Senate resolution calls for U.S recognition of Golan Heights
The Golan Heights border. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) are expected to introduce a Senate resolution on Tuesday encouraging the United States to formally recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Jewish Insider has learned.
The resolution would assert that “Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is critical to Israel’s national security” and that “Israel’s security from attack from Syria and Lebanon cannot be assured without Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
The resolution is based on past U.S. assurances that Israel would maintain its hold of the Golan Heights in any peace settlement with Syria. In the wake of Syria’s long-running civil war and the threat that Iran poses to Israel on the Syrian border, the Senators believe now is the right moment for formal recognition.
“It is in the United States’ national security interest to ensure that the Assad regime faces diplomatic and geopolitical consequences for the killing of civilians, the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Sunnis, and the use of weapons of mass destruction,” states the resolution obtained by Jewish Insider. (The full text of the resolution can be found below.)
Israel first captured the Golan from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967, and effectively annexed it in 1981. At the time, the Reagan administration described the move as being inconsistent with the Camp David accords, and suspended a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel on strategic cooperation. Since then, consecutive administrations from both political parties have refused to change existing U.S. policy. However, the U.S. has also traditionally abstained from voting on resolutions against Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights at the United Nations, although last month, the Trump administration voted for the first time against a U.N. resolution that condemned Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.
This is not the first time Cruz has called attention to the matter. During the 2016 presidential election, as a Republican candidate, Cruz endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for formal recognition of the Golan Heights by the Obama administration during a visit to the U.S. in 2015.
Netanyahu also raised the issue in his first White House meeting with President Donald Trump in February 2017, and more recently expressed hope that the Trump administration would include recognition as part of U.S. policy in Syria. Last May, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said that U.S. recognition of the Golan could be forthcoming within months. But in August, National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that the administration was not considering changing its position on the Golan Heights.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman reportedly scolded Israeli Knesset Members over their public lobbying for a change in U.S. policy vis-a-vis the Golan Heights, calling them ‘ungrateful’ after the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro emails: “There is no plausible scenario where Israeli-Syrian peace talks will resume, perhaps in our lifetime. The status quo, therefore, strongly reinforces Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights. Declarations by the U.S. Senate or the administration will add little to the picture. One thing they may do is put Syrian opposition groups, who are focused on Assad and not on Israel, in the position where they feel they must make statements about Syria regaining the Golan Heights in order to demonstrate their Syrian patriotism. It is less than clear how Israel will benefit from the U.S. sparking this discussion when, at present, no Syrian is talking about it.”
FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer tells us: “Recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan would be consistent with the Trump administration’s overall policy, which has been to strengthen Israeli diplomatic and security positions. As I heard from one senior administration official several months ago, this administration believes that a strong Israel, and an Israel that is confident in its relationship with the United States, is one that will be more inclined to make certain compromises when the time comes.”
“It certainly makes a lot of sense, and I think it’s an important move, because I don’t see the Golan changing hands, really ever at this point, barring some miraculous change in the status quo. The question is how does this fit into the administration’s overall plans for Syria? And more importantly, perhaps, is how does this fit into the administration’s so-called deal of the century? It probably doesn’t have too much of a role in the latter. The former could be interesting right now only because you have an administration that seems like it’s trying to change some policies in Syria.”
IPF’s Michael Koplow: “Ambassador David Friedman knocked back this idea a few months ago when it was raised by MK Yair Lapid and others, and it hasn’t been something that the administration has pushed for in the past, so I’d be surprised if they do so now. Unlike Israel’s presence in the West Bank, there is little to no pressure for Israel to leave the Golan and its sovereignty there is essentially unchallenged and non-controversial. So formally recognizing it may end up being counterproductive by calling attention to an issue that has been quiet. It also runs the risk of heating up southern Syria by baiting Hezbollah and other pro-regime forces into carrying out a response.”
Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller: “As part of at least two administrations deeply involved in trying to cut a peace deal between Israel and Syria, largely at Israel’s request, one can only imagine the consequences – in light of events in Syria – had we succeeded. Unlike former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Assad wanted 100 percent plus [Syrian feet in the Kinneret] and was unwilling to even begin to consider what Sadat had done with regard to reaching out to Israel. The odds that Israel would ever return Golan to Syria are slim to none. Indeed, the Israelis have already effectively annexed the Golan by extending administrative law over the region. Maybe the Trump administration believes that formal recognition would help create another sweetener to induce Netanyahu to accept the soon-to-be released Kushner peace plan. But there’s no compelling U.S. national interest to give Bibi a kosher seal of approval and validate the Golan’s already never-to-be returned status.”
Full text of resolution introduced by Sens. Cruz and Cotton:
Expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Whereas, until 1967, Syria controlled the Golan Heights and used the topographical advantage it provided to attack Israeli troops and civilians;
Whereas, in June 1967, Syria intensified its attacks against Israel from the Golan Heights, and Israel captured the Golan Heights in a defensive war;
Whereas, in October 1973, the Golan Heights provided Israel with critical strategic depth to repel a surprise attack by Syrian forces;
Whereas, on September 1, 1975, President Gerald Ford provided a diplomatic assurance to Israel that “the U.S. will support the position that an overall settlement with Syria in the framework of a peace agreement must assure Israel’s security from attack from the Golan Heights” and that “the U.S. has not developed a final position on the borders. Should it do so it will give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights”;
Whereas, in October 1991, Secretary of State James Baker provided a diplomatic assurance to Israel that “the United States continues to stand behind the assurance given by President Ford to Prime Minister Rabin on September 1, 1975”;
Whereas, in 1981, Israel applied its “law, jurisdiction, and administration” over the Golan Heights and has controlled the Golan Heights for 51 years;
Whereas, since 2011, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, including with weapons of mass destruction, and has pursued an ethnic cleansing campaign against Syrian Sunnis;
Whereas Iran has used the war in Syria to establish a military presence in the Levant, including thousands of Iranian troops and proxies, and now seeks to create territorial corridors that solidify its control, expand its activities, establish a permanent military presence, and provide arms to its terrorist proxies;
Whereas Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the leaders of Iran regularly threaten to wipe out Israel;
Whereas Iran and its proxies have repeatedly attacked Israel from inside Syria, including in February 2018 when Iranian forces infiltrated Israel with a drone and in May 2018 when Iranian forces shelled the Golan Heights;
Whereas, in December 2014, Congress unanimously resolved that the United States supported the sovereign right of the Government of Israel to defend its territory and its citizens from attacks against Israel by Hamas, a terrorist group supported by Iran; and
Whereas Israel’s control over the Golan Heights provides a defensible border, deters attacks from hostile forces, facilitates intelligence gathering, and allows Israel to detect threats to its national security: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that—
(1) the United States supports the sovereign right of the Government of Israel to defend its territory and its citizens from attacks against Israel, including by Iran or its proxies;
(2) Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is critical to Israel’s national security;
(3) Israel’s security from attack from Syria and Lebanon cannot be assured without Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights;
(4) it is in the United States’ national security interest to ensure Israel’s security;
(5) it is in the United States’ national security interest to ensure that the Assad regime faces diplomatic and geopolitical consequences for the killing of civilians, the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Sunnis, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, including by ensuring that Israel retains control of the Golan Heights; and
(6) the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.