U.S. Senate Pushes Pompeo to Explain Legal Basis for Golan Annexation. He Doesn't

Pompeo told a Senate hearing he would later provide legal explanation for how annexation of Golan Heights was different from Crimea. The statement he released failed to do so

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sits down to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, during a hearing to review the FY 2020 State Department budget requests
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was grilled by U.S. senators during a hearing Tuesday to explain how annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel and that of Crimea by Russia are different.

Pompeo claimed there was a body of international law underpinning Trump’s recognition of Israeli annexation and, that while he could not explain at the moment, he would at a later date.

“There is international law doctrine on this very point. We don’t have time to go through it today. But [I’m] happy to have a team go over and walk you through that element of international law,” Pompeo told a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

Trump signed a proclamation during Netanyahu's visit to Washington on March 25, officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, a dramatic departure from decades of American policy.

The move, which Trump announced in a tweet days prior, was widely seen as an attempt to boost Netanyahu as he ran for re-election on April 9.

Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

The state department issued a statement to explain the legal “doctrine” Pompeo cited, but according to the Guardian, that statement “made several arguments but no legal ones.”

“Israel’s administration of the Golan Heights, and Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea should not be compared, as the circumstances couldn’t be more different,” the statement said.

“Israel gained control of the Golan through its legitimate response to Syrian aggression aimed at Israel’s destruction,” it continued. “Russia has occupied Crimea despite the fact that it has recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine in bilateral agreements, and despite its international obligations and commitments, including core OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] principles.”

Two-state solution?

Pompeo also declined on Wednesday to publicly say the Trump administration still backs a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We are now working with many parties to share what our vision (is) as to how to solve this problem," Pompeo .

He said the administration "has been working on a set of ideas" for Middle East peace "that we hope to present before too long," adding that he hoped they would provide a basis for discussions on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine asked Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, if he thought a peace agreement including one state for Israel and one state for the Palestinians was an outdated idea.

"It's certainly an idea that's been around a long time, senator," Pompeo responded.

"Ultimately the individuals in the region will sort this out," the secretary of state said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to re-election on Wednesday, and a record fifth term in office, with religious-rightist parties set to hand him a parliamentary majority, despite a close contest against his main centrist challenger, a vote tally showed.

In a rare turn during the campaign toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. Palestinians seek a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.