Recently, the Golan Heights has reappeared in the news. The strategic plateau, which Syria used to threaten the Israel’s existence and constantly harassed its communities in the Galilee, was won by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, a defensive war forced upon the Jewish state that ensured its survival. Israel maintained its hold on the vital area despite a massive surprise Syrian attack in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Since that period, the Israeli side of the border has been quiet, and the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been deployed between the two nations’ forces to observe the ceasefire.
Since the Syrian civil war started five years ago, however, the Syrian side of the Golan has been one of the major warzones between the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups, including the al-Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS. Supporting the Assad government is Hezbollah and the even more menacing forces of Iran, both of which have tried to build a presence on the Syrian side of the Golan from which to attack Israel in the future.
Israel has endeavored before into peacemaking with Syria, under both Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad, an equally brutal dictator. These efforts failed because Syria was unwilling to normalize relations with Israel or to meet Israel’s demands for secure borders.
With this as background, the Golan resurfaced as a news story, not because of any strife on the Israeli side of the plain, but rather because of the civil war in Syria. There has been a renewed international effort for a ceasefire between Assad and some of the rebel groups. Reports came out that, as part of the discussions, world powers would back Syrian claims to the territory. Once again, Israel’s neighbors turn to wanton violence, and the hammer comes down instead on Israel.
The Israeli government convened a cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights and declared that the area would remain under Israeli sovereignty forever, hardly a controversial position for the vast majority of Israelis, given the area’s history and the current political realities. The U.N. Security Council met in response, at the request of rotating members Egypt and Venezuela, and rejected this position.
But whom does the Security Council believe Israel should negotiate with—now or in the future—on the final status of the Golan? The Assad government has never shown any seriousness about making peace with Israel. In any event, the Assad regime is now incredibly weak and reliant on help from Hezbollah and Iran, which are both violently committed to wiping Israel off the map. ISIS and al-Nusra also control large swaths of Syrian territory, but their malicious intentions toward Israel are no different. Syria right now is a failed state and a humanitarian catastrophe. Syria may never be a unified state again, split apart into different regions for different groups. A peace-seeking, unified Syria seems incredibly distant to imagine at this point, if not entirely impossible.
This is the cold reality that we must all face, but not the U.N., which lives in its own politicized reality. At the last U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) session in March, two resolutions relating broadly to Syria passed—one on the ongoing Syrian catastrophe itself, and one on the Golan Heights. Thirty-one countries voted in favor of the anti-Israel resolution on the Golan; none could bring themselves to vote against it. The resolution on the human rights situation in Syria mustered only 27 votes in favor; Algeria, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela voted against it.
The U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) is even more disproportionate in its criticism of Israel on this topic. So far, during the ongoing 70th session of the UNGA, there has been one resolution on Syria, and two stand-alone resolutions solely on the Golan (it was also mentioned in numerous other anti-Israel resolutions as well, of course).
Keep in mind that Golan Heights is essentially calm (minus the occasional spillover mortar from the Syrian civil war next door) and Syria is a nightmare, where both government troops and terrorist groups have used chemical weapons and where hundreds of thousands are dead and millions are displaced. Yet, more countries felt comfortable voting to condemn Israel than those that voted to condemn Syria at the HRC, and the UNGA was not satisfied with only one resolution on the Golan while only one resolution is somehow appropriate for the roiling cauldron mere yards away.
The Golan Heights issue is a good illustration of the persistent and deep anti-Israel obsession. This is what we mean when we talk about hypocrisy at the U.N. and how it takes away from focus on dire concerns. It is no accident. Syria and other states want the U.N. to function that way so that their human rights abuses are not the main focus.
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