In a first, in an annual report on human rights the Trump administration proclaimed that the Golan Heights is “Israeli-controlled,” reversing half a century-old policies that viewed the mountain range as occupied Syrian territory.
Israel had captured the mountain range from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967, after years of suffering aerial bombardments originating from the Golan. Initially holding on to the Golan in hopes of signing a peace deal with Syria, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin ultimately annexed the territory in 1981.
The U.S. had already dropped the term “occupied” from its 2018 report but now went a step further in calling the territory “Israeli-controlled.”
The report also stopped referring to the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied,” something it had done in all the previous reports since 2011. However, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Israel denied that the change constituted a shift in policy, telling The Times of Israel that “our policy on Golan has not changed.”
Nevertheless, the change is consistent with other actions taken by the U.S. that seemingly show a softening of its position that the Golan Heights is occupied Syrian territory. For example, the U.S. voted against a UN resolution that condemned the Israeli presence on the strategic plateau in late 2017, signifying a dramatic shift in how the U.S. views Israel’s presence in the Golan.
When voting “No” on the annual resolution titled “The Occupied Syrian Golan,” then-U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the bloody Syrian civil war had caused the United States to reassess its traditional policy opposing Israel’s presence in the strategic territory.
“In previous years, the United States has abstained from voting on this resolution. However, given the resolution’s anti-Israel bias, as well as the militarization of the Syrian Golan border, and a worsening humanitarian crisis, this year the United States has decided to vote no on the resolution,” said Haley, adding, “The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights. If this resolution ever made sense, it surely does not today. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel.”
Israel views the territory as one with the utmost strategic value, as the hulking mountain range provides a deep vantage point into neighboring Syria. While in the past the international community has pressed Israel to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement, the calls have abated in recent years following the brutal Syrian civil war.