US President Donald Trump on Thursday announced the United States should acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the hotly contested Golan Heights territory, in a major pre-election gift to his ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights," Trump said in a tweet.
Trump called the Golan – a strategic area seized from Syria and annexed in a move never recognized by the international community – "of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!"
The Golan is home to about 20,000 Israeli settlers.
Trump's abruptly announced decision was immediately cheered by Netanyahu, who faces a tough re-election battle and visits Washington next week.
"At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights," the right-wing prime minister wrote on Twitter. "Thank you President Trump!"
There was also quick approval from the senior Republican in the US Senate, Lindsey Graham, who is pushing for the US Congress to recognise Israeli control over the Golan.
"President Trump's decision to recognize the Golan as part of Israel is strategically wise and overall awesome. Well done, Mr. President!" Graham tweeted.
This is the second diplomatic bombshell dropped by Washington, which is Israel's main backer, in seeking to redraw the fraught Middle East map.
In 2017, Trump went against decades of practice by recognising the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, rather than the previously accepted Tel Aviv.
The Golan Heights move was hinted at a week ago when the US State Department changed its usual description of the area as "occupied" to "Israeli-controlled."
The Trump State Department has also dropped previous definitions of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as being "occupied" by the Jewish state.
Israel occupied the Golan Heights, West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War.
It later annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in moves never recognized by the international community.
Trump's latest shake-up comes ahead of the expected unveiling of a White House plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Palestinian leaders, who broke off contact with Washington after the recognition of Jerusalem by Trump, say they expect the plan to be blatantly biased in favour of Israel.
Trump will host Netanyahu at the White House next Monday and Tuesday. The Israeli leader will be in Washington for the annual conference of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) pro-Israel lobbying group.