Congressional Measure to Recognize Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights Killed

Officials blame House GOP leadership for preventing vote on historic measure

Israeli soldiers walk by tanks during a military drill in the Golan Heights
Israeli soldiers walk by tanks during a military drill in the Golan Heights / Getty Images
May 24, 2018

A congressional resolution to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights region in Syria met a quick demise this week after House GOP leadership quietly put the kibosh on the measure following what sources allege was opposition from top Republican leaders and some in Trump administration, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

While White House officials familiar with the matter deny playing any role in opposing the measure, it was nixed earlier this week by House leadership, which refused to allow the historic measure to come up for a vote.

The resolution, authored by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), would have represented a historic step towards the United States formally recognizing Israeli control over the Golan Heights territory, which rests on Israel's border with Syria and was annexed by the Jewish state in 1981. The United States has declined for decades to take a position of the status of this territory, but lawmakers backing the amendment felt the time was right for this effort following the Trump administration's successful bid to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital city of Jerusalem.

Multiple U.S. officials familiar with the situation blamed GOP leadership for punting on the resolution, which was legally non-binding and said to be supported by many in the Israeli government as a first step in the United States siding with Israel in the decades-old land dispute.

The Golan Heights territory, which separates Israel from Syria, has become more strategically important since Iranian forces have moved into Syria to fight on behalf of embattled President Bashar al-Assad and arm jihadist fighters opposed to Israel's existence.

DeSantis expressed frustration and confusion as to why the Golan measure was denied a vote, telling the Free Beacon that U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the land is particularly pressing as Iran marches across the region.

"I don't know why my Golan Heights amendment was not made in order and thus denied a vote," DeSantis said. "It was a germane amendment that would have provided the House with a chance to add clarity to the broader U.S. policy vis-a-vis Syria.  How could we even contemplate supporting anything other than the application of Israeli sovereignty to such a strategically significant area, especially given the plethora of malevolent forces that undermine security in the region?"

The measure also had won support in the Senate from Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who has long urged United States recognition of Israel's control over the Golan area.

"It is past time for the United States to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which the Israelis gained decades ago while fighting a war of survival against hostile neighbors," Cruz told the Free Beacon. "The Golan Heights are a strategically critical bedrock that is necessary for Israel's security."

"On the other side are terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the troops sent by the Iran's regime, which is committed to Israel's destruction," Cruz said. "A strong and secure Israel is indisputably in America's national security interests, and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is necessary to both."

Senior congressional sources with knowledge of the situation blamed Republican leadership in the House for failing to stand firm on key foreign policy issues such as efforts to bolster the U.S.-Israel alliance. Some sources went so far as to allege that some officials in the Trump administration urged Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to prevent the Golan measure from receiving an up or down vote.

The current National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a mammoth spending bill that sets up the United States' foreign policy priorities, "is conspicuous for how few major policy battles were fought—almost all due to Republican leadership refusing to allow debate and votes on a host of key issues," said one senior congressional official intimately familiar with the matter. "It's like they chose to punt on second down."

Ryan's office did not respond to multiple Free Beacon requests for comment on why the resolution was nixed.

Senior White House official's who spoke to the Free Beacon on the matter denied playing any role in the debate, saying officials only recently became aware of the DeSantis resolution.

An National Security Council spokesperson told the Free Beacon that it is working to foster a comprehensive peace agreement that accounts for all territorial disputes.

"The President has made his position on new settlement activity clear, and we encourage all parties to continue to work towards peace," the official said. "The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the President’s concerns into consideration.  The United States welcomes this. As the President has said repeatedly, the Administration is firmly committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians.".

Israeli officials discussed the larger issue of Golan and security in past meetings with White House officials several months ago, but there has been little discussion of the issue since then, a senior administration official told the Free Beacon.

The White House still has not taken a position on the issue.