the meeting was a mere formality for voicing objection to Netanyahu's statement. He said only low-level officials would be sent to the summit, not foreign ministers or other top leaders.

The official noted that Syria itself was no longer in the league and that the growing schism in the Arab world during the Syrian conflict had rendered the organization powerless over member states and regional policy.

The Arab League joins the United States and Germany in rejecting Netanyahu's statement. On Monday, State Department spokesman John Kirby stressed that the Obama administration did not consider the Golan Heights part of Israel.

"The U.S. position on the issue is unchanged," Kirby told reporters 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."

Martin Schaefer, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, said that according to Germany, "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."

Israel in effect annexed the Golan in 1981, a move unanimously rejected that year by the UN Security Council.

Netanyahu's declaration came as UN-sponsored efforts are being made to obtain a political accord to end the civil war in Syria. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office say Syrian President Bashar Assad demanded that one principle for international talks be that the Golan Heights be considered occupied territory that must be returned to Syria.