For the first time, the United States voted Friday against an annual UN resolution condemning Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, dropping its practice of abstaining in the vote.
In a statement Thursday, Ambassador Nikki Haley cited the resolution's "anti-Israel bias" - a key focus of her tenure at the United Nations - as one reason to oppose it.
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by countries including Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Venezuela, describes Israel's presence as an illegal occupation and calls on Israel "to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and in particular to desist from the establishment of settlements".
The shift in its United Nations vote doesn't mean the U.S.is getting ready to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan, but it does underscore the changing reality on the ground, as the chances of Israel returning the northern territory to a Syria wracked by more than seven years of war diminishes.
USA ambassador to Israel David Friedman told an Israeli newspaper in September that he expected the annexed Golan Heights to remain under Israeli control "forever", and mentioned the possibility of U.S. official recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory.
Syria has repeatedly reaffirmed its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying the territory must be completely restored to its control.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Thursday called the resolution "useless" and said if it ever made sense "it surely does not today" amid the atrocities by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Israeli soldiers at an army base in the Golan Heights look out across the border with Syria on July 7, 2018.
"Hopefully, Friday's United Nations vote is a step in this direction; in any case, it is a welcome rebuke to the U.N.'s practice of passing dozens of biased resolutions targeting Israel, while empowering despots like Assad". However, the Syrian civil war has led to many applying for citizenship.
The Syrian regime's "atrocities prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone", the statement read, adding that the Iranian presence inside Syria presents "major threats to global security" and that "ISIS and other terrorist groups remain in Syria". But the United States and the worldwide community have long refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty there and officially consider it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation.
"Days after the Hamas terrorist group assaulted Israeli civilians with a barrage of 460 rockets - while the UN's General Assembly and Human Rights Council stayed silent - the world body now adds insult to injury by adopting nine lopsided condemnations, whose only objective is to demonize the Jewish state", pointed out UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled the Golan into other parts of Syria in the aftermath of the 1967 war. However, the United States and the global community have never recognized this claim, despite the territory being under Israeli control for more than half a century.
"I've heard the idea being suggested but there's no discussion of it, no decision within the U.S. government", Bolton reportedly said during his visit to Israel this week.
"It is time for the world to distinguish between those who stabilize the region and those who sow terror", he added.
"I can not honestly imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is not part of Israel forever", Friedman told the Israel Hayom daily.
Trump has recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, breaking with other world powers, though his national security adviser, John Bolton, told Reuters in August that a similar Golan move was not under discussion.
Israeli officials were quick to praise the decision by the United States.
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