As the Senate considers a bipartisan defense of the Israeli government from boycotts, senior Republicans are urging the Trump administration to recognize Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
As recognized by international law, the Golan Heights is Syrian territory captured by Israel in 1967 along with the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, from which Israel eventually withdrew.
After Israel claimed to annex the Golan Heights in 1981, the UN Security Council declared the move “null and void and without international legal effect.”
Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas issued a joint statement on Sunday referring to what Israel says are recently destroyed Hizballah tunnels along the Israel-Lebanon border, as well as Iranian forces in Syria.
“To support Israel’s right to self-defense, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the senators state.
The two senators had introduced a resolution to Congress last year making the same demand while emphasizing the purported threat to Israel’s security posed by Iran.
The same day that Cruz and Cotton’s statement was released, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised recognition of his country’s illegal annexation of the Golan with John Bolton, the national security adviser to Donald Trump who holds hardline anti-Iran views.
Bolton was in Israel this week to outline conditions for a withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
He was dispatched to the region to reassure US allies after Trump announced that his country’s armed forces would be immediately and unconditionally pulled out of Syria – a move Israel and its supporters oppose.
Contradicting Trump, who had set no such conditions, Bolton insisted that the withdrawal would only take place in such a way as to “make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured,” and not until ISIS, or so-called Islamic State, “is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again.”
Trump administration breaks with US policy
In August last year, Bolton said that recognition of Israel’s claims on the Golan was not on the table.
Yet David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, who is himself a settlement financier, said the following month that “it’s possible” that the US would recognize Israel’s annexation, adding, “I personally cannot imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria.”
In November, the Trump administration broke with decades of US policy by voting for the first time against a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Golan Heights.
Israel was the only other country to vote against the General Assembly resolution.
The US Mission to the UN stated that the resolution was “plainly biased” against Israel, a complaint repeatedly made against the world body by outgoing US envoy Nikki Haley.
Al-Marsad, an Arab human rights center based in the occupied Golan, stated that the call by US officials to recognize Israel’s annexation of the territory “is abhorrent because it ignores international law, the context of the situation in the Golan and the realities of the region.”
The group added that “Israel has violated international law and committed war crimes in its occupation by building 34 settlements and 167 settlement businesses to utilize the Golan’s resources without regard for its native population after forcibly displacing 130,000 people and razing 340 native Syrian communities.”
Like Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the remaining Syrian community living in the Golan “is essentially stateless” and “faces countless discriminatory occupation-based laws,” according to Al-Marsad.
“Israel’s occupation has forced native Syrians onto just 5 percent of the land they once owned and ruined virtually all native industries except for some basic agriculture.”
Some 26,000 Israeli settlers enjoy control over 95 percent of the Golan – a land mass of 1,860 square kilometers representing 1 percent of Syria’s total territory – while approximately the same number of Syrians have control over the rest.
Donald Trump set off massive protest amongst Palestinians and beyond when he announced that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with longstanding US policy and international consensus on the illegality of Israel’s annexation of that territory following its capture after the 1967 war.
Dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during protests along Gaza’s eastern boundary in May last year as the US embassy was inaugurated in Jerusalem.