The United States on Friday for the first time voted against an annual UN resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, signifying a dramatic shift in US policy toward the territory.
Despite the unprecedented move by the US, the resolution passed with 151 in favor, two against (Israel and the US) and 14 abstentions, one of nine anti-Israel resolutions passed by the world body in one day.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon thanked the US for the move and said the “UN should deal with Syria’s civil war, not meaningless decisions that won’t affect Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights.”
“Today, we said in a clear voice — the time has come for the world to recognize we will not retreat. We thank the US for standing with us on this vote,” he said.
The #UN should deal with Syria's civil war, not meaningless decisions that won't affect #Israel's sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Today, we said in a clear voice:the time has come for the world to recognize we will not retreat. We thank the #US for standing with us on this vote pic.twitter.com/jEkP1p3TJp
— Ambassador Danny Danon | דני דנון (@dannydanon) November 16, 2018
During the debate, the Syrian envoy vowed that Damascus would recapture the heights by peace or by war.
The US announced its changed policy ahead of the vote on “The Occupied Syrian Golan” resolution.
“If this resolution ever made sense, it surely does not today. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel,” outgoing US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement. The US usually abstains.
The resolution titled "The occupied Syrian Golan," which condemns Israel for "repressive measures" against Syrian citizens in the Golan Heights, was adopted by a vote of 151 – 2 – 14.
— UN Watch (@UNWatch) November 16, 2018
The non-binding resolution, which is voted on by a UN General Assembly 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.”
The UN also passed eight other measures which range from condemnations of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to renewing the mandate of a UN committee probing “Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories.”
They were sponsored by a number of countries that have been scrutinized for their own human rights records, among them Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Ahead of the vote a UN watchdog condemned the censures that only targeted Israel as “surreal.”
“The UN’s planned assault on Israel with a torrent of one-sided resolutions is surreal,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the UN Watch monitor group.
Neuer noted the vote on the resolutions came just days after Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip launched some 460 rockets toward Israel. “The world body now adds insult to injury,” he said.
Israel has reportedly pressed the White House in recent months to recognize the Golan annexation, arguing that the bloody civil war in Syria undergirded Israeli claims that the plateau is critical to maintaining security.
Danon welcomed the US announcement of its changed stance, 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.
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.