The United States will for the first time vote against an annual UN resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the country’s mission to the world body said on Friday, signifying a dramatic shift in US policy toward the territory.
In Friday’s scheduled vote on “The Occupied Syrian Golan” resolution, the US will change its yearly abstention to a “no” vote, outgoing US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement.
“If this resolution ever made sense, it surely does not today. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel,” Haley said, announcing the planned move.
The non-binding resolution, which is voted on by the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee each year, takes issue with the “illegality of the decision” taken by Israel “to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan,” which it says is illegal under international law.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the territory in the early 1980s. But the United States and the international community have long refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty there and officially consider it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation.
Haley however, said on Friday that “the atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone.”
Israel has reportedly pressed the White House in recent months to recognize the annexation, arguing that the bloody civil war in Syria undergirded Israeli claims that the plateau is critical to maintaining security.
In August, Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia reached the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights after capturing the territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters.
Though it has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian conflict, Israel has acknowledged carrying out dozens of airstrikes there to stop deliveries of advanced weaponry bound for Iranian proxy Hezbollah.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon welcomed the US announcement, saying in a statement that “the change in the American voting pattern is another testament to the strong cooperation between the two countries.”
“It is time for the world to distinguish between those who stabilize the region and those who sow terror,” he added.
While a “no” vote from the US is unlikely to stop the resolution passing, it could be a sign that the Trump administration is considering recognizing Israeli control over the Golan.
In September, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he expects the annexed territory to remain under Israeli control “forever.”
“I cannot honestly imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is not part of Israel forever,” Friedman told the Israel Hayom daily.
But during a visit to Israel a month earlier, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said there were no discussions on such recognition.
“Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there’s no change in the US position for now,” he told the Reuters news agency in an interview.