U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended on Tuesday President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Speaking at AIPAC's annual Policy Conference in Washington, the secretary of state explained that the U.S. didn't change its policy regarding territories that were overtaken in defiance of international law, calling the status of the northern area "an incredibly unique situation."
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Asked whether the U.S. was setting a precedent by backing Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, which was claimed by Israel after the 1967 war, Pompeo said that this was "absolutely not" the case.
"Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation, and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution is a suicide pact," he added, concluding that by signing a presidental proclamation Monday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "that's the reality President Trump recognized."
Meanwhile, European Union member countries blasted the American president's move earlier Tuesday. Germany, France, the U.K., Poland and Belgium issued a joint statement that read: "Our position on the status of the Golan Heights is well-known, and we would like to make clear that this position has not changed."
"In line with international law, and relevant Security Council resolutions, notably resolutions 242 and 497, we do not recognize Israel's sovereignty over territories occupied by Israel since June 1967... and we do not consider them to be part of the territory of the State of Israel," the statement said.
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The statement also cautioned that Trump's unilateral move could have problematic repercussions. "We raise our strong concerns about broader consequences of recognizing illegal annexation and also about the broader regional consequences."
Earlier Tuesday, a senior Israeli official said that Trump's move proves that Israel can retain occupied territories captured in a defensive war. According to the source, who was present aboard Netanyahu's flight from Washington to Israel, "Everyone says you can't hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it's ours."
The statement draws a comparison between the Golan Heights and the West Bank, both occupied in 1967. Right-wing Israeli parties estimate that recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights will serve as the basis for a future annexation of Area C in the West Bank.