(JTA) — President Donald Trump said his announcement about favoring recognition of Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights was unconnected to the Israeli elections next month.
Trump, who on Wednesday announced the policy change on Twitter, said on “Fox News Friday” that the move was not designed to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election bid in the April 9 vote.
“No, I wouldn’t even know about that,” Trump said in the interview when asked about the issue.
“I have no idea, I hear he’s doing OK, I don’t know if he’s doing great right now,” the president said of Netanyahu. “But I would imagine the other side, whoever’s against him, is also in favor of what I just did.”
On Thursday, Yair Lapid, one of the four leaders of Israel’s newly formed centrist Blue and White party, thanked Trump for the move in a tweet some saw as an attempt to take credit for the president’s decision.
”We started this campaign a year ago, and the leadership of Blue and White stood on the Golan Heights and called for recognition,” Lapid wrote. “President Trump has shown again that he’s a true friend of Israel.”
His party and Netanyahu’s Likud are neck and neck in the polls.
Israel captured the strategically important Golan area in 1967 in a defensive war against Syria. That country has since descended into civil war rife with atrocities.
Israel annexed the Golan in 1981. The United States would become the only country besides Israel recognizing Israeli sovereignty there.
“I’ve been thinking about doing that for a long time,” Trump said, likening the move on the Golan to his decision last year to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
World leaders, the president said, told him about the embassy move: “Don’t do it, don’t do it. I did it, and it’s been done, and it’s fine. Golan Heights is the same thing.”