Thursday, March 21, 2019 | ePaper

Washington no longer refers to Golan as ‘Israel-occupied’

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The village of Majdal Shams (left) in the Golan Heights, an area that US refers to as "Israeli-controlled" rather than "Israeli-occupied" in its latest annual human rights report.

AFP, Washington :
The US no longer refers to the Golan Heights as an "Israeli-occupied" territory in its latest annual human rights report, published Wednesday, though the State Department insists the wording change doesn't mean a policy change.
The report now calls the area the "Israeli-controlled Golan Heights."
When asked about the change on such a sensitive Middle East subject, a senior US official told reporters in Washington "there's no change in our outlook or our policy vis-a-vis these territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there."
"This, by the way, is not a human rights issue, it's a legal status issue," said Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
"What we try to do is to report on the human rights situation in those territories, and so you're just trying to find the way of describing the place that you're reporting on," he said. "And 'occupied territory' has a legal meaning to it; I think what they tried to do is to shift more to just a geographic description." And another semantic change that appeared in last year's report showed up again this year, with a section titled "Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza," instead of its previous "Israel and the Occupied Territories" heading.
President Donald Trump, who has shown robust support for close US ally Israel, recognized Jerusalem as the country's capital in 2017, defying international consensus much to the chagrin of Palestinian leaders, who view Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Israel seized much of the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and then effectively annexed it in 1981, a move that was never recognized by the international community.
Israel and Syria remain technically at war after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, though a demilitarized border zone established through an armistice had long been relatively calm until the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Influential Trump ally US Senator Lindsey Graham said Monday during a visit to the Golan Heights with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would push for US recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the strategic region "now and forever."
In its latest annual human rights report published Wednesday, the State Department now calls the area the "Israeli-controlled Golan Heights."
When asked by Asharq Al-Awsat about the measure, a State Department official said that the change is only intended to make the report clearer.
The report also did not refer to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as "Occupied Territories."
The purpose behind the changes is to make the terminologies clearer and easier for readers, said the official.
"This, by the way, is not a human rights issue, it's a legal status issue," said Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Israel has been pressuring the Trump administration for the recognition of the Golan Heights.
Israel seized much of the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and then effectively annexed it in 1981, a move that was never recognized by the international community.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. The United States and the international community have never recognized that act. Since the Six-Day War, Israel has never annexed the West Bank, and it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Right-wing politicians have pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apply Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank, which they refer to as Judea and Samaria.
The shift on the Golan comes as US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham promised Netanyahu that he would work to sway the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
The annexation issue was raised during a visit made US National Security Adviser John Bolton to Israel in January.

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