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Top US Democrat indicates support for ongoing Israeli rule over Golan Heights

Comments from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer come as Israel seeks to get US recognition of its annexation of strategic plateau

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., speaks at a news conference to introduce legislation supporting NATO on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., speaks at a news conference to introduce legislation supporting NATO on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

One of the top Democrats has indicated that he supports Israel’s bid to get the US to recognize the country’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

Responding to a question from the Jewish Insider last week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s spokesperson said that the Congressman believes that “Israel should maintain control of the Golan Heights.”

Israel has reportedly pressed the White House in recent months to recognize the Golan annexation, arguing that the bloody civil war in Syria undergirded Israeli claims that the plateau is critical to maintaining security.

While the Trump administration has not done so yet, there has been some movement in the direction.

In November, the United States for the first time voted against an annual UN resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, signifying a shift in US policy on the territory.

Despite the unprecedented move by the US, the resolution passed with 151 in favor, two against (Israel and the US) and 14 abstentions, one of nine anti-Israel resolutions passed by the world body in one day.

The US announced its changed policy ahead of the vote on “The Occupied Syrian Golan” resolution.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights shows snow covered mountain inside Syria on January 20, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

“If this resolution ever made sense, it surely does not today. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel,” outgoing US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement. The US usually abstains.

The non-binding resolution, which is voted on by a UN General Assembly committee each year, takes issue with the “illegality of the decision” taken by Israel “to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan,” which it says is illegal under international law.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the territory in the early 1980s. But the United States and the international community have long refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty there and officially consider it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation.

Haley, however, said that “the atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone.”

In September, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he expects the annexed territory to remain under Israeli control “forever.”

“I cannot honestly imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is not part of Israel forever,” Friedman told the Israel Hayom daily.

But during a visit to Israel a month earlier, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said there were no discussions on such recognition.

“Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there’s no change in the US position for now,” he told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

The comments from Hoyer of Maryland, indicate the position could also now be gaining some traction among Democrats.

Israeli army Merkava tanks take positions on the Golan Heights, on January 20, 2019. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

According to Jewish Insider, Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) recently sent a letter to Trump urging him to recognize Israeli control of the Golan, a move that also had the support of  Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Hoyer has been a pro-Israel voice on Capitol Hill since he came to office in 1981.

Hoyer is noted for promoting Israel as a bipartisan cause. In recent years, he has spoken at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s annual confab alongside his Republican counterpart — in the past Eric Cantor, now Kevin McCarthy — listing their many areas of disagreement before eventually arriving on an issue of consensus: Israel.

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