Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu resorted to his signature displays of political theatre on Thursday amid mounting political chaos over his failure to form a governing coalition.
Addressing a nation bewildered by the prospect of an unprecedented second election campaign in the same year, Netanyahu brandished an official State Department map that had been updated to incorporate the long-disputed Golan Heights as part of Israel.
Israel annexed the mountain plateau in 1981, in a move unrecognised by most of the international community.
Holding the map in his hands, Netanyahu said that US President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner gifted it to him during his recent visit to Israel. Kushner and other architects of the administration’s Middle East peace plan are traveling the region to build momentum for the long-awaited proposal.
“This map had not been updated since the Six Day War,” said Netanyahu, referring to the 1967 Middle East war, after which Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, and later annexed it in a move not internationally recognised. “Well, it has been updated, it just got an update. … That is to say, there are very important developments here.”
He pointed to a note scribbled on the map, which he called President Trump’s personal handiwork. “Here is the signature of Trump, and he writes ‘nice.’ I say, ‘very nice!'”
Netanyahu has a penchant for props, which he pulls out in moments of political desperation. Last year, he hauled part of a downed Iranian drone to a European security conference to warn of accelerating Iranian entrenchment in Syria. In 2012, he brought a cartoonish diagram of an Iranian bomb to the UN General Assembly to drum up global concern about Iran’s nuclear programme.
During his race for re-election, Netanyahu consistently leveraged his close friendship with Trump to win votes, touting various political gifts from the White House as evidence of his foreign policy prowess. While on the campaign trail, the Trump administration recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan, which upended decades of US policy.
An estimated 20,000 Israelis live in Golan Heights settlements, which most of the international community considers illegal.
Israel captured a large swathe of the Syrian Golan Heights in the 1967 war and later officially – but illegally – annexed the area in 1981.
The annexation of the Golan means the territory is not occupied in the same way as Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza – its residents are able to claim Israeli citizenship and are subject to Israeli civil law.