Published: Thu, March 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Israel No Longer Occupies Golan Heights, US State Department Indicates

Israel No Longer Occupies Golan Heights, US State Department Indicates

In its latest human rights report published on Wednesday, the United States referred to the Golan Heights as "Israeli-controlled" as opposed to "Israeli-occupied".

The shift arrives amid comments from USA lawmakers like Senator Lindsey Graham expressing support for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state initially captured in 1967 during the Six-Day War and annexed for all intents and purposes in 1981.

"Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction as applied by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, even if detained inside Israel".

A state department official, Michael Kozak, sought to downplay the significance of the report's phrasing, saying the designation of territories as occupied is a "legal status issue", not a human rights matter. What we've uncovered today is just the tip of the iceberg.

When asked about the change on such a sensitive Middle East subject, a senior USA 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".

Still, the fact that the state department failed to describe the Syrian and Palestinian territories as occupied by Israel is worrisome, observers say.

"Israel will continue to do all that's necessary to defend itself", he warned, referring to both "overt and covert means to block Iran's effort to use Syria, Lebanon and Gaza as forward bases for attacking Israel".

Israel also occupied Syria's Golan Heights in the same war and annexed the territory in 1981.

On Monday, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham toured the Golan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged to lobby the Trump administration to recognize the area as belonging to Israel.

A couple look towards signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel January 21, 2019.

Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a year ago, sparking global rebukes, including from Washington's and Israel's allies in Europe.

"These operatives have been attempting to establish an additional terrorist front against Israel and destabilize the region over the previous year", said Brig. "I frankly can not imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is not part of Israel forever", Friedman told the right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper at the time.

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