During a mid-November trip to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the West Bank and Golan Heights. The authority over the two territories, which Israel has controlled since the 1967 Six-Day War, has been disputed by Syria and other Arab states.
Pompeo’s was the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to the disputed territory, which he said are a “central part of Israel.” In March 2019, President Donald Trump declared the Golan Heights part of Israel, making the United States the first country to recognize Israeli sovereignty there.
"You can't stand here and stare out at what's across the border and deny the central thing that President Trump recognized, that previous presidents had refused to do, that this is a part of Israel, and a central part of Israel," Pompeo said on November 19, standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press briefing overlooking the Golan Heights.
The assertion that the Golan Heights are a “central part of Israel” is misleading.
The United Nations and most nations do not recognize Israeli authority over the West Bank or the Golan Heights. The U.N. refers to both as “Occupied Palestinian (Arab) territories.”
The Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli control over the disputed territories, along with its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, marked major shifts in decades-old U.S. policy.
In part, these moves reflect politics and religion in the U.S. – in particular, the influence of evangelical Christians, a key component of Trump’s base.
Many evangelical Christians share a belief in the theological doctrine of dispensationalism – a step-by-step plan for humanity’s salvation as prophesized in the Bible. A key element in dispensationalism is support for the restoration of Israeli authority over biblical holy lands that include the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
U.S. evangelicals flocked to Trump in the 2016 presidential and remained loyal voters in the November 2020 election, though the presumptive winner is former Vice President Joe Biden, who will take office in January.
Pompeo wrapped up his trip to Israel with a visit to Jerusalem’s Friends of Zion Museum, which was founded by Mike Evans, a prominent American evangelist and Trump adviser.
In a November 4 draft resolution, the U.N. said Israeli policy and practices in the Occupied Palestinian and Arab territories violate the Geneva Conventions – a set of treaties and protocols that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war.
The U.N. draft resolution requested a continued investigation into “the treatment and status of thousands of prisoners and detainees, including children, women and elected representatives, in Israeli prisons and detention centres within the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
The U.N. also called for “the immediate and complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in all the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
The Palestinians claim both the West Bank and Golan Heights and oppose the Israeli settlements there, saying they negate the possibility of eventually creating an independent Palestinian state.
Palestinian leaders, along with Turkey and Russia, condemned Pompeo’s visit. Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh accused the Trump administration of “active participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands.” Turkey said Pompeo’s visit was a “grave step” that violated U.N. resolutions, while Russia said it reflected U.S. “disrespect for international principles.”
In the Six-Day War of June 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. In 1979, Israel made peace with Egypt and in 2005 pulled its forces and settlers out of Gaza. Israel still controls the strip’s borders. In 1993, Israel accepted limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and made peace with Jordan in 1994.
According to Reuters, some 4 million Arabs currently live in the West Bank and Gaza, while about 2.8 million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.