Why has the US dropped the ‘Israeli-occupied’ designation from Golan Heights?

The US administration has stated that it does not refer to the territory of Golan Heights with the designation of ‘Israeli-occupied’ as can be seen in its annual human rights report which had been published earlier this week. The US State Department has however also said that the change in wording will not have any effect on the policy. As per the report, the area is now called the “Israeli-controlled Golan Heights’.

The officials of the State Department have said that the change might concern a very sensitive issue but it does not stand in the way of US outlook, approach or the Middle-East policy especially w.r.t the above territories and the stated need for a final settlement. Michael Kozak of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour has said that this is more of an issue of legal status and not a human rights issue.

Spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh has said that the dropping of the term “occupation” by the US from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the area of Golan Heights is basically, “a continuation of the hostile approach of the American administration towards our Palestinian people and is contrary to all UN resolutions.”

He also stated that “these American titles will not change the fact that the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and the occupied Arab Golan are territories under the Israeli occupation in accordance with UN resolutions and international law”.

The issue has led to many questions coming from both the human rights groups and the journalists about whether the US administration is focussed on staying on the right side of the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu by the change of language.

Disregard for International Consensus

The move is seen as blunt defiance of the international consensus about the real status of the territory. US administration had recognized Jerusalem as the new capital of Israel in a show of support for its long-term ally. The move had not only alienated the international community on the US decision but had also annoyed Palestinian leadership as they had always considered East-Jerusalem as their future capital.

It was in the 1967 war that Israel had taken away Golan Heights from Syria and had then completely annexed the area in 1981. This was never recognized by the international community. Israel and Syria had been at war with each other ever since the 1973 War technically, even though the demilitarised border which had been established has been largely calm until 2011 when the Syrian Civil War had started.

Lindsey Graham, a highly influential US Senator on his visit to the Golan Heights along with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that he will press for the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the highly strategic region. Even other Senators like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton had got the legislation about the Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, introduced both in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Golan Heights

Golan is basically a region of the Levant, which covers around 1800 km, a basaltic plateau which borders the Yarmouk River in the south, Hula Valley and the Sea of Galilee in the west. Ever since 1967, a major portion of the western Golan Heights had been both occupied by Israel while the eastern part was under the Syrian Arab Republic and a small buffer zone of 266 square km between the two zones. In the remainder territory, settlements came up by Israel thereby extending Israeli law into the area. The move was condemned by the UNSC under the Resolution 497. The region has become a scene of continuous battles between different warring factions of the region.

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