The UN Security Council on Tuesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the annexed Golan Heights would “forever” remain under Israeli control and expressed concern over his statements.
The 15-member council agreed that the status of the Golan, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, “remains unchanged,” said Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who holds this month’s council presidency.
Liu recalled a 1981 resolution which states that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was null and void and without any international legal effect.”
The council statement followed remarks made by Netanyahu earlier this month when his cabinet held a meeting in the territory, a first for an Israeli government.
“The Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever,” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting, held amid fears that Israel could come under pressure to return the Golan as part of a future peace deal for Syria.
“Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights,” he said.
Council members “expressed deep concern” over the Israeli statements and “stressed that the status of the Golan remains unchanged,” said Liu.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry shot back at the Security Council’s statement, saying it was “ignoring the reality” in Syria.
“Who is Israel expected to negotiate with on the future of the Golan Heights? Islamic State? Al-Qaeda? Hezbollah? The Iranian and Syrian forces who massacred hundreds of thousands of people?” the statement said.
“In the face of the war raging in Syria and the security and stability that Israel has built in the Golan in the past 50 years, the suggestions that Israel withdraw from the Golan is unreasonable.”
Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, also denounced the Security Council for discussing an issue that “completely ignores the reality in the Middle East.”
“While thousands of people are being massacred in Syria, and millions of citizens have become refugees, the Security Council has chosen to focus on Israel – the only true democracy in the Middle East,” Danon said in a statement Tuesday evening
“It’s unfortunate that interested parties are attempting to use the council for unfair criticism of Israel,” the ambassador added.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and effectively annexed it in 1981. The international community never accepted the annexation, and Israeli leaders see in the turmoil in Syria a chance to convince the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
According to a report on Israel’s Channel 2 earlier this month, the first clause of a draft agreement aimed at settling the brutal civil war in Syria, being worked on with the support of the US, Russia and other major world powers, specifies that the Golan Heights is Syrian territory and must be returned to Syria.
In November, Netanyahu reportedly asked US President Barack Obama to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the area, given the civil war. Obama refused to even reply, according to Israeli media accounts.
Netanyahu’s statement on holding the Golan drew alarm and condemnation internationally, including from Israel’s allies and from Syria.
Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned in response that his war-torn state would retake the plateau by any means necessary.
The Arab League, European Union and the United States also objected to Netanyahu’s remarks on the strategic plateau, among others.