Security Council Members Regret Decision by United States to Recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over Occupied Syrian Golan

SC/13753
27 March 2019
8495th Meeting (PM)

Security Council Members Regret Decision by United States to Recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over Occupied Syrian Golan

Unilateral Moves Doomed to Fail, Says France, as Others Decry Forcible Annexation

Most Security Council members expressed regret today over the decision by the United States to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian Golan, stressing the importance of upholding international law, as the 15-member organ heard briefings on the situation in that occupied territory.

France’s delegate emphasized that any attempt to move away from international law and Council resolutions through unilateral decisions “is doomed to failure”, expressing regret that the move by the United States undermines collective Council action.

The United Kingdom’s representative said that her delegation’s position — that the Golan is territory occupied by Israel — remains unchanged, affirming her country’s belief in the rules-based international order.

Poland’s delegate said that the European Union’s position on the Golan is that Israel’s forcible annexation of the territory is illegal under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and Council resolution 497 (1981).

However, the representative of the United States insisted that the decision by his country’s Government neither affects the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, nor undermines UNDOF’s mandate.  Rather, it is of critical security and strategic importance to Israel, he added.  He called upon the Russian Federation to use its influence over the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to compel his forces to withdraw immediately from the Area of Separation.  Expressing alarm at the presence of Hizbullah there, he emphasized that there can be no chance for peace between Syria and Israel with the Lebanese group present.

His counterpart from the Russian Federation criticized the proclamation by the United States, emphasizing that the unilateral decision does not change the territory’s legal situation but only exacerbates the situation.

Also participating in the meeting were the representatives of Syria and Israel.  Syria’s delegate rejected “the illegal statement” by the United States, emphasizing that the unilateral behaviour by that country has neither legal nor moral value.  World public opinion is isolating the United States and Israel, he added.

Israel’s representative said the United States recognized what has been true for 52 years and urged other Member States to follow suit.  He added that from the moment of Israel’s founding, the Syrian regime has maintained a policy of aggression with the goal of wiping his country off the map.  “Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is forever,” he declared, adding that international recognition of that would ensure regional security and stability.

Briefing the Council earlier, Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalled that during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Syrian Arab Army crossed the 1967 ceasefire line on the Golan — known as the Purple Line — initially gaining territory.  In a swift counter-attack, however, the Israeli Defence Forces re-captured the lost ground and advanced further, crossing the 1967 ceasefire line and occupying a salient portion of Syrian territory.

Noting President Donald Trump’s official proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan, she said the position of the United Nations on the territory is clear in the relevant Council and General Assembly resolutions, notably Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 497 (1981).  “We hope that the recent developments will not be used as an excuse by anyone to pursue actions that could undermine the relative stability of the situation on the Golan and beyond,” she stressed.

Also briefing was Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, who reported that the ceasefire has held despite numerous violations of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement.  The firing of missiles, rockets and other heavy weaponry on 29 November, 20 January and 11 February illustrates the continuing risk of escalating the situation in UNDOF’s area of operation, he cautioned, urging Council members to support efforts to ensure that the two sides as well as regional stakeholders clearly understand the risks and the need to preserve the long-standing ceasefire.

Also speaking were representatives of Kuwait, Peru, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Indonesia.

The meeting began at 5:37 p.m. and ended at 7:37 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalled that during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Syrian Arab Army crossed the 1967 ceasefire line on the Golan — known as the Purple Line — initially gaining territory.  In a swift counter-attack, she said, the Israeli Defense Forces recaptured the lost ground and advanced further, crossing the 1967 ceasefire line and occupying a salient portion of Syrian territory.  Israel and Syria subsequently signed the Disengagement of Forces Agreement on 31 May 1974, she said, adding that on the same day, the Security Council established the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  The situation on the Golan remained generally calm until 2011, when fighting between the Syrian armed forces and armed opposition groups began.

She went on to state that the Government of Syria re-established full control of the area known as the Bravo side in 2018, thereby re-establishing the status quo ante.  Throughout that period, Israel has periodically stressed the critical importance of the Golan to its security, she said.  On Monday, President Donald Trump of the United States signed an official proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan.  The Secretary-General has taken note of this development, including the reaction of Member States reactions to the decision by the United States.  The Organization’s position on the Golan is clear in the relevant Council and General Assembly resolutions, notably Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 497 (1981), she emphasized.  “We hope that the recent developments will not be used as an excuse by anyone to pursue actions that could undermine the relative stability of the situation on the Golan and beyond.”

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said that the ceasefire has been maintained despite numerous violations of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, all observed by UNDOF.  The firing of missiles, rockets and other heavy weapons on 29 November, 20 January and 11 February illustrated the continuing risk of escalating the situation in UNDOF’s area of operation, he cautioned, urging Council members to support efforts to ensure that the two sides as well as regional stakeholders clearly understand the risks and the need to preserve the long-standing ceasefire.

On UNDOF’s plans for a gradual return to the Bravo side, he said the Force has continued to conduct operational patrols on routes within the northern and central parts of the areas of separation and limitation.  In addition, UNDOF continues to carry out assessment visits and protected patrols of vacated United Nations positions and observation posts.  It also continues to refurbish and reoccupy its vacated positions, he said, assuring Council members that implementation of the return plan as well as the safety and security of mission personnel remain paramount.

Statements

RODNEY HUNTER (United States) said that his country and the Council cannot accept Syrian efforts to establish a presence in the Area of Separation as the new norm and called upon the Russian Federation to use its influence over the Assad regime to compel his forces to withdraw immediately from that zone.  Expressing alarm at the presence of Hizbullah in the Area of Separation, he emphasized that the Syrian authorities must ensure the freedom of movement and safety of UNDOF personnel.  There can be no chance for peace between Syria and Israel with Hizbullah present, he stressed.  On President Trump’s proclamation affirming his country’s recognition of the Golan Heights as a part of Israel, he said the decision does not affect the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, nor does it undermine UNDOF’s mandate.  The proclamation is of critical security and strategic importance for Israel, he said, underlining that, in Syria, Israel currently has no partner for peace.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) emphasized that the Golan Heights is Syrian territory occupied by Israel in violation of Council resolutions.  Israel’s decision to impose its authority is null and void, with no impact on the international stage, he added, expressing regret at the decision by the United States.  Kuwait supports Syria’s desire to regain all of the Golan Heights, he stressed, commending UNDOF as one of the few remaining sources of stability in the region.  Emphasizing that the Area of Separation must be free of any military presence, he called upon all parties concerned to demonstrate restraint and avoid escalating tensions.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that her delegation’s position — that the Golan is territory occupied by Israel — remains unchanged.  The decision by the United States contravenes resolution 497 (1981), she said, affirming her country’s belief in the rules-based international order.  Acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself, she urged the Assad regime as well as Iran and Hizbullah to refrain from actions that could increase insecurity and put civilians at risk, while encouraging the United States Administration to advance viable proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement through substantive peace talks leading to a two-State solution.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), associating herself with the European Union position, said she considers the Golan territory occupied by Israel, emphasizing that forcible annexation is illegal under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and Security Council resolution 497 (1981).  She stated the full support of her country’s Government for UNDOF and expressed concern over continued military activity in the Area of Separation on the Bravo side, and over the increased presence of Syrian armed forces.  The parties must abide by the terms of the Separation Agreement, she reaffirmed.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said it is unacceptable to undermine the situation in Syria by taking unilateral steps that create serious obstacles to the normalization of relationships between Israel and the Arab States.  Criticizing the declaration by the United States, he said it violates Security Council resolutions, stressing that the Golan Heights remain part of the Syrian Republic.  Political considerations have no role in resolving the occupation, he said, expressing concern that the unilateral decision by the United States exacerbates the situation but does not change the territory’s legal situation.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) expressed concern and regret over the rising tension in the Golan, urging the parties to desist from all activity that contravenes the Separation Agreement.  Reaffirming the inadmissibility of capturing territory by force, he highlighted the stabilizing role of UNDOF.

Mr. TRULLOS (Dominican Republic), describing the Golan as occupied Syrian territory, and acknowledging UNDOF’s role as a key link between the parties, stressed the need to avoid unilateral positions that violate international law and Council resolutions.  It is up to the Council to oppose unilateral acts that undermine the international legal order and prospects for peace, he reiterated.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said his country does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over territories it has occupied since June 1967, including the Golan, nor does it consider them to be Israeli territory.  Acquisition of territory by force is illegal under international law and all unilateral declarations changing borders contravene the rules-based international order and the United Nations Charter, he noted.  Expressing concern over ceasefire violations, he called upon the parties to establish better communications with UNDOF in order to build confidence and prevent the situation from deteriorating.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) emphasized that security concerns do not justify annexation of the Golan, adding, however, that the presence of Syrian troops and an Iran-backed group must end.  It is deeply cynical for the Syrian regime, known for atrocious crimes and ruthless brutality, to appear before the Council to criticize others for violating international law, he emphasized.

NICHOLA NAKULUNGA SABELO (South Africa) expressed deep concern over the recent decision “by a member of this Council to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights”, a unilateral action that is a blatant violation of international law and numerous relevant Security Council resolutions.  Israel continues to defy international law in its attempts to alter facts on the ground by constructing settlements, appropriating water resources and expelling Arab occupants from their land, she noted.  The Security Council would not hesitate to act were another country responsible for such activity, she stressed.

WU HAITAO (China) said the parties concerned should implement the relevant Security Council resolutions and cease any actions that escalate tensions along the ceasefire line, emphasizing that the security of UNDOF personnel must be guaranteed.  The Golan is recognized by the international community as occupied territory, he said, emphasizing that his country’s Government does not wish to see tensions rise in the area.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said that shots fired across the ceasefire line undermine efforts to stabilize the region, emphasizing the need to withdraw all military materiel and armed persons.  He went on to stress the importance of cooperation with UNDOF, removal of restrictions on movement imposed upon the Force, and dealing with unexploded ordnance and landmines.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said that any change in the Golan’s status would be in direct breach of resolution 242 (1967).  The international community, the Council and the General Assembly have recognized the Golan as occupied territory and called for Israel’s withdrawal, he noted.  It is important that Israel refrain from any violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement, which would fuel more tension, he said, adding that, in keeping with resolution 2450 (2018), which renewed UNDOF’s mandate, there should be no military forces in the Area of Separation other than those of that mission.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) urged all parties to abide by the Disengagement of Forces Agreement and maintain the ceasefire because tensions could put civilians and UNDOF personnel at risk.  Emphasizing the need to allocate sufficient resources to support UNDOF’s operations on the Bravo side, he said Indonesia strongly opposes recognition by the United States of the Golan as Israeli territory.  Such unilateral action will further complicate the already complex situation in the Middle East and jeopardize the credibility of the Council and multilateralism, he said.  Indonesia recognizes the Golan as an inalienable part of Syria, in accordance with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter and Council resolutions, he stressed.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, noting that the European Union affirmed today that its member States do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan, and nor do they recognize that country’s annexation of that territory in 1981.  Any attempt to move away from international law and Council resolutions through unilateral decisions is doomed to failure, she emphasized, adding that such action will not help to bring peace to the region.  She expressed regret that the decision by the United States has undermined collective Council action.

BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria), describing the real topic of the meeting as the decision by the United States Administration regarding the “Syrian Occupied Golan”, rejected the name “Golan Heights” as an Israeli term.  Noting that Israel conducted bomb strikes against Aleppo as the meeting was opening, he said that his country’s Government condemned “the illegal statement” by the United States on the Golan, which belongs to Syria, and the blind, unprecedented tendency of that Administration to humiliate the United Nations.  That country’s unilateral behaviour has no legal or moral value, he said, adding that world public opinion is isolating the United States and Israel.  Who will hold the United States to account for violating the relevant Security Council resolutions, and views that country as an enemy operating outside the law?  Its actions are an attempt to manipulate history, geography and the very conscience of humankind, he said.  Emphasizing the real risk to international peace and security, he said that inaction over the occupation leaves force as the only option.  The Golan will always belong to Syria, he declared, suggesting that the United States give North and South Carolina to Israel instead.  He went on to state that Syria rejects any attempts by Germany’s representative to divert the meeting from its true purpose.

DANNY BEN YOSEF DANON (Israel) said that the United States recognized what has been true for 52 years.  It also demonstrated its willingness to recognize the reality on the ground and its commitment to Israel’s security and right to self-defence, he said, urging other Member States to follow suit.  He said that from the moment of Israel’s founding, the Syrian regime has maintained a policy of aggression with the goal of wiping it off the map.  Since 1967, the Golan Heights have been critical to Israel’s survival, he noted, recalling that the territory proved invaluable to the country’s fate during the Yom Kippur war, enabling the Israeli army to absorb Syria’s initial act of war and to launch a counter-attack.

“Shame on you,” he told Syria’s representative, asking to whom exactly the United Nations wishes to give the Golan Heights, where Hizbullah is gathering intelligence as the backdrop for a bigger operation to attack Israel.  The Syrian regime no longer represents Syria, but serves a puppet master in Tehran, he added, asking whether the international community really thinks Israel would give up the Golan Heights to a criminal regime.  “Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is forever,” he affirmed, emphasizing that international recognition of that will ensure regional security and stability.  He told those States paying lip service to Israel’s right to self-defence: “Now is the opportunity to prove the weight of their words.”

The representative of the United Kingdom took the floor a second time, describing the Syrian representative’s comments about his counterpart from Germany as unwarranted.  Syria does not respect the Charter and harms its own people, she added.

The representative of Syria responded by stating that was speaking about Nazi Germany, not today’s Germany, and focused his remarks on the representative, not the country.  He noted that most Security Council members have not acknowledged the decision by the United States, which proves that it violates the relevant resolutions.  Israel’s representative should note that, he added.  Reiterating that forcible annexation is a violation of the Charter and Security Council resolutions, he said Israel’s occupation of Arab territories should not exist.  That country is dominated by extremists and does not seek peace, he added, reaffirming that the Golan is Syrian territory whether Israel likes it or not, and the present phase will eventually end with its liberation.

The representative of Israel said he agrees with his counterpart from Syria that the United Nations is obsessed with Israel “and I regret that”.  If the United Nations focused on what has been happening in Syria in recent years, maybe it could have prevented massacres and the use of chemical weapons, he said, adding that Israel feels for the Syrian people.  “We are thinking about you and we are praying for you.”

For information media. Not an official record.