(CNSNews.com) – While Americans were voting in an election watched around the world Tuesday, at the U.N. in New York it was business as usual, as a key General Assembly body passed nine draft resolutions condemning Israel.
In most of those votes at the General Assembly’s fourth committee, the United States and Canada joined Israel and a small handful of others in rejecting the resolutions. The lopsided vote counts were 86-7, 158-6, 159-1, 156-6, 156-6, 155-6, 156-6, 151-7 and 153-1.
One of two resolutions which Israel stood alone in opposing was sponsored by Syria’s Assad regime, and demanded that Israel relinquish its control of the “occupied Syrian Golan” – a reference to the Golan Heights, the strategic ridge which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981.
Among other things, the text demanded that Israel stop “its repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan.”
The resolution passed by 153 votes to one (Israel), with 13 abstentions.
The Assad regime’s representative said afterwards the text and landslide-majority vote sent an unequivocal message to Israel, demanding an end to its “occupation” and rejecting its annexation.
The U.S. abstained in that vote; like its predecessors, the Obama administration maintains that the Golan Heights are occupied Syrian territory, whose return should be negotiated between the parties.
Last April Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealed to the international community to reconsider the issue, given the state of civil war-torn Syria today
“The time has come for the international community to recognize reality, especially two basic facts,” Netanyahu said during a special cabinet meeting, symbolically held on the Golan. “One, whatever is beyond the border, the boundary itself will not change. Two, after 50 years, the time has come for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain under Israel's sovereignty permanently."
But the State Department made clear U.S. policy remains unchanged.
“Every administration on both sides of the aisle since 1967 has maintained that those territories are not part of Israel,” it said. “The conditions under which those territories are ultimately returned should be decided through negotiations between the respective parties,”
The massive endorsement of a resolution slamming Israel for its treatment of Syrians on the Golan at a time when estimates of the death toll in Syria’s civil war are approaching half a million brought strong criticism from a non-governmental organization that closely monitors the U.N.
“It’s astonishing,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch. “At a time when the Syrian regime is killing its own people by the hundreds of thousands, how can the U.N. call for more people to be subject to Assad’s rule? The timing of today’s text is morally galling, and logically absurd.”
Asked about the U.S. decision to abstain rather than oppose the measure, Neuer said that “whatever U.S. policy may be on the Golan, Ambassador Samantha Power should have opposed this manifestly absurd resolution, which immorally calls for handing over the Golan and its residents into the hands of Bashar Assad, a serial killer who is still in the middle of his killing spree.”
Neuer noted that the U.S. and European Union member-states often oppose resolutions on other subjects which they view as lacking in balance.
“And yet few resolutions are as unbalanced as today’s Syrian-backed text condemning Israel for allegedly repressing Syrian citizens,” he said.
Queries sent to the U.S. mission to the U.N. brought no response by press time.
Has US engagement helped?
The Obama administration came in eight years ago pledging enhanced engagement with the U.N. after a sometimes fractious relationship during the Bush years.
For years, a major U.S. criticism of the U.N. has been a disproportionate focus on Israel, both at the General Assembly and at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva; that criticism has continued under President Obama.
“The Obama administration, like its predecessor, opposed anti-Israel resolutions throughout the U.N. in their votes and in their diplomacy,” Neuer said. “There’s little evidence, however that the administration’s pro-U.N. policy prevented or mitigated any biased resolutions.”
Neuer noted that the General Assembly passes 20 or so resolutions against Israel every year, while at the HRC anti-Israel resolutions have even become sharper, such as a move to blacklist and boycott companies doing business in areas claimed by the Palestinians, including Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter.
Israel captured the Golan during the 1967 Six Day War after the Syrians used the ridge as a staging point for artillery barrages aimed at Israeli communities in the Galilee below.
A week after Israel captured the Golan in June 1967 it offered to return it in exchange for a peace treaty with Syria. The Arab states jointly rejected the offer at a conference in September that year, declaring “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
From the early 1990s onwards several Israeli governments considered relinquishing the Golan in return for a full peace agreement with Syria, but no deal materialized.
As of 2016, Israel has controlled the Golan Heights more than twice as long as Syria did – 49 years compared to 21.
Syria controlled the Golan from formal independence in 1946 until 1967.
Prior to 1946 the ridge was part of a French mandate (after the British removed it from the British mandate in 1923 and ceded it to France.) Before World War I it fell under the Ottoman Empire.