The U.S. State Department on Wednesday dropped its designation of the Golan Heights as “Israeli-occupied,” instead opting to describe the contested region as “Israeli-controlled territory”.
The change came in the department’s annual human rights report and is at odds with not only the international understanding of the occupied Syrian territory but with the Trump administration’s previous classification in the 2017 report.
Asked about the revision, the department’s top human rights official said it does not signal a policy change and emphasized the report focuses on rights and is not concentrated on legal issues.
The change comes, however, amid some congressional momentum to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli land.
Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Congressman Mike Gallagher introduced legislation in the House of Representatives and the Senate in late February to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan.
The Republican companion bills have seven co-sponsors in the Senate and 23 co-sponsors in the House. All are Republican. Both pieces of legislation have been referred to the respective foreign affairs committees.
Israel occupied the Golan Heights following the 1967 Six-Day War and moved to formally annex the territory in 1981 — an action unanimously rejected at the time by the UN Security Council.
Security Council Resolution 497 says the “Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”
It further demanded Israel rescind its decision.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is one of the co-sponsors on the Senate bill, said Tuesday while touring the occupied territory that he would work in the Senate to establish U.S. recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory.